Young Guns

Some are ready to die. Others aren't -- they just want a chance at a better life. But even the most careful of local teens who enlist in 2003 may find their plans for a desk job interrupted by war.

Wanting to be like her uncle, she joined JROTC and decided to be an accountant just like him. "I want his life," she says. "His life is good."

Gabriel's mother hopes the United States won't declare war. She doesn't want her children watching other children die.

"I just pray all the time," Cynthia says. "I pray all the time for them."

Dolores Paige says she isn't ready for her son Jeremy to leave.
Daniel Kramer
Dolores Paige says she isn't ready for her son Jeremy to leave.

Matt Walters, 18
Senior, Galena Park High School
Plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force

Matt Walters thinks the war will be over before he finishes basic training. He doesn't want to fight. He's a punk rock kid who loves Fear Factor and isn't enlisting out of any feeling of patriotic duty or loyalty to his country. He knows that there might be a war brewing because his JROTC teacher talks about world events every Tuesday and Thursday. They play war games where they invade Afghanistan and, as with real battles, most of the people who fight die.

Matt says the United States should just bomb the Middle East and that whoever has a problem with that, we should blast them, too. "I say drop a bomb on them all instead of sending our people in there and dying for this fake cause," he says. "We're trying to play the dad in a children's game and protect everybody."

He mimics his instructor saying that war should always be the last resort and that it's not going to be fun if he ends up lying on a sandy beach holding his intestines in his hands.

Matt decided to join the air force because he likes their uniform the most. "Marines, they scare me," he says. "And the navy? I don't want to go drown on a boat. And the army? The army's uniform is green." He doesn't like green.

His uncle was drafted into the army for Vietnam; he told Matt to join the air force before he gets drafted into the army. The air force is much easier, Matt says. In the air force he won't have to drop and give anyone 200 push-ups, train or exercise all that hard. "In the air force, you don't work out. You go there and sit down," Matt says.

If he were rich, he'd go to college, Matt says. He thinks he could get accepted to Texas A&M, but he knows he can't pay for it. He's ranked No. 44 in his class of 350 and he scored a 990 on the SAT; he says the verbal section tripped him up because there were too many words he didn't know.

In this unstable economy, he says, the air force will provide him with a solid, steady job from which he won't get fired and he can retire in 20 years. "If I live that long," he says. He thinks it would be better to die at 25 when he's young "and [has] lived" than when he's 80 "and struggling." He says if he got a regular civilian job he might wind up in the mailroom forever, but in the military he'll get steadily promoted.

Matt did so well on his air force entry test that the recruiter told him he can pick any job he wants. "I'd really like a desk job than actually be out there in the war," he says. "Hopefully I'll be repairing the planes instead of actually flying them." He doesn't think he's tall enough to fly a plane, and he says he can't be a pilot because he wears glasses.

Matt's mom died of cancer when he was ten. He says he has no idea what his father does for a living other than it's a "worker-type job" that involves metal -- maybe he's a welder, Matt says, he doesn't know because he doesn't talk to his dad. "The TV is always on," he says. West Point accepted his father, Matt says, but his dad turned the school down because he got married. The military, Matt says, isn't good for relationships.

Matt wants to travel and see places far away from the Ship Channel. "I want to leave this cheap town," he says. He's hoping to get stationed in London or Australia or someplace where people speak English and he won't experience too much culture shock. If he gets deployed to the Middle East, he's afraid he'll get there, ask where the candy machine is, and there won't be one. "They have a lot of problems," he says.

Shetyra Brown, 17
Senior, George Bush High School
Enlisted, U.S. Army

Watching Men of Honor, Shetyra Brown decided she wanted to be a navy diver -- but she can't swim. Her grandfather was in the army, but he won't tell her where he served or what he did; he just tells her that she shouldn't join the army because she will go to war and she will die.

"I'm not gonna go to waaaaaar," she says exasperatedly.

She recently enlisted to serve four years' active duty in the army and an additional two years in the reserves. She leaves June 5 for nine weeks of basic training at South Carolina's Fort Jackson. "Everybody needs to serve their country in their own different way -- I chose to protect them," she says. "My job has nothing to do with combat. I sit behind a desk and mess with computers. You can't program your computer to kill their computer."

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