GOREVILLE, Ill. — While many high school juniors spend their summers working, relaxing or volunteering to beef up a college application, Ashlyn Darnell was also training for the rest of her life.

Darnell, who just turned 18 earlier this month, has recently returned from Fort Jackson in South Carolina where she completed Basic Combat Training for the Army. She will complete her senior year at Goreville High School and then report for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in May.

Even though she is a two-sport standout in basketball and volleyball, she said sports aren’t going to be her future. She said the military gives her the opportunity to not only serve her country, but to travel the world, pay for college, and become more physically and mentally tough.

“I wanted to challenge myself,” Darnell said.

She was able to attend basic training this past summer because of a program called Split Training Option. It allows students who wish to join the military to report to basic training during their junior year of high school — return to school for their senior year — then report to AIT after graduating.

In Darnell’s case, she has plans to complete individualized training next summer, then attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She plans to enter the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and pursue a degree in nursing. She will remain in the Army Reserves during her college career.

After obtaining a college degree, she wants to enlist in active duty.

While in basic, Darnell said she was promoted to a private E2 — one of four out of 218 soldiers training.

“To complete basic on a good note, you have to stay low,” Darnell said. “You don’t want to be on the drill sergeant’s radar the whole time.”

The four-year, two-sport varsity basketball and volleyball starter said it was a bit of shock when she first arrived because she is a teen. However, the military treats its soldiers like adults regardless of their age, so they have to get used to it pretty quick — if not, she said, they get punished.

“I am so used to getting treated like an adult now, it is an adjustment coming back to high school,” Darnell said.

Although the travel and free college is a big selling point for the Goreville senior, the act of serving her country isn’t lost on her.

“I would love to serve my country. That is a big deal to me,” she said. “People worked and sacrificed to have the freedom that we do have, and I want to be a part of that.”

Ashlyn’s father, Matt Darnell, said this is a decision he fully supports.

“She was always clear she didn’t want to skip her education, but still wanted to serve her country,” Matt Darnell said. “We just wanted to help her make an informed decision.

“Ashlyn has always been very decisive and she knows what she wants. This was something that she was confident that she wanted to do.”

Darnell’s parents had to sign the consent forms to allow her to sign up for the reserves. Matt Darnell said while he and his wife have the fortunate ability to help pay for college, they have always encouraged his children to seek out and take advantage of the opportunities available to them — whether it is athletic, academic, or through the military.

Ashlyn recognizes that her parents would be able to help her financially, but she wants to do it on her own.

“I don’t want all that on my back several years down the line,” she said. “I would be able to go John A. (Logan) and play basketball, but it feels good to know that I have earned it and not have my family pay for it.”


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/2bjGJH6


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan.