SALT LAKE CITY — A group of soon-to-be soldiers in Utah began their respective military journeys Wednesday with the help of a U.S. Army astronaut traveling in space.
The group of 36 young men and women raised their right hands Wednesday in an oath of enlistment ceremony at Fort Douglas at the University of Utah Army ROTC facility. The ceremony was conducted by U.S. Army Col. and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, who was officiating via live satellite from the International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above the Earth.
Organized by the Salt Lake City Army Recruiting Battalion, in partnership with NASA and Space Center Houston, it was the first nationwide live oath of enlistment ceremony from space with more than 850 future soldiers participating in more than 130 locations across the country.
For many of the new enlistees, joining the Army had been an aspiration conceived as children upon learning of the honor of serving from family members who came before them.
For Jaide Florence, 18, of Ogden, it was her great-grandfather — a World War II veteran — who inspired her to pursue a career in the armed services.
“My goal is to become a recruiter. I want to show (prospective enlistees) what the Army has to give them because my recruiter has changed my perspective,” she said. “She talked to me about how it gives you a lot of life skills that actually are good for you and it gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
Fellow enlistee Isabella Poulsen, 18, of West Point, said military service has been a tradition in her family for generations.
“I have three grandpas and an aunt who have all been in the military and I just always wanted to do it,” she said.
She added that her career aspiration is to pursue medicine and possibly become a surgeon using the military’s generous educational benefits.
“That wasn’t the main reason I joined, but looking at it, it did help that (the Army will) be paying for my medical school while I get to help people,” she said. Additionally, Poulsen said that being in a position to aid those who may be in places involved in conflict or unrest is something she has always wanted to do.
“It just makes me want to protect people more with everything going on, because I feel like some of them don’t have the resources to protect themselves so I can do it for them,” she said.
Florence said her initial training will be in medical supplies, where she can use her skills to support soldiers in the field providing aid to people who are in need of care.
“I want to make sure that the medics have the equipment they need to help people because there’s been a lot of people like dying or getting injured. A lot of those people don’t deserve it and so they need somebody who will protect them,” she said.
Being a soldier and serving the country is something both women have wanted to do since childhood, they said.
“I, firsthand, have seen like how cruel the world can be and I’ve always just wanted to make the world a better place for people,” Florence said.
“I just want to protect my family more than anything and I feel like by doing (this) I can protect my family and other people’s families,” Poulsen said.
Originally from Atlanta, Payton Thompson, 26, also came from a long line of military veterans, including his mother who served in the Army, which is why he chose the same branch. He hopes to continue his education in film studies while serving and gain experience that can help him one day when his military is over.
“I’m going to do four years for now and if I really like it, I’m gonna just stay enlisted and then probably do a maximum of 10 years,” he said.
Just 29% of applicants meet the minimum qualifications to serve as a U.S. Army soldier, according to a news release. Those who do meet the requirements can receive technical training and education in numerous career fields, with almost a third of those in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields, explained Lt. Col. Raphael Vasquez, commander for the Salt Lake City recruiting battalion.
“I think people think about the Army in terms of just tanks and guns and the Army is way more than that. There’s over 150 different jobs that you can do in the Army,” he said. “A lot of those jobs are in the fields of STEM (and) this particular swearing-in is able to highlight all those other things that you can do in the Army.”
He said accomplished soldiers like Morgan are prime examples of the kinds of opportunities that exist for young people who are smart and motivated to achieve great things in service of their country.
“This event showcases that for the Army, that we are at the cutting edge of technology and we have the best, most exciting jobs in the realm of STEM,” Vasquez said.