By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)April 18, 2019
Some high school students reach beyond the typical jobs offered to them -- flipping burgers or checking out groceries -- and get their first part-time work experience with the Army.
The Split Training Option allows 17-year-old juniors in high school to join the Army Reserves or the Army National Guard with parent or guardian permission, training as a senior with a local unit one weekend per month. They get paid for staying in shape and keeping on track to graduate.
"It helps students to get a jumpstart," said Lt. Col. Charles White, a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps instructor at Blythewood High School in Richland School District Two.
While other seniors fret about what they're going to do with their future, Split Option participants have already made a decision and "can just kind of coast through their senior year" without that added anxiety, added Staff Sgt. Briana Popp, an Army recruiter for the Army Reserve.
Once they have their high school diploma in-hand, "they're able to roll right in" to either college -- paid for at least partially by the Army -- or a job, Popp said.
They go through the 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training during the summer after their junior year and return to school to graduate before shipping off for Advanced Individual Training; they are normally home by fall to start college.
Tuition assistance pays $4,500 annually to the student's university, and the GI Bill pays full-time students $384 per month directly, with the Montgomery GI Bill kicker offering an additional $100, $200 or $350 monthly, depending on how the recruit scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
The South Carolina National Guard offers up at to an additional $4,500 annually to its members' universities through the College Assistance Program to pay for costs remaining after TA has been applied.
Some schools drop their tuition rates for current or former military members.
The University of South Carolina reduces them by 40 percent for Reservists, Popp said, but "it all depends on the school."
"College is always in the back of my mind," said Nicholas Bostick, 17, a junior at Blythewood who signed up to join the Army Reserves through the Split Training Option this summer.
"I was inspired to learn what the military does," Bostick added. "(Joining the military) was a lifelong goal."
When students return, "they're totally different," White said. "They become more mature."
Rather than being focused on themselves, they think in terms of "we as a team" and become more responsible and respectful to leadership, White said.
White makes students aware of the program if they express an interest in enlisting in the military immediately after high school.
Bostick said he's wanted to join for as long as he can remember and plans to go active duty after graduating.
"We facilitate them getting to a recruiter … trying to get (them) the best job they can get," White said.
Participation rates vary from year to year. Last summer, one Blythewood student went through the program. A few years ago, there were seven.
Bostick, a Columbia native and JROTC cadet, said he "immediately sprung" when he heard about the program.
He has a Family history in the military; his mom was in the Air Force and his uncle served in the Army.
"They were in full support (of me signing up)," he said. "I saw opportunity to go junior year …(and) I don't like to let chances go by … I tried to jump on it."
College students are also eligible to participate in the Split Option program. It allows them to get their Army training in without having to take a break from school.
"A lot of the college students that we meet … don't like to miss a semester," Popp said.
While participants may miss a few days of school at the beginning or end of the year as they train, without the program "they can miss a good semester or two," Popp said.
Joining provides recruits with "a lot more job opportunities," Popp said. These positions can range from infantry to administrative to logistical in nature, often ones with short AIT so students can "jump right in," depending on the needs of the Army at the time.