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Threats loom, campus grad stands firm

As time passes, most high school students have begun to plan their futures based on college enrollment and potential occupations. As some are passionately certain about the career they will persue, others are hardly motivated and have no direct plan.

Soon after campus alumni, Adam Dutcher, ?95, graduated, he secured a job with A&M Carpets in Fresno. Within the next few years he realized his life was going no where and when an old friend convinced him to join the military, he seriously considered the option.

?In March of ?97, I decided to join the Air Force,? Dutcher said. ?I chose this branch of the military because I truly feel that it?s the best quality of life.?

When one of Dutcher?s former teachers Sharon Scharf, art teacher, was informed of his deployment to Iraq, she immediately contacted him via email out of interest and support.

?I have a lot of personal ties with the military,? Scharf said. ?My nephew enlisted in the army, and served in Afghanistan. My son-in-law went through Fresno State on an R.O.T.C. scholarship and was commissioned upon his graduation. He is finishing a one-year tour of Iraq this month. I admire them both and I always want them to know how significant their service is.?

Scharf?s admiration springs from past experiences.

?My husband enlisted and served in Vietnam. I know how important public support is for our men and women in the armed forces as they didn?t have it then. It really made an impact on my hsband and I.?

Dutcher?s first assignment was a six-week boot camp in San Antonio, Texas as part of his basic training.

?It was much easier than I expected,? Dutcher said. ?Training for the Air Force is definitely not as physical as it is for the Army, or any other branch.?

Although the simplicity of the physical training surprised Dutcher, he found some of the other aspects a bit more difficult.

?We had to pay so much attention to the smallest details,? Dutcher said. ?Every morning our beds had to be flawlessly made, and our uniforms had to be precise in appearance. A lot of the guys got in trouble for little mistakes; I think they were just lazy or stressed. It took a while to get used to all the rules.?

Dutcher explained that boot camp was also mental preparation for what lay ahead.

?We were constantly taught the importance of teamwork,? Dutcher said. ?The officers always tore us down and built us back up; it was a cycle.?

After boot camp, Dutcher attended Tech School for six weeks, where he received his Air Force license to operate heavy machinery such as wrecker vehicles, big rigs, tow trucks, busses and fork lifts.

Dutcher was then given the choice of eight different bases to transfer to; he chose the Vandenberg Air Force base in Santa Maria, California. He lived in the barracks for four and a half years.

?I chose Vandenberg because it was close to my home in Fresno and it was a very quiet atmosphere,? Dutcher said. ?My main job was to drive busses, give base tours to tourists and haul cargo to assigned locations.?

In 2000, Dutcher was deployed overseas and travelled to a number of countries. He was first sent to Italy for four months to aid and support the troops in Bosnia. He also travelled to Germany, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

?The time I spent in Iraq was very nervewracking,? Dutcher said. ?We were always getting harassed and shot at. The amount of roadside explosives was amazing. Every time I was ordered to drive a convoy, a death threat existed. Little improvised bombs were everywhere, but eventually I got used to the high profile atmosphere.?

In the midst of panic and constant action, all the training Dutcher received prior to his deployment kicked into gear.

?When we were there the fear of death was always on our minds,? Dutcher said. ?There were tons of precautions taken to prevent as much as possible but possibilities were endless.?

Dutcher also explained that that it was not a good idea to ponder dying at risk of making himself vulnerable.

?It is very necessary to have a strongwilled faith,? Dutcher said. ?Sometimes that?s all I had to hold on to when I was alone.?

Dutcher stressed the point that a lot of American rights are taken for granted.

?In the Middle East, the common citizen has virtually no rights,? Dutcher said. ?The fact that we can walk the streets is amazing enough. I have a newfound apprecitation for America. I?m on a short leave right now and am very worn out. I don?t look forward to returning to Iraq, yet I am proud to serve my country.?

Unlike Dutcher, who had never considered the military as a career until someone brought it to his attention, there are those who have a specific plan to serve right out of high school.

Alec Kneefel, ?05, has planned to join the military ever since the sixth grade.

?I plan to go into the U.S. Army, specifcally the Armor branch and become a Lieutenant General in the U.S. army,? Kneefel said. ?I was nominated by my congressman to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point. There, I will participate in the R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers? Training Corps) program and will be apart an active member of the armed forces.?

Kneefel?s ultimate goal is to engage overseas in active duty and he hopes to serve for a minimum of 20 years. He possesses a strong sense of duty and commitment not only to his community, but also his country.

?I want to serve and protect my country,? Kneefel said. ?I feel it is my duty as an American to contribute something to America and my community. I believe that anyone who threatens freedom on our soil or any part of the world must be stopped. People everywhere should not have to live their lives under any dictatorship.?

For more information on the armed forces go to www.armedforces.com or call the local recruiter?s office at 559-225-4301

Scharf?s support of enlisted soldiers has also been documented in a previous online article written on Nov. 10, 2004. The article, ?Cards, cookies comfort combatants? can be found in the archives of The Feather (www.thefeather.com).

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