From sacrifices to success: Three students share their perspectives on growing up in the military
April 11, 2011
- Vilseck, Germany senior Payton Bodecker has her sights set on the future
- Vilseck, Germany senior Scott Hammel knows what it takes to be a military child and a school success
- Vilseck, Germany sophomore Janet Thornton sings away the deployment blues
VILSECK, Germany -- Vilseck High School students Payton Bodecker, Scott Hammel and Janet Thornton know the drill. They're experts at balancing the demands of schoolwork and extracurricular activities. However, each is still refining ways to deal with the trials and triumphs of life while their family member is deployed.
Vilseck High School senior Payton Bodecker has it made.
A confident, well-spoken student and stellar athlete, she was accepted to every college for which she applied, and when she enters college this fall she will already have more than a semester's worth of credit under her belt.
But it wasn't always this easy.
In fact, the slender, 5-foot-11 Bodecker who was "always tall" didn't even try out for track as a freshman because she didn't think she had the ability. When she finally did try out the following year, she ran in the pack because she was afraid to lead it.
"With track, it's a lot scarier because if you mess up, it's just you," she said.
Like most military children, Bodecker has had her share of PCS moves, new schools and endured the separation of deployment. However, these difficult situations became opportunities for her.
Gradually, by delving into schoolwork and athletics, she began to challenge herself and discovered not only new interests, but areas in which she excelled.
She signed up for several Advanced Placement classes, which allow students to receive college credit for courses like biology, literature and history prior to attending college. Likewise, she improved on the track. She has been the captain of the track team for two years running and now mentors underclassmen.
"You get better every year," Bodecker said. "Now I just start out (races) leading the pack."
Still, being separated from her father, Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Bodecker of the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, has been tough, especially this year.
"There have been a lot of changes in my life ... and when I do well at a track meet, he's not there to see me," she said.
But when they are together, the family finds ways to make the most of their time. This past summer, Bodecker leased a horse named Goldsteen in Hahnbach. She and her father went riding on the weekends, and in addition to patience, also learned some German.
"You need a lot of support when riding and my dad really helps," Bodecker said. "He shows he cares by all the little things he does."
In addition, the family takes trips together, but Bodecker said she enjoys spending time together at home, just being together.
And though they're apart now, one piece of fatherly advice has stuck with her.
"I know it sounds cliche, but he says 'Always do everything 100 percent.' On the track when I'm tired and coach isn't watching, I still keep going."
Within a few months, the family will be reunited, track season will be over, and Payton Bodecker will leave for college.
In late March, having already been accepted at University of Wisconsin, University of Massachusetts, University of Puget Sound, University of Kentucky and University of Colorado, she was still waiting to hear from the University of Georgia.
Then, shortly after her first track meet, she found out she had been accepted to UGA. Rather quickly and confidently, she chose Georgia.
"I knew that's where I was going," she said.
Bodecker plans to study political science, but is open to the possibility of changing majors once she gets there. Either way, when that time comes, there's no doubt she'll take it in stride.
Scott Hammel is as high school hipster as they come. His dark jeans wrap tightly around his calves and a small bird lingers in the upper left-hand side of his fitted sweater. His hair falls neatly to the right and the hint of a mustache and beard creep across his upper lip and chin, respectively.
Hammel walks with confidence and talks with passion. You know when he enters a room, mainly because he engages you; whether with a smile or conversation. He's warm and welcoming to fellow students and says his "lunch table is always open."
"Making friends here is easy, we all share a similar situation," said the 18-year-old Vilseck High School senior. "Plus it's easy to be nice, to just be a good guy."
Perhaps it's this personality that got him elected as student body president. Who wouldn't vote for someone who claims to "Rock your Scotts off."
Since being elected, Hammel instituted a recycling program, scheduled numerous pep rallies and planned a variety of after-school events. His goal as student body president is to create a support system among the students to show school spirit.
"We try to fill the falcon fund and have a little fun," said Hammel.
In addition to boosting student morale, Hammel works with the Student 2 Student program, helping new arrivals adjust to new surroundings.
"The hardest part of being with the military is moving around a lot, I think any military kid will tell you that," said Hammel. "But on the plus side we are given a unique opportunity to travel and experience things that other high school kids can't."
"I want everyone to enjoy their time here, that's what is comes down to," he said.
Hammel is a self-proclaimed professional when it comes to being a military brat. His family has been a part of the Army community since he was a child. Hammel lives with his mother and stepfather, Lt. Cols. Michaele and David McCully, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. His father, Capt. Kai Hammel, 18th CSSB, lives a few houses down. Hammel's mother is currently deployed.
"I always wanted to be an officer in the Army. I always thought that's what I wanted to do," said Hammel. "It runs in the family."
Although his career choice has since wavered, he appreciates the lessons being a part of a military community has taught him.
"The Army showed me how to be independent," said Hammel. "To live to my full potential."
So what does the future hold for Hammel'
"I want to be a teacher, most likely World History," he said. "Academically, I was not always the best kid, so I want to be a role model, keep a good image and push what strengths I do have."
For most Vilseck High School students, growing up in the military is a way of life Aca,!aEURc the only way of life that they have ever known.
However, this isn't the case for 10th-grader Janet Thornton. She is new to being a military child, and for the last 1 and a half years, Thornton has lived in Vilseck with her aunt, Sgt. 1st Class Levita Staples, and uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Terrence Staples.
Like other military kids, Thornton is experiencing the trials of deployment while her uncle is deployed with 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
Thornton has taken on the role of big sister in a hectic household where she is busy helping her aunt and her six young cousins, ages 2-10, navigate the deployment, while also trying to keep her grades up at school and participate in extracurricular activities.
Being a military child isn't easy for Thornton, who misses her mother in the U.S., but she believes being active in school and with her family helps. Thornton also says she was comfortable being new at a military school because "kids know what you're going through and it's easier to become friends."
Last year, Thornton was instrumental in restoring the dance team at VHS and this year she is spending her extracurricular time in honors choir and is focusing on her grade point average. Thornton believes being involved in school is important for successfully coping with the deployment of a parent or family member.
When it comes to relieving deployment stress, Thornton sings
"I always tryout to sing the national anthem at sporting events, and I sing every day to make myself happy," said Thornton.
Thornton knows she isn't the only one in her household feeling the stress of her uncle's deployment and does what she can to help out her aunt and her young cousins.
"I see my uncle as a father, and when they're sad, I'm sad. We really hang out together and have family time. We watch movies and laugh a lot," said Thornton. "I sing to my cousins, too."
A first-time Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe student, Thornton is a quick learner and has some advice for incoming kids: "Get involved in activities and find a hobby that fits your personality."
VHS offers Student 2 Student, a sponsorship program that helps kids to integrate into their new school. The S2S program was one of Thornton's first impressions of VHS when she arrived and it introduced her to her first good friend at the school. Thornton says they are still friends to this day.
Teachers at VHS are also important to Thornton, and she feels they really understand what military kids are going through during deployments.
At school, her English teacher, Rebecca Connolly, has become like a parent to Thornton.
Thornton explains that "she is always checking up on me and my grades. Ms. Connolly wants to make sure that everything is OK with me."
With the composure and sage knowledge of someone much older than a 10th-grader, Thornton has one last piece of advice for military kids facing a deployment: "Make time for you," she said. "Make school a priority, but also time for yourself. Hang out with friends and talk about what's happening."
It looks like Janet Thornton has being a military child and VHS Falcon all figured out.
Editor's note: The profiles were written for Month of the Military Child by the following; Bodecker by Jeremy Buddemeier, Hammel by Molly Hayden and Thornton by Amy Zink.