By Tina M. BellerOctober 23, 2008
FORT HAMILTON, N.Y. -- Nineteen-year-olds Jodi Boatman and Shaun A. Blagg, both seniors in the fall of 2006 at Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, Calif., never knew the Army could provide them opportunities which real life wasn't necessarily affording them - both in their careers and their marriage.
Living the poor, college student life, Boatman was studying at Bakersfield College to be a radiology technician. Her tuition and living costs were rapidly depleting her income, and she was barely surviving on her cashier's paychecks.
For her boyfriend, Blagg, the latter part of 2007 found him down on his luck. He bounced from one friend's house to the next each night for sleep and frequently went without meals because he couldn't afford to eat. He was employed by a local fast food chain in the same town, working as a cashier and a cook. He said he believed a promotion to management would give him more sure footing financially, yet he didn't really want to stay in that industry waiting for a chance to move into management.
As they contemplated marriage, they were realizing the difficulties which lay ahead of them.
"Some days we had no gas money," said Boatman awkwardly, sweeping away a lock of hair from her brow. "Shaun would call from work asking me for a ride, and I would have no choice but to tell him to get a ride home from someone at work because we needed the gas in the car to drive to work the next morning. Then when my car was broken into, I had to dip into my small savings account to pay for the repairs. That set me back more than I wanted, and then I was late on another bill. It was a vicious circle."
"Jodi and Shaun just weren't making it," said Suzanne Boatman, Jodi's mother. "They were treading water at best, even sinking a little, and all Jodi wanted to do was find out how she could go to school and support herself and support each other during their marriage."
The reality of it all was settling in fast for the pair: sharing living expenses, sustaining life on dime-store, microwavable convenience foods and rising gasoline prices were more than they were prepared - or able - to handle together.
In July 2008, Boatman's mother planted the seed in her daughter's mind about speaking with Uncle Steve who was living in Long Island, N.Y. Uncle Steve, also known as Capt. Steve Campbell, 38, had been faithfully serving in the U.S. Army for nearly 16 years as both an enlisted military policeman and as a military intelligence officer. In the spring of 2008, he assumed command of the U. S. Army Brooklyn North Recruiting Company, headquartered at historic Fort Hamilton, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Normally, 19-year-olds aren't thinking about their futures like Jodi and Shaun were when I spoke with them this past July," admitted Campbell, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. "I didn't want my niece to grow up in a dead-end job, not realizing her own potential. So I began talking to her about what the Army could offer her, if she was interested."
"I was very close-minded in July when Uncle Steve started approaching me about the subject," Boatman said politely. "I never had any disrespect for the Army, but it just didn't feel like it was for me. Then about a week after Uncle Steve and I spoke, I was talking things through with my mom, and then I really started thinking about my future ... about our future."
"Nowadays, a kid without a college education or a hand up doesn't stand a chance of getting a good-paying job to support themselves," said Boatman's mother. With the Army, they will both get their education, a skill, a job and free medical care. By both of them enlisting into the Army, they are basically setting themselves up for their futures and being 100-percent personally accountable for their lives instead of blaming society like most other young people their age."
"I'm happy we are doing this together," Blagg said, reaching out for his wife's hand between gaming on his Nintendo DS. "I started off completely uninterested as well, but then I asked myself, why be a cook all my life' I was such a troubled teen, and when I saw her going through the enlistment process here, I became inspired too, and realized I needed to do this for our future. The separation while we are away at basic training will be hard on us, but like Uncle Steve and Suzanne said, it may be hard for us both, but it will be the best thing for us. After that period of separation, we will find our relationship stronger and our futures more stable."
"The Army is going to pay for my education, my housing and my medical care," said Boatman assuredly. "In my hometown, medical care for struggling college students is almost non-existent."
"Once some of their friends realized the two of them were really serious about doing something to take care of themselves, you could see the trend in their friends' behavior shifting," Boatman's mom said. "One of Jodi's friends said to her, "You're going to make something of yourself.'"
Unfortunately, not all of their friends were so accepting of their decision.
"A lot of young people my age ... all they've heard are the media's interpretation of the Army," said the younger Boatman. "I think if they knew the truth about the Army's opportunities, they would see things differently."
Sept. 8, Boatman accepted the oath of enlistment and entered into the U.S. Army as a human intelligence collector; Capt. Campbell administered the oath to her from the halls of the Fort Hamilton Military Entrance Processing Station.
Her educational enlistment benefits included the Army G.I. Bill valued at more than $39,000, and Army Tuition Assistance benefits valued at $4,500, further underscoring the Army's credibility as a partner in education.
She will report to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C., for nine weeks, followed by five months of additional military training in the field of human intelligence at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. The beauty behind the Army job she selected is that later in life, if Boatman decides to transfer to civilian employment, her U.S. Army job training and specialized military intelligence experience may be attractive to federal agencies like the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Blagg is currently processing through his enlistment, seeking a position in Army veterinarian services.
The two tied the knot July 26, and plan to enroll into the Married Couples Army Program. The program serves married Army couples desiring to be considered for worldwide assignments together, according to the Department of Army's Military Personnel Services Web page.
(Tina M. Beller serves as an Army Advertising and Public Affairs specialist.)