Serving our Country – TWO Amazing Young Adults Share Their Experiences
Aug 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.

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