As the need for military service members increases, the amount of Americans enlisting is decreasing. A 2015 Pew Research Center study revealed how the number of active-duty forces had fallen from 2,065,597 in the nineties to 1,340,533.
This, in conjunction with the amount of citizens within the U.S. armed forces’ target age range of 17-24 being rendered ineligible due to physical, behavioral, or educational problems, according to a report by Business Insider, has caused recruitment concern.
A study by the Heritage Foundation found that 71 percent of Americans would not qualify for military service, and the Army estimates that only one percent of this pool of applicants would be interested in joining.
But Samuel Alexander Frye Jr., who graduated from Plainfield High School in 2017, is one of those few Americans willing to join. Early in the morning on Sept. 3, Josephine and Samuel Frye Sr. drove their son, the middle child of three, to the airport, where he was set to arrive at his next command in South Carolina. Days prior, Frye Jr. had returned from his 8-week training program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Hours before leaving, Josephine felt a sense of relief. “We are just happy he found his way,” she explained. Frye Sr., while proud of his son’s accomplishment, had a more outwardly emotional response.
"For 25 years he worked at the prison, so he feels he’s missed a lot,” Josephine explained. Frye Sr. was a correctional officer at the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
The young Airman began his journey in the U.S. armed forces well before signing his military contract, when he joined the JROTC program at Plainfield High School. Josephine Frye had had her reservations, but was eventually convinced when her son explained that discipline was what he was seeking from the program.
While Josephine has an admiration for those who serve in the military, she had hoped that her son’s academic achievements in science would lead him into a path for higher education.
"I had envisioned him going to college for science, he later stated he wanted to go to school for Biomedical Engineering,” explained Josephine, adding, “that suited him, but when I saw him in his uniform at graduation I knew this was his destiny.”
As a student, Frye Jr. had excelled in science. “My interest with science started in the fourth grade, when I took my first biology course,” he explained.
As most kids do, he tended to ask an abundance of questions, but received responses that failed to satisfy him. The answer that consistently eluded him was why and how everything came to be, until science provided him the answers for which he longed. He fell in love with the subject, enrolling in the most rigorous courses offered; honors biology, chemistry, and physics, maintaining a healthy grade point average in the process.
Despite the impressive track record in the academic science field, Frye Jr., who comes from a long line of military family members, including his dad, had other influences at play. While Josephine prepped college applications, father and son spoke about the possibilities of enlisting in the military.
"He always spoke about joining the military, it was just my job to steer him in the right direction,” Frye Sr. explained.
The recruiters from the Marine Corps. were aggressive in their recruitment, enough to convince Frye Jr., but in the end his father’s guidance led him to the Air Force.
Frye Sr. offered his son this piece of advice, “You want to go to the Army for what? You want to go to the Marines for what? You want to go to the Air Force for what? You want to go to the Navy for what? Find the one that best suits you for what you are suited for.”
Upon graduating high school, the college acceptance letters poured in, and Josephine’s excitement grew, but to her surprise, Frye Jr. had presented her with his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) scores.
While she had dreams of her son entering the science field, Josephine understood and respected his decision as a young man. Speaking on her sons, she said “they are exactly what I raised them to be; independent, strong, and respectful,” adding, “I raised them to be men not boys.”
With his family’s full support, Frye Jr. joined the .04 percent of Americans currently serving, and added to the 7.3 percent of living Americans who served at some point in their lives.
Airman Frye Jr. is currently stationed in South Carolina, as an Airman First Class working in munitions. Before arriving he had imagined remaining in the Air Force for 20-plus years. “It was easy to tell myself I would make a career out of the military,” he explained, but the expectations demanded from him and his new role in the military has caused him not to rethink his commitment, but to pace his expectations.
Airman Frye Jr. had wondered “can I continue to make this a career for the next 20-plus years, or take what I’ve learned and apply it to a career in the civilian world.” He explains that “this thought process can be overwhelming,” so he decided take it one day at time.
"I’ve never been in most of the situations I’ve been into while being here. Positions to learn jobs on the spot and expected to perform,” Airman Frye Jr. expressed, but these unchartered experiences had pushed him past the limits he had previously thought he had.
He added, “I am not burdened by the worries of the future. I’m focused on the task at hand and putting one hundred percent effort into it.”
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