BOSTON -- "There is no democracy, there is no freedom, and there are none of the things that we hold dear than without the men and women in the military." Governor Charles D. Baker, Jr., 72nd governor of Massachusetts, captured the essence of a key focus of the United States Army that states that the strength of a nation is in the strength of its Soldiers as he addressed attendees at New England's inaugural Our Community Salutes event.
Our Community Salutes, a national non-profit, helps communities recognize and honor high school students who plan to enlist upon graduation. The Massachusetts community did just that on Apr. 27 at Northeastern University.
Around 600 attendees--a majority of whom were family members, guardians, and guests of the enlistees-- joined civic leaders, service members, and veterans to show their appreciation and support for the young men and women of Massachusetts who have pledged to enlist in one of the branches of the Armed Services. Nearly half of the approximately 250 students recognized at this event plan to enlist in the Army, Army Reserves, or Massachusetts Army National Guard.
"You do have a chance to feel a certain sense of pride in the work that you do," said Baker. "Everybody who serves in public life, the way I do, who serve in elected office or appointed office, the state level, local level, federal level, anybody who has a chance to volunteer to serve on a board or commission or to work in an aligned job in state, local, or federal government, has that opportunity to be part of something bigger because of the men and women who serve in the military.
"[Their] gift to the rest of us is a chance to be part of this great experiment of America."
There was no shortage of pride as it pervaded throughout the event from students and parents alike.
"Ever since I was a little kid I've always liked the Army, the idea of it, the military in general…I had a calling for it, the history, the prestige," said Holliston High School senior Daniel Campbell. "There are two main things I'm looking forward to: the experiences I get out of it and the ability to defend my nation. I love this country and the ability to defend it is something I'm incredibly proud to do."
"I'm very excited and super proud of him," beamed Campbell's mother Julie Michaud. "I'm happy that he's going to be able to fulfill a dream he's had since he was 12 years old. I'm really proud that he's found something that he's passionate about and he's following it."
"I think the Army has the most opportunities and benefits for you as a person than the other [military] branches," said Adam Dufresne, a recent graduate of Nashoba Valley Technical High School intends to enlist in the Army. Dufresne's father, Douglas, chimed in with pride, saying that his son is "making very good choices in life; he's been a good boy and now he's a man."
During a community fair prior to the ceremony, guests were treated to information booths and exhibits from service supporters like the United Service Organizations, Navy Federal Credit Union, and the U.S Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC). Debra Dawson, G9 strategic engagement and communications, and Staff Sgt. King, both of CCDC SC, offered enlistees the opportunity to try out gear developed at the Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC).
Cynthia Hnat and her daughter Chloe, a Salem High School junior who plans to enlist in the Army Reserves, checked out CCDC SC's Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) and Soldier Protection System (SPS). "This is my daughter and I'd like to keep her in a plastic bubble, but that's not going to happen," said Hnat. "I'm glad they are developing more safe equipment."
The Army empathizes with that sentiment as its Soldiers and personnel are its greatest asset.
"They are the future of our military. They are the future of our nation, and they have answered the call to serve," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone, deputy commanding general of the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) and senior commander of NSSC. "But the challenge is that less than one percent of the American population answers the call to serve in the Armed Forces. And over half of those who do have family members that have served."
According to a 2017 U.S. Army Recruiting Command report, 254,000 people, at most, would enlist in the U.S. military out of the 33.4 million Americans within the eligible age group. Thus, those who serve equate to less than one percent of the population.
Malone, who administered the oath of enlistment on behalf of all branches of the active duty military, believes that, despite these figures, it is this small percentage that is making a large impact on military service in the United States. "I think it's because these young men and women who have veterans in their families and they have the opportunity to hear the service story."
"The Army has been exciting. It has given me the opportunities to do things I've never dreamed of and experience this great country and this great world of ours," Malone said regarding his 30 years of service. "The Army has been rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. The Army has been fulfilling. I continue to be given the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to take on new challenges. All of our enlistees here today will be given those same opportunities."
That excitement to serve and the opportunities that come with it were echoed by many of the enlistees, including Salem High School seniors Kiarelys Perez and Josh Sanquice.
"Since I was a kid I've always wanted to be in the military, it's one of my dreams," said Perez, who will enlist in the Army. "When I was younger I felt like those in the military were people I had to look up to because they've done so much for everybody else. Now that I'm in those shoes I feel like I'm the role model and have to live up to those kinds of expectations and it makes me feel like a better person."
Sanquice, a future Army Reservist said that he was inspired to enlist by his JROTC officer. "It's good to fill in the shoes of those who've served before. As the new generation, some people say that we've gotten softer and lazier, but I'm going to show them wrong. I'm motivated to serve this country, this beautiful country. I'm happy to live here and I'm happy to serve it."
Like Sanquice, many of the students were inspired to serve because of guidance by their high school counselors. One such counselor is Kristen McDonnell, director of guidance at Norwood High School. McDonnell received the General Colin L. Powell Service Award during the Our Community Salutes event.
The award is presented to a high school guidance counselor from Eastern Massachusetts' schools that best support young adults in making their individual educational and career choices in high school and upon graduation. From a military recruiter's perspective, this is the one person who fully supports all options for students, including full support of those considering a military service option.
McDonnell was nominated by Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Dockrell who said that "Kristen truly believes in finding the right path for each student whether that be in a collegiate environment, a vocation, or in the Armed Forces. Her passion for mentoring young minds is equally matched by her ability to be amicable towards all post-secondary institutions.
Finally, she has been extremely supportive of the Marine Corps within the school. Kristen is actively trying to bring the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to Norwood and provides the local recruiter ample opportunity to find future Marines. Her dedication and professionalism are unmatched."
Inspiration for Future Soldiers oftentimes comes from the home. Understanding this, guest speakers shared their appreciation with the families in attendance.
"To mom and dad, to the brothers and sisters and friends who are here, I know I speak on behalf of a grateful Commonwealth when I say how much we appreciate the support and permission you gave to your family members who chose to serve," said Baker.
Malone concluded, "To the families here today, thank you for the men and women you raised to serve the nation. Without the trust, confidence, and support that you have shown we would not be able to maintain to our all-volunteer force."