Young people go from classroom to military
As Rachel Dzuranin was finishing up her senior year at Hazleton Area High School in June, she knew she didn't want to go to college.
"I'm not one to sit in a classroom and listen to lectures all the time," Dzuranin, 18, of McAdoo, said.
She didn't really want to follow a suggestion from her father, Michael Dzuranin, either.
"He would always say, 'Join the Air Force. Join the Air Force,'" she said.
She wanted a hands-on career - and she wanted it through the Army.
Dzuranin enlisted and is one of the more than 40 who have spent the last few months preparing for basic training from the Army's recruiting office in Hazleton.
Her military occupational specialty, or MOS, will be ammunition specialist. The position is definitely hands-on, she said.
"I'll make sure ammunition is packed properly, and be trained to detonate bombs," she said.
Rachel, who is also a daughter of Janet Dzuranin, left for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on Aug. 4. Once she's trained, she hopes she will travel.
"I don't know where I'm going to go, but I'd love to go to Alaska," she said
Rachel, whose brother, Charles Dzuranin, is also in the Army, signed an eight-year contract. She's one of three girls in the "class" recruited from the Hazleton office.
Dylan Gonzalez will be six days into his Army basic training when he turns 18.
"I'm excited," Gonzalez, Hazleton, said of starting something he had thought about for years.
A 2014 Hazleton Area High School graduate, Gonzalez began what he hopes will be a long career with the Army on Aug. 12. He shipped out to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training.
Gonzalez said the decision to join the military was almost a given. His sister, Keila Gonzalez, and his brother, Iann Gonzalez, were both in the Army Reserves.
"And I decided that I was going to join, too, because it's something that I always wanted to do," he said. "But I wanted to go full time."
He will train to become a 19th Delta Cavalry Scout.
"I always dreamed of being a combat engineer, cavalry or infantry," he said.
And while friends are going to summertime parties, Gonzalez said he is staying focused.
"I'm going to stick to running every day, getting into shape and becoming a soldier," he said.
Gonzalez, whose siblings were able to pay for college thanks to the military, said his goal is to stay in the military until retirement. His family, including his mother, Madelene Gonzalez, is proud.
"My mom is the only one who has the real fear because she is the mother and I am the baby of the family," he laughed.
Eric Pettit, 17, of Hazleton, is enrolled in the Army's "split" program - one that's available to high school students who are at least 17 years old.
Through the program, enrollees get a jump on joining the military. They fill out paperwork, have physical exams and receive their job classifications while still in high school.
"Then every Thursday, we have our training until we ship out," Pettit, who will be a senior at Hazleton Area High School, said. That means he will miss out on some summertime activities with friends and family.
"I'm preparing for next year. You have to start early because it's going to be brutal physically," he said of basic training. "I'll miss out on a lot, but it's something I want to do."
Pettit, a son of George Pettit, will go to Fort Benning next summer.
"I already have my date. I just have to wait until I graduate," he said.
Pettit became interested in the Army and what it had to offer after he met with recruiters at Hazleton Area.
"I think it's patriotism," he said. "I really want to serve my country."
Once he completes basic training, he'll know whether he will serve in the "regular" infantry or as a mortar man.
"I would like to see Europe. That was always on my mind," he said. "But you never know where you will go, though."
Nick Cibulish, 17, a son of Debbie Cibulish, also has another year until he graduates from Hazleton Area, and he won't be shipping out to Fort Benning, Georgia until then.
He has his MOS - infantry - and his deployment comes June 28, 2015.
"From now until then, every Thursday, we'll meet up and do training on different things," he said.
So far, he said, it's been great.
Cibulish, an honor roll student who is quick with a "Yes, ma'am," remembers when he first started thinking about the military.
"Well, when I was younger and growing up, I watched the 9/11 attacks, thinking, 'How could this happen?'" he said.
He wanted to protect his country and make sure that "nothing like that" would happen again, he said.
"As I started looking into it, all the benefits, it just made sense to do," he said.
Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Ayers said many of the new recruits are recent graduates from the Hazleton, Weatherly and Mahanoy Area and Shenandoah Valley high schools. Photographs of the young men and women are tacked to a bulletin board beneath the words, "Future Soldiers."
Some "future soldiers" have already shipped off to basic training, Ayers said. Others are preparing for basic training at Army bases in places such as Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Ayers sees most of the recruits each week on Thursdays for training, when they work out, learn to read maps, practice first aid and study other skills under Army instructors. The get-togethers, he said, are a way to familiarize the future soldiers with what to expect at basic training.
"There's a lot of physical training to help their bodies acclimate to basic training," he said.
Cibulish doesn't mind. It's better than wasting the day away, he said.
"I would rather be here. I have fun with this," he said.