FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- As the sun rose Friday morning, more than 1,000 men and women participating in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson took their final steps toward becoming professional Soldiers.
The 10-week course culminated that morning in a 16-kilometer foot march, followed by a rite of passage ceremony outside the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment headquarters. The warm summer weather prompted a change in the proceedings, though, which traditionally involve a bonfire. Battalion leaders still took the time to impress upon the new Soldiers the significance of their accomplishments, as well as the importance of not losing sight of their new roles in the Army.
The rite of passage was a sign that all of the Soldiers involved had met their graduation requirements. For some, the ceremony arrived much earlier than a much more common milestone -- high school graduation. A handful of Soldiers graduating this week had enlisted through the Army's split option program, which allowed them to take part in Basic Combat Training during the summer break between their junior and senior years of high school.
"I think it's pretty phenomenal," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hunt, 1-13th commander. "They're going to take their whole summer vacation and do something that most Americans won't do in their entire lives."
It's not just a matter of emotional maturity for these teens, he said. For some of them, Basic Combat Training also represents the first time they've had to test the limits of their physical endurance.
"Some of these kids hadn't run a mile before they came here," Hunt said. "We asked them on their second day to do a minute of pushups, a minute of situps and to run a mile."
"It was not as bad as it could have been," said Pvt. Lauren Schroeder, 17, of Pennsylvania. "I have a really great drill sergeant, and my battle buddies really helped me through and wouldn't let me quit. I'm really proud of myself for staying here the whole time."
Pvt. Katelyn Caskey, a 17-year-old rising high school senior from of Kentucky, said she joined the Army to get a head start on her career.
"This way, I get a head start on my peers and succeed more in life," she said. "I'm missing a month and a half of school and, when I get back, I'm going to have to make that up. It's going to be hard, but I think I can do it."
She said her experiences this summer will give her an advantage in her final year of high school.
"I'm probably going to be more disciplined than I was before," Caskey said. "I think my problem will be trying not to say 'latrine' and 'drill sergeant' when I get back to school."
Pvt. Rose Corter, 17, of Florida, said that taking part in the split option program was about building on her family's accomplishments.
"The Army is going to give me the education that I need, but it also sets up my future," she said. "My family hasn't had very much education to go anywhere in life. I want my kids to have a really good childhood, so I chose this."
Schroeder also said she has her eye on higher education.
"I wanted the benefits of schooling," she said. "When I go back to school, I'll be a senior. Then I just have Advanced Individual Training, and after that I'll be going to college with all my Army benefits."
Whereas many Soldiers graduation from Basic Combat Training were focused on the near future, Pvt. Stephany Pascual, 17, of Nevada, was already making plans for retirement.
"I plan on going to college after high school to become an officer in the Army, going for active duty and hopefully retire after 20 years or more," she said. "I joined the military as soon as I could to not only make my family proud, but to be able to have a career as a young adult, retire young and represent my generation. My parents are really proud of me."