Paul Valencia, who served in the U.S. Army, takes this Veterans Day to show appreciation for the military sponsoring high school athletics
Be All That You Can Be.
That was my generation of Army recruiting. A campaign that hasn’t been used in 20 years but is still a line many people recall when they think of U.S. Army commercials.
The Army has changed its slogan a few times since 2001. No matter the tagline, the Army is always looking to find honorable volunteers for an all-volunteer Army.
In our state, part of that mission is sponsoring high school athletics through the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
The WIAA and the armed forces have had partnerships for years.
This school year, the Army is sponsoring some of the RPI releases each week.
As part of the deal, the WIAA is posting ads on its social media platforms, asking potential recruits to “Go Army.”
“In the Army, every recruit is a 5-star recruit,” reads one ad.
“In the Army, you can hang out with your friends,” reads another, with a picture of paratroopers “hanging” as they glide to the ground.
These ads put a smile on my face, reminding me of my brief career as a U.S. Army soldier. It got me thinking about just how grateful I am that I made that decision when I was 17 years old.
Not everybody shares my feelings. A few people have wondered why the WIAA is “promoting” the Army. Not many, mind you. A few.
On this Veterans Day, though, I wanted to shout from the rooftops:
Why wouldn’t the Army sponsor high school sports, high school athletes? In fact, why wouldn’t all of the armed forces sponsor some of the best and brightest teens who are about to head into adulthood?
We in the sports media focus a lot on the Division I or Division II athletes in our regions. Those athletes have earned that recognition. They have worked most of their lives on their craft, dreaming of playing college sports.
However, most high school athletes we cover will not play beyond high school. And not all of them are heading straight to college.
Some want something else. Maybe a trade school. Some might already have jobs. And some just need a break.
And you know what? Some will consider the military as a launching point for whatever they are about to experience in life. Just last week, for example, I interviewed a football player who is one of the best in his league. He wasn’t yet sure of his future plans. He might play college football, or he might join the military.
The high school varsity athlete is a perfect recruit. As the ad says, all Army recruits are five-star recruits.
To play varsity sports in a highly competitive world, the athlete has put in the time, the sacrifice. The athlete knows about 6 a.m. practices before school or late-night workouts after a long day. The athlete has made a commitment to academics in order to be eligible to compete. The athlete knows how to prioritize.
The athlete can take orders. The athlete can lead others. The athlete has worked alongside so many people, with different backgrounds, with purpose, to become, yes, the best that they can be, together.
Damn right the Army wants The Athlete.
“The U.S. Army and all of the armed service branches have been great partners with the WIAA over the years,” said Mick Hoffman, the executive director of the WIAA. “There’s a natural fit with our Association, not only when students begin to think about their futures after high school, but in the common traits of a successful athlete and those of servicemen and women.”
Looking back on my decision to join, there were many factors. Playing high school football was one of the greatest times of my life, but while I had “it” in my heart and in my brain, I just was not a good enough athlete to play beyond high school. Plus, being honest, I was not ready, at that time, to continue with schooling.
It was great for me, as a young man, to get away from the comforts of home, as well. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (or as we called it Fort Lost in the Woods, Misery) for basic training was about as far away from home as anyone could imagine. (Still have nightmares about the time I accidentally told off one of my drill sergeants. It’s a long and funny-now story. But not for this space.)
For my advanced individual training, I headed to the Defense Information School, the military’s equivalent of J-school. I trained to become a U.S. Army journalist. That was my job in the military.
I’ve noted many times that I never considered myself a great soldier.
For example, when some of my friends from my unit were deployed to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield/Storm, my orders were to stay put, in upstate New York. (Something about national security. It was safer for us Americans if I stayed in the rear with the gear.)
But I’m proud to say I was an honorable soldier.
When I left the Army, I was ready for college. I was working toward a degree when I got a job as a journalist based on my training and experience from the Army. Today, here I am, still doing what I love.
I’ll never know what would have happened to me if I had chosen the traditional route to this career.
But I do know that the Army helped me get to where I am today. And I know my commitment to my high school football team made for an easier time dealing with the physical rigors of basic training, and an easier transition to life as a soldier.
Hey, the military is not for everyone.
I’m grateful, though, that it is for enough people that we still have an all-volunteer military.
On this Veteran’s Day, I wanted to make sure I salute the Army and its recruitment efforts, teaming up with the WIAA.
And, of course, I salute all who raise their hands and take an oath to serve, in any of the armed forces. Godspeed to you all.