Eric Greenlee, a Marine recruit, drills with other recruits at the Santa Rosa recruiting station. Press Democrat photo by Crista Jeremiason

By ADAM SILOW
MARIA CARRILLO HIGH SCHOOL

Becoming a Navy SEAL is an aspiration that not many Americans dare to have and even fewer are able to attain. However, for Ryder DeSalvo, 18, of Santa Rosa, this has been a goal long in the making and one that he believes is within his ability to accomplish.

“Since middle school it’s been a life dream of mine, and I just can’t wait to get there,” DeSalvo said.

DeSalvo graduated in May from Maria Carrillo High School and is one of thousands of young men and women across America who have chosen to enlist in the military. According to the Defense Department, the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy all met or exceeded their recruiting goals in the first half of fiscal year 2012 for a total of 67,830 recruits.

“Probably about half of all our recruits come straight out of high school,” said Army Sgt. Silviu S. Dragu, a recruiter in Santa Rosa.

For many high school graduates, joining the workforce and finding a secure job is still difficult in this economy. With the U.S. unemployment rate at about 8 percent and college tuition continuing to increase, many young people are looking toward the military as an option both for education and as a career.

“The military is a great option because it gives money for college, money on the side, and benefits,” said Dragu, who through the Army is close to attaining a bachelor’s degree in business management.

“I was a Boy Scout and then an Eagle Scout, so the military structure is something I’m used to,” DeSalvo said.

Ryder DeSalvo just graduated from Maria Carrillo High School and hopes to become a Navy SEAL. Press Democrat photo by Jeff Kan Lee

DeSalvo is part of the Navy’s Delayed Entry Process, preparing for basic training, and sees the military as a long-term career.

Despite the job security and benefits, joining the military is no cake walk for the recruit or their family.

“What I’m nervous about is that I’ll fail. That’s probably my biggest fear,” DeSalvo said.

Both of his parents attended college and were surprised to hear about his decision to join the military.

“Being two college graduates, it is difficult to not see your child go to college and become a surgeon or something, but at some point as a parent you have to let your kid do what they want to do,” said Dianne DeSalvo, Ryder’s mother.

“It is his life and he’s going to do what he wants and I’ll support him,” added Ryder’s father, Steve DeSalvo.

Some high school graduates join the military not only because of the economy, but in search of something more significant.

Eric Greenlee, 18, graduated this year from Windsor High School and had an opportunity to attend and play football at College of the Redwoods in Humboldt County but instead decided to enlist in the Marines.

“I’ve always been patriotic and after high school I wanted to do something more with my life … and if I was going to join the military, I wanted to join the best and strive for excellence,” he said.

Since age 7, Greenlee has been active, playing football, basketball and wrestling and wholeheartedly throwing himself into each new challenge.

“I figured (the Marines) was a better choice for him,” said his mother, Sherri Greenlee, who knew her son “didn’t want to go the College of the Redwoods, but he didn’t want to be flipping burgers the rest of his life.”

Greenlee leaves Sept. 17 for boot camp in San Diego in hopes of becoming a Marine “because they’re the first to respond and the first out there helping people.”

However, reaching that goal is no easy task and is never done completely alone.

Greenlee strongly emphasized the close bond he shares with the other “poolees,” who are Marine recruits who have enlisted and are still going through the Delayed Entry Program before arriving at boot camp. Despite being only 18, some of Greenlee’s “best buds” in the group are 20 or 21.

Tyler Curtis, left, and Eric Greenlee are two of about 30 "poolees" at the Marine Corps recruiting station in Santa Rosa. Press Democrat photo by Crista Jeremiason

One of the older poolees in Santa Rosa is group leader Tyler Curtis, 20, who graduated from Healdsburg High in 2010.

For two years, he attended Santa Rosa Junior College in hopes of first joining the Coast Guard and then deciding instead to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a firefighter. But his grades began to drop when his schedule became strained by trying to balance it with a busy workload at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

At that point, Curtis realized he wanted to “change his career path in life” and decided to enlist in the Marines.

His father, Stephen Curtis, was taken aback at first but came to understand that this was the right choice for Tyler.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of him … I just want him to come home physically and mentally in one piece. That’s my biggest concern,” he said.

Curtis’s primary motivation for enlisting was becoming part of an elite group of dedicated individuals who share a common bond.

“I joined for the camaraderie,” he said. “I have 40 brothers and sisters here,” he explained, pointing toward his fellow poolees during their weekly training.

Similar to DeSalvo and Greenlee, Curtis sees the military as a long-term career that offers him many options.

“I could still do school later on, and the military would pay for that, but right now I plan on being a Marine for the long haul,” said Curtis, adding emphatically “I want that title so bad. I want to be a devil dog” — the symbolic icon of the Marine Corps.

(Adam Silow is a May graduate of Maria Carrillo High and is a student at Arizona State University, where he is double majoring in international relations and economics and is in the pre-law program.)