Enlisting despite perceptions

Eric Ahern

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Following his graduation this June, senior Peter Cline is intent upon becoming a United States Army Ranger, a prestigious position that is obtained after months of rigorous training and assessment at Fort Benning, the large-capacity Army Base located in Georgia.

“I’ll go to boot camp for 14 weeks, then I’ll go to Airborne for six weeks, and then I’ll go to the Ranger Assessment Selection Program for eight weeks,” Cline said.

Cline, who just recently signed a contract of commitment to the U.S. Army, is following in the footsteps of multiple members of his family.

“I have two brothers who are in the Army, one that just got out and one who just went in, and my grandpa was in the military as well,” Cline said. “That has definitely played a big role.”

Upon completing the Ranger Assessment Selection Program where his older brother, Ben, is currently training, Cline will officially become an Army Ranger. The Ranger regiment is an elite special operations combat group that conducts high-stakes missions on short notice.

“I wanted to do something different than infantry, which is being one of 100,000 dudes, and I’m a pretty competitive person so I think I’ll enjoy the whole selection aspect of it,” Cline said. “I want to make a difference and I feel like I can have a much bigger role in doing that if I’m in a smaller group that’s more specialized.”

Although Cline declares that he is now fully prepared and excited to join the military after high school, his decision to enlist wasn’t made overnight.

“I thought about it freshman year, but not too seriously, like ‘I might want to do this’ and then around the middle of sophomore year I had my mind set on it,” Cline said. “I had looked into it, talked to all my friends who had been in, talked to my oldest brother. At that point in time, I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”

Redwood alum and United States Marine Henry Mesker stands with his weapon while on tour in Iraq.
Redwood alumnus and United States Marine Henry Mesker stands with his weapon while on tour in Iraq.

While Cline had formulated his decision to join the military during high school, United States Marine and Redwood alumnus Henry Mesker knew that he wanted to enlist at a young age.

“Every boy in grade school brings home military books and stuff and they think that being a soldier is cool, but at some point all the boys stop doing that,” Mesker said. “But you know, I never really stopped bringing home those books.”

Since beginning bootcamp in San Diego only three days after his graduation from Redwood in 2013, Mesker has served two tours in Iraq on behalf of the Marine Corps, specifically the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines.

“Being in high school, you don’t really understand the full magnitude of you signing that contract,” Mesker said. “It crosses everyone’s mind, the thought of, ‘Yeah, you know I could die,’ but, it definitely hits home when you experience situations like that and you say ‘Damn, I was just 18 signing that piece of paper and now here I am.’”

While it has been a long journey for Mesker, the Marine hasn’t looked back once.

“It’s the best experience I’ve had,” Mesker said. “I’ve learned so much, especially about just being a man in general. You acquire so many skills that will help you in your future. It’s the best decision that I’ve ever made in my entire life and it will probably remain that way.”

In a recent Bark survey, 64 percent of Redwood students reported that they consider students who join the military to be brave and 22 percent of students consider joining the military as sometimes brave. The survey also indicated that 7 percent of Redwood students do not consider students who join the military to be brave while 8 percent of students reported that have no opinion on the matter. Despite the fact that the majority of Redwood students consider joining the military to be a brave act, overall, Mesker feels as if Marin County does not have the most positive perception of the United States’ militant actions.

“I don’t think that people in Marin dislike the military, but it’s pretty obvious that they don’t love it,” Mesker said. “As we all know, Marin and the Bay Area are pretty liberal places and it’s not that liberals hate the military or hate Marines or hate soldiers, that’s normally not the case. It’s normally the act that the soldiers are partaking in. Not a lot of people were fans of the Iraq War and they just thought that people in the military just chose to go there, but you’re actually just sent there.”

Cline has also noticed a negative view of the military in Marin.

“There’s a pretty negative perception towards the military, especially around here, but that doesn’t bother me really,” Cline said. “There were some hesitations [toward my enlistment] because the expected route around here is to go to college, get a job, but that didn’t make me reconsider.”

Both Cline and Mesker indicated that any disdain for the military may come from a stigma that surrounds young men and women who choose to enlist right after high school, instead of immediately pursuing higher education.

Mesker (fourth from the left) poses for a photo with his platoon while on tour in Iraq.
Mesker (fourth from the left) poses for a photo with his platoon while on tour in Iraq.

“I think there’s a perception, not just in Marin, that people who join the military are dumb and because they have no other option. That may be true for some people, but there are a lot of people that could have gone somewhere else instead,” Cline said. “My brother went to college before joining the military. He had a college education, he finished at UC Santa Barbara, and then he chose to join the military. I feel like the perception is popular, but definitely not true.”

In more than one instance, Mesker has faced concealed judgement first-hand for his decision to join the military.

“I definitely have noticed that being a Marine and coming back to Marin that a lot of people will thank me for being a Marine or they will thank me for my service which is nice, but you also get people who say ‘Oh, that’s a very interesting route you took,’,” Mesker said. “A lot of people in Marin do that, which in my mind is their way of saying ‘Oh, I expected this of you,’ you know, ‘everyone knew that you weren’t that good in school and it’s kind of expected.’”

Mesker believes that assumptions like these may be part of the reason why Marin County high schoolers don’t often join the military.

According to College and Career Center specialists from Tam District Union Schools, such as Elizabeth Stoner from Tamalpais High School, Lisa Neumaier from Drake High School and Meg Heimbrodt from Redwood, the number of TUHSD students who have joined the military has been low within the past few years. The specialists reported that since 2013, only five students from Redwood and four students from Drake have enlisted in the military immediately after graduating and in the past eight years, Tamalpais has had nine. It’s important to note that this data was self-reported in a survey taken by graduating seniors and that some students may have declined to respond.

Despite potentially facing negative opinions from fellow Marinites, Cline remains undeterred in regards to his decision to enlist in the U.S. Army.

“Not to sound like a douche, but I don’t really care about getting approval from Marin County,” Cline said.

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Data self reported in a March Redwood Bark survey.