Principal Dan Chacon welcomed the parents, friends and teachers of 19 Sanger High students choosing careers in the military immediately after their graduation.
But Chacon uncharacteristically took off his black cowboy hat, he said, in deference to military protocol while inside a building. He said it was something he learned after enlisting in the Air Force in 1980, a show of respect.
And respect was something he didn’t appear worried about with this group, four bound for the Marine Corps, three for the Air Force, five for the Navy and seven for the Army. He said he was proud.
“I know you guys are tough,” Chacon said. “You have a lot of grit.”
But, as he recalled from his early days as an airman, Chacon said there will be challenges, especially early on in training and again when deployed to a new base or assignment. He said he once arrived at a new base on Thanksgiving day, away from family and friends. But he immediately befriended his new roommate, who came from Boston and was at first a little difficult to understand, especially when he said, “Car.”
The signing ceremony May 22 in the school’s library was the first of its kind for Sanger High. Similar events are staged every year for college scholarship recipients and athletes signed to play next-level sports. Chacon also used the opportunity to recognize Estevan Hurtado, a standout student with a very high grade point average, for getting a scholarship to Cal Poly.
Marine Sgt. Anourak Phavorachith, who was dressed to the nines in his crisp uniform, praised his new recruits. “I think they’re fantastic,” he said. “They truly are the next generation of Marines.”
Signing up for the Corps were Lance Hatton, Hardi Palma, Cristian Arteaga and Ryan Martinez. Each of them spoke briefly about their assignments in the Corps and their reasons for joining.
“To make my family proud,” Palma said.
“I wanted adventure,” Hatton said.
“It’s out of my comfort zone, following my brother’s footsteps,” Arteaga said.
“Go big or go home,” Martinez said.
Sara Bonjourni, Emily Fortaney and Danessa Castro signed with the Air Force. Fortaney and Castro played varsity softball this past season.
“It’s just something I was thinking about since freshman year,” Fortaney said. She said she met quite a few in the service while volunteering at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. Fortaney said she plans to become a pediatrician. “They get to do something they love while helping others.” She said she liked that’d she’d be able to start training for her career in the medical profession “and have a job at the same time.”
Castro said she’s uncertain exactly what job she’ll pursue in either the service or the medical field, which she expects to be her ultimate career. She said she likes the Air Force for “the opportunities it will give me.”
Going into the Army were Gisela Arellano Luna, Tyler Stockwell, Damian Duarte, Emilio Guerra, Johanna Neri Ayala, Justin Salazar and Melissa Velazquez. Duarte and Salazar played varsity football.
“They’re one of the best groups I’ve had from Sanger,” Staff Sgt. Ernesto Gallegos said. Then he said he always gets good recruits from Sanger, which he called one of the best military support towns around.
“I always wanted to be a combat medic,” Stockwell said.
“I felt the Army was going to prepare me to be the man I want to be,” Guerra said.
Ayala said she wanted to be a combat engineer.
“I thought it would be a great experience,” Velazquez said.
Duarte said his ultimate goal was to complete his service and go to the police academy for a career in law enforcement. But he said he had other reasons, too. “Just to show the younger generation of my family you can do anything,” he said. “It was just something different my family’s never done.”
Duarte said he expects to be assigned to a cannon crew. “I always wanted to shoot stuff,” he said.
Salazar said he wanted to follow in the steps of his grandfather who completed a 20-year career in the service. He said he figures he’ll learn exactly what he’ll do in the next couple of years. “If I like it, maybe I’ll stay in,” he said. “If I don’t, then I’ll get out after three years.”
Going into the Navy were Isiah Diaz, William Reyes Tolentino, Ray Gamino Vongnakhone, David Levin Thompson and Edward Delgado.
“They were there when I needed it,” Diaz said of the Navy.
Ruiz said he’s ready to take on whatever task offered but believes he’ll serve as a boatswain. “My parents taught me to be a hard worker,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to travel,” Vongnakhone said.
Delgado praised those entering into the service. “I’ve heard so many stories of the men and women before me,” he said.
Thompson said he wants to be a combat medic in special forces. He has helped sports trainers this past year at Sanger High and played varsity soccer.
“We’re in good hands with these students going to protect us,” Chacon said.
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