Dropping out of college to serve my country was the best decision I ever made

‘I didn’t drop out because I was failing…I wasn’t being challenged enough’

For most, going to college after high school is pretty straight forward. Some choose to move away to four year universities and state schools, while others stay local at community college and commute from home. Whichever way you decide to do it, pursuing higher education after graduating high school is almost always the move.

Now imagine starting down that path and realizing that it just wasn’t right for you, so you enlist in the military of all things.

Sound crazy? It happens more often than you might think. Numerous college students from all over the United States have left school to join a branch of the armed forces, and with absolutely no regrets.

Take a look inside the mind of a few college drop-outs who put their education on the back burner to risk their lives serving out great country.

Let’s get it straight, the military isn’t a last resort for failures

John Colbert of Manhattan, Illinois signed an eight year contract with the United States Navy in 2015 during his first semester at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The 20-year-old was then studying biomedical sciences when he dropped out to join the military simply because, “college was just too easy.”

John serves as a Hospital Corpsman, a Navy medical specialist. Hospital Corpsman training involves twelve months of both classroom schooling and intense hands-on training, which John says is extremely fast paced and more challenging than that of college pre-med education.

“I didn’t drop out because I was failing. It was quite the contrary, I wasn’t being challenged enough,” he said.

In training, Hospital Corpsmen are challenged every day. “My training was all medical care in real situations, where my split decision would mean the difference between someone living and dying. That’s challenging. You won’t find that in a college classroom.”

John explained that the military offers incentives for quality performance in training.  “Your rank among everyone else in your class can mean you get to decide where you’re stationed after schooling,” he said.

Since signing his contract, John has completed his twelve months of Hospital Corpsman training. Eight of these months were spent working with the United States Marine Corps at Field Medical Training Battalion West in Oceanside, California this past year.

As a result, John is attached to a Marine Corps unit and will serve with them on any future deployments as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman.

The military makes going to school worth it

It goes without saying that college isn’t free, and nearly every individual seeking higher education ends up paying for college by means of financial aid and student loans, ultimately leading to debt. John says that the military seeks to help its soldiers obtain the education they want.

“My friends in college are already in debt, going to school to find a career and make money to pay off the debt that got them exactly where they are. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said. “But the military will pay to send me to school so I can get a degree. So if I work hard for the military now, I can live a life that’s debt free later.”

For Hospital Corpsman like John, hard work spent in training is especially worth it, as classroom schooling operates on a credit system just like college does. His credits will transfer over as college credit later on when he goes back to school, meaning he won’t have to start from the very beginning with general education and core courses.

Looking forward, John maintains a positive outlook on the rest of his life. “I hope to put my training to good use in the future and save lives during my time with the military. After that I’m going to get a four year degree, move on to higher level schooling and aspire to be better than yesterday.”

Sometimes joining the military is all but a change of scenery

Zacharry Carel, 22 years old, from Mount Pleasant, Iowa enlisted in the United States Army in the summer of 2014. At that time, he had completed two years at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa, but simply found himself unsatisfied with his day to day life.

“I liked going to school, but my everyday college routine got pretty boring after a while,” Zacharry said. “I love my country, so I enlisted to shake things up and try something new. I ended up dropping out of community college to go active duty.”

Zacharry serves on a Howitzer cannon crew as a gunner, spending each day on base at Fort Stewart in Georgia working with heavy artillery. This year will be his last with the Army, as he plans to go back to school and finish his last semester of classes before getting his degree.

Although his time with the military is nearing its end, Zacharry says it has been a experience he will never forget.

“I’ve taken away a lot of great morals and life skills,” he said. “I’ve learned how to present myself, customs and courtesies. To always do the right thing even when no one is looking.

“I’ll always remember being so close with with everyone in my unit. We are a family. And I got to shoot cannons for a living, who else can say that!”

For some, returning to college after the military doesn’t always go as planned

Justin O’Donnell, now 31 years old, from Mansfield, Ohio enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at 21 years old after a semester at community college. Like most others, he planned to complete his education after his time with the military.

At the end of his five year contract with the Marines, Justin attended the University of Oklahoma and the University of Iowa, looking to pursue a degree in Business. However, after two consecutive years at two different universities, he realized that a career in Business simply wasn’t his calling.

“I wasn’t certain of my career path when I was 19, and I still wasn’t certain of it when I was 27,” Justin said.

“What’s important is that I’ve been productive in the meantime and made an effort to find a career that I can be passionate about.”

Although he strongly encourages anyone pursuing an education to find their passion in education regardless of how long it may take, Justin recalls his experience as an older adult returning to college. “There were times when I regretted being older than my classmates, however being a veteran I’ve always felt as if I have a great deal of institutional support at my disposal.”

Last year, at 30 years old, Justin chose to return to the military and re-enlisted in the Army National Guard where he now serves as a medic. That being said, re-enlisting doesn’t mean that he has given up on pursuing an education. He currently is enrolled in the nursing program at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City, Iowa and works at a local hospital as a nursing assistant.

He recalls his decision to enlist as one he does not regret. “My experience in the Marines was great. For me it put a lot of my day by day struggles into perspective. It’s easy to get lost in the idea that different obstacles are the end of the world; for me The Marine Corps has helped me accomplish tasks as they come to me.”

As for the ‘college experience’, these drop-outs haven’t missed much

While college is a time of discovering responsibility and independence, let’s be honest, its also a time of partying and wild irresponsibility before settling down to be a real adult. However, the general consensus is that enlisted men and women haven’t missed out on partying just because they left college.

“College is nothing compared to how the military lives and parties,” said Zacharry.

John said, “I’ve done some of the craziest things with my enlisted friends that I know my other non-enlisted friends would never be up for, like going skydiving on a whim or spending weekends climbing mountains. The military is full of thrill seekers who do some of the most physically challenging activities just for fun.”

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