Serving our Country – TWO Amazing Young Adults Share Their Experiences
August 2nd, 2010 by Liza Wiemer


Richard Kern is nineteen years old, a ’09 graduate of Nicolet High School, Glendale, WI and is a student at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Long Island, NY – He is currently serving on the Green Dale – heading toward Hyuga Valley around Japan – thanks Jeanne McDonald for this information – and here’s the link to track it:




New York Times Bestseller WAR, By Sebastian Junger


In honor of the two young men interviewed for this post, I will be giving away a SIGNED copy of Sebastian Junger’s New York Times Bestselling book, WAR.  Enter by leaving a comment below about this post or your own personal (you or someone you know) experience relating to military service.  You also may enter by posting or linking on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but please let me know.  For more information about WAR see Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/2edjms8 Goodreads: http://tinyurl.com/2dn3lcx or Sebastian’s official site: http://www.sebastianjunger.com/ Giveaway ends August 16, 2010, 8 PM CST – GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED – WINNER HAS BEEN RANDOMLY SELECTED


Richard Kern


For as long as Richard Kern could remember he knew that he would go to college and serve his country.  This desire for both, stemmed from his relationship with his parents, his involvement in scouting, Badger Boys State, and his love of history.  He said, “My desire to serve didn’t start from 9-11.  I am grateful for the way my parents raised me and for this amazing country.  It’s because of those things that I wanted to give back.”

In addition, paying for a top-notch education without some kind of financial aid was not a possibility for Richard and his parents.  At the beginning of his senior year (September 2008), Richard applied to every Federal Service Academies. There were essays to write, recommendations to obtain from a senator or congressional representative, (Richard received one from Wisconsin Senators Feingold and Kohl and Congressman Sensenbrenner) tests, and of course, the applications themselves.  The process was long and difficult.

Richard received a full scholarship – approximate value of $230,000 – to the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Long Island, NY.  This was just the beginning.  Though receiving this honor has been a tremendous experience, keeping it means a lot of hard work!  Some young men and women are unable to maintain the stringent requirements and either drop out or are disenrolled.  Four years of study is crammed into three years.  One year – broken down into four months and then eight months – is spent at sea gaining as much hands-on experience as possible.  Besides his responsibilities on the ship’s deck, Richard has extensive sea projects that must be turned in.  Upon graduation Richard is under contract to serve the US government for up to eight years.

The Merchant Marine is under the auspices of the US Department of Transportation, but there is also a connection to the US Navy.  A Merchant Mariner serves on ships that transport goods from ports all over the world.  Service to our country may be paid back through a “an appointment as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, or any other Reserve unit of an armed force of the United States.” http://www.usmma.edu/admissions/facts/serviceobligation.htm

So what’s the experience been like?  Richard describes the Merchant Marine Academy as one big family – a giant fraternity.  There is a ZERO tolerance policy for underage drinking and for drugs. [Zero tolerance for drugs.  First alcohol offense gets you into A.A. meetings and the second alcohol offense gets you kicked out.] Before entering Kings Point everyone has a physical and is given a drug test.  His first year (or plebe year as it’s called) is tough. “As plebes, we’re the bottom of the totem pole.  Cleaning bathrooms is just one of our duties,” he said.

The “Indoc” experience was the biggest test both mentally and physically.  Plebes would experience IT – individual training – when even a loose threat could be reason to have you “on your face.”  [It’s a lot more than just push ups.  Basically a sweaty, painful few minutes.] “The experience could push you to the brink, but it also brings you closer to each other – tests each other.  If a person breaks, then you know you can’t rely on him or her.  If you endure it together, it makes you stronger.  There is a trust that forms and brings you closer to others that is unlike anything you experience in high school.

“Many of us have two shirts with the names of all the individuals printed with all those who start out as plebe candidates.  By the time we reach first classman many names will be crossed off the list.”

“The best part about being a Merchant Mariner is the tremendous opportunities for our future.  We can go anywhere – from State Department diplomatic security to the Bering Sea with the US Coast Guard. We stand for discipline, integrity, professionalism and companies dealing in shipping know that they can rely on our training.  Ninety percent of all of this world’s wealth is transported by ship.  We’ll be responsible for a lot of it.  In addition, at any time we can be responsible for transporting military equipment for the United States government.”

“Some of the most difficult parts of being in the Merchant Marines is not seeing family and friends, sometimes for a very long time.  It also can be frustration living so close to each other with hardly any personal space. “

I asked Richard what separates him from other young adults his age.  He said, “I was fortunate to go back to my high school and talk with some of my teachers.  One of them pointed out that he sees many former students with no direction.  I have a direction and purpose in my life.  I know what I will be doing for the next ten years.  In my opinion, there’s definitely an advantage to knowing what you love and that you’re working toward that goal of accomplishing it.”

On a personal level, we talked about boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.  It’s not something that Richard sees for himself.  “It’s one thing if you come into The Academy already in a solid relationship, though many don’t last.  I just don’t feel like it’s fair to start a relationship when you know that so much of your time is going to be at sea.   Probably 10% of our school is women.  At this point, I see my chances of meeting someone as slim to none.”

KYLE PECUS – Currently Serving in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in the United States Army – 13B Cannon Crewmember

Military Service Right Out of High School

To learn more about Kyle’s unit:  13B Cannon Crewmember

Kyle Pecus is an ’06 graduate from Cambellsport High,  Cambellsport, WI.  He just celebrated his twenty-third birthday, July 31st 

Kyle Pecus in Iraq


Rank:  Specialist or SPC
Time in Service:  4 years
Time left:  2 years, 3 months
Plans after the Army:  UW-Milwaukee, not sure of a major yet

A note from Liza Wiemer – The Q & A was done via the Internet.

What advice do you have for other young adults who are thinking about choosing the military after high school?

I’d have to say that unless you are dead certain you want a combat job, definitely pick a job that is going to help you out in college/your career field.  So many times, I see people who join and they know they’re only going to do three years and get out and be a cop or a med student or something, but they pick jobs that won’t help with their career choice.  Tell the recruiter what you want to do with your life and ask what kind of jobs they have in that field!  If you want to be a nurse, be an Army nurse.  That way you get paid to train as a nurse, get paid as you do a nursing job, then when you get out the Army will pay for your nursing degree and you already have 3+ years of experience, putting you way ahead of the power curve.  Honestly, I think that the military is the best way for people who can’t afford college to get it for FREE.  And if you like doing your job in the Army who knows, you might even do your 20 years and retire.  Either way, you’re set up for success.

What were your reasons for joining the US Army after high school graduation?

One of my main reasons for joining out of high school was a lifelong interest in the military. Ever since I was a kid, I loved watching military shows, The History Channel, and I always wanted to try it for myself.  I always had a slight preference towards the Army for some reason.  I had the feeling that if I went to college (after HS) and got a degree, I really wouldn’t have a reason to enlist and I’d never get around to it.  September 11th cemented my decision to enlist.

Kyle Pecus


Why did you choose MOS 13B Cannon Crewmember?

Continuing from my last response, I definitely wanted a combat job, something where I’d get my hands dirty – blow stuff up and kill the bad guys.  I originally wanted to be an Apache attack helicopter pilot, but it requires at least two years of schooling and I didn’t want to wait.  I then had to make a decision between my next two favorites, 19K Armor Crewman or 13B Cannon Crewmember.  It eventually came down to the fact that I really didn’t want to be cramped up inside a tank, and historically field artillery had always caused the most enemy casualties.  I didn’t feel at all bad for the Taliban!  Dropping shells on them from miles away had a certain appeal to help out the infantry guys who might be fighting for their lives and put the hurt on the enemy.  And I also thought being a few miles away from the fight might keep my mother sane.  For the most part, I was right.

Where have you served and for how long?

Today (the day I write this) actually marks my four-year mark in the Army, as I left for basic training in Fort Sill, OK on July 19th, 2006.  My OSUT (One Station Unit Training, basic training and AIT in the same place, something the Army is doing away with) lasted until November 2nd.  I reported to my first duty station, Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne, two (very!) short weeks later. I’m still in the same unit, which kinda drives me nuts, but I really like the area around Campbell.  Fort Campbell is actually more on the Tennessee side than the Kentucky side and I love TN!  Great place to live.

What do you like the most about being in the Army?

Tough question!  I’d have to say the friends I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had.  I can’t imagine my life without the dozens of friends I’ve made in the Army, some of the funniest, craziest people on the planet for sure.  Sometimes work really sucks, but you all get to suffer through it together and it all brings you really close.  Depending on your job you get to do some amazing things that you’d never do in an office building!  During my 15-month tour in Iraq, we did everything from combat patrols and tower guard, to kicking doors and jumping out of helicopters.  The raids were definitely my favorite part; it’s hard to find something that exciting stateside and it’s something that I’ll never forget.  Also, the pay isn’t bad.  In the Army, you’ll never be rich but if you handle your finances responsibly, you will never be poor.  I’m saving up through this tour to build up a Mustang I bought, and it’s nice to have that kind of disposable income.  The Army, at the very least, always puts a roof over your head and provides food to eat, so what you do with the rest of your check is up to you!

Many find it difficult to be in a long distance relationship, but you’re in one. What’s that experience been like and how do you make it work?

Not going to lie, sometimes things are very hard!  When I’m stateside we usually only get to see each other once every two or three months, so it kind of sucks but at the same time it makes seeing her that much more special.  Before I left for Afghanistan, she drove down to Kentucky twice and I drove up to Wisconsin for a few days so we got to see each other a little bit.  It helps that she’s as tough as nails and probably the most honest and loyal person I’ve ever met!  We’ve been together for just over three years.  She and I met at the grocery store I worked at in high school.  We both went to the same high school but I really didn’t meet her until the day I was working the cash register at work and totally butchered her mom’s order and had to do everything all over.  I knew I made a great impression by showing both her and her mother that I couldn’t work a register.  We didn’t start seriously dating for a few years after that though.

Are you a person who thinks about the future and future plans, or do you live day to day? Why?

That really depends on what we’re talking about.  I try not to sweat the small stuff and live each day one at a time, but when it comes to big things like career choices or large expenditures then I definitely like to plan ahead!  If I thought about future plans all the time, I’d probably go nuts. I still have six months until I set foot in America again, so I’m not going to fill my thoughts with fantasies of a winter wonderland while I’m baking in the Afghan sun.

10 Responses  
Katie Rose Woodley writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Katie Rose Woodley August 2 at 1:02pm
I couldnt be more proud of Kyle! 🙂

Gretchen Davis writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 1:48 pm

My husband has been active duty Army since April 2001. He just re-enlisted to change his MOS from 92Y to 11B taking him from the support side to the front line. The only way I can think to explain this change is to tell people to read War and see Restrepo. He was with a different company with the 173rd on the deployment that Sebastian Junger and Tim Hertherington followed.

Faith Draper writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 1:57 pm

As a USN veteran I salute both of these fine young men. Serving our country is never an easy task but I know well how difficult it is to be away from friends and family.

Support Our Troops One Mother’s Story

For anyone who knows young children with parents serving in the military I highly recommend the book My Dad’s a Hero you can read a review of the book here – http://www.examiner.com/x-42740-Lansing-Childrens-Books-Examiner~y2010m8d2-Children-of-Military-personnel-have-a-lot-to-deal-with-review-of-My-Dads-a-Hero

Deborah Ridley-Kern writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 5:26 pm

These two stories are outstanding! Richard you make your dad and me proud! For those who are interested in the United States Merchant Marine Academy, go to http://www.usmma.edu and explore the website. For those of you living in or near Wisconsin, and want to learn more about our country’s Service Academies, there is an All Service Academy Day in Oshkosh WI at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association)on Saturday, September 25th. Each state should have their own All Academy Day each year.
I highly recommend students and parents to attend the Academy Day. It is free and informing. I highly recommend students who are sophmores and juniors to attend. No paperwork for applying is done that day. But, applying for the academies requires filling out papers, writing your personal essay, being interviewed and more and will take organization to get it complete. Don’t be intimidated! I’m glad our son went to his first Academy Day his sophomore year. He, and we!, learned what was needed to make an application complete.
Senator Herb Kohl & Senator Russ Feingold along with Congressman Tom Petri & Congressman Steve Kagen invite interested high school students, teachers, and parents to meet representatives from:

U.S. Air Force Academy – Colorado Springs, Colorado
U.S. Coast Guard Academy – New London, Connecticut
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy – Kings Point, New York
U.S. Military Academy – West Point, New York
U.S. Naval Academy – Annapolis, Maryland

Date: Sept. 25, 2010
Time: 10 A.M. – 12:30 P.M.
Place: Experimental Aircraft Association
EAA Aviation Center
3000 Poberezny Rd., Oshkosh, Wisconsin

For more information: contact your guidance counselor,
Senator Kohl’s office: 608-264-5338 or Senator on Saturday, September 25

Jeanne McDonald writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Well I know he is on US Merchant Vessel the Green Lake, it is a RORO ( roll on roll off) vessel that at times carries military cargo as well as merchant cargo. There is a website the you can track if you have the call sign- the greenlake, here is a link to the website with the call sign for the ship, on July 18 it was located in the Mediterranean Sea, South of the sea of crete and north of the Kahlij of Bumbah.


My son is 22010 graduate of the USMMA and officilly started his job as a third mate with the Military Sealift Command. He will undergo approximately three weeks of training, 2 of them on advanced firefighting techniques, and then he will be assigned his ship. It is very exciting, he is only 22 years old and has traveled across many ports, and he enjoys this career choice.

For anyone who is interested in any of the five service academy, you can learn much from the All Academy Day at the EAA in Oshkosh. THe evented is hosted by the Senators and some of the congressmen. THe date is Saturday Sept 25, 2010 at 10AM.

We have a facebook page for the USMMA Parents from WI, and we have a website also. Please visit to learn more.

Have fun tracking his progress.

Jeanne McDonald, proud parent of a USMMA graduate and USCG Third Mate

Jeanne McDonald writes:
August 2nd, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Well I looked up the wrong ship – he is on the Green Dale- the ship is heading toward the Hyuga Valley. Here is the correct link:


Some where around Japan

Mark J. Reinhloz, MSG USAR Ret. writes:
August 3rd, 2010 at 3:48 am

I have known Richard Kern since he was 10-11 Years of age. He is a positive young man with a strong faith, dedication to his community, strong family values and very trustworthy. He is the kind of young man who will lead himself, his family and his country into the next century.

Peter and Lianne Pecus writes:
August 3rd, 2010 at 11:08 pm

We are so proud of you Kyle! We love you and look forward to seeing you soon! Your wisdom in guiding others interested in the service is admirable and living out your mission with a passion is fantastic. We know you will do well in whatever you decide to do!

Anthony C. Hunter writes:
August 13th, 2010 at 8:43 am

I am a former Marine and proud of my service and country. I have lost friends to this war and pray all th etime for the men and women out there protecting our country and freedom. But there are those who think less of us…

I wrote a short piece a while back on that subject. The fact that, as service members, we are willing to lay down our lives for people…even the people who hate us. I included the link here not to promote it, but to give people something extra to think about and a little insight on why we do what we do.


I thank you so much for this article and for the splendid interview. It makes me proud to know that such great people with open hearts and minds are in this great country of ours.

Semper Fi.

alix kaplan writes:
August 14th, 2010 at 9:17 am

fantastic inverview and great article. Thank you for writing this wonderful piece.

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