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.

Esteban Garcia, 19
Senior, Klein Forest High School
Plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force

Esteban Garcia wants to be a Texas Ranger. He says the quickest way to be a cop is to join the military because the training time is shorter than the police academy. When he gets out of the air force, he says, he can immediately become a state trooper.

Jeremy Williams shot M-16s last summer.
Daniel Kramer
Jeremy Williams shot M-16s last summer.
Michelle Martinez (far right) drills her troops.
Daniel Kramer
Michelle Martinez (far right) drills her troops.

Esteban is the oldest of four children, and his mother doesn't want him to join. "She's afraid," he says. "Most Mexican moms think if you join the military you're gonna come out crazy. She thinks if I join for four years she'll never see me again."

Esteban says he's going to train in San Antonio, which is only a few hours away, and he promises to come home for visits and call all the time. "It's not like I'm going to jail or anything," he says.

He doesn't think he'll see much action in the air force because he doesn't think they get involved in actual combat. "That's what the army and the marines are for: to fight," he says.

The only possible chance of danger he sees is that he might be stationed as a military police officer guarding a base in Afghanistan and someone might try to blow up the base. Then, he says, he might get hurt.

He has a girl who already is in the air force to whom he gave a promise ring, but he's not sure if he's going to keep that promise and marry her. "Maybe, maybe not," he says. Because he's also got a girl at home.

He says his dad told him that when he finishes his tour of duty, if he's not making enough money as a state trooper, he can always work at his construction company.

Jeremy Williams likes taking things apart and putting them back together. Last summer he debated between being a chef and an architect; his mother told him to make up his mind so she could fill out the financial aid forms.

When he told her he wanted to join the marines, she told him: "For 17 years I stuck with you -- I might have taken a vacation for a week-- but I stuck with you. And you're just running off, leaving me. I didn't run off and leave you. That's what you're doing. You're gonna hit the highway and be gone."

He says he's going to take care of her and send her money, and since he's going to train in California and Florida he's going to take her and his two sisters to both Disneyland and Disney World.

Since he likes drawing, his Marine Corps recruiter said his job could involve drafting blueprints. When he enlisted, Jeremy says, he was the only guy in the recruitment office who didn't want to fight on the front lines. "Everyone around me was saying, 'I can't wait to shoot the big guns,' " he says. "There's zero to no chance that I'm going to war, no matter how bad things get. I'm going to be working on computers and drawing things."

Even though he likes shooting, he doesn't want to kill anyone. He's been to the veterans hospital and seen amputees. He says if he lost an arm or leg he'd miss it, but he'd move on. "I'd be like, 'Damn, no arm,' but you got to adapt," he says. "If everyone was afraid of going to war, who would be there to defend us?"

Dolores is planning to throw him a going-away party the week before he ships out next September. That's when they're going to announce to the family that he's leaving. She says she can't stomach the idea of having her mother and sisters calling her, crying every day for the next eight months, demanding to know why she's crazy enough to let her baby go to war.

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