Two Martha’s Vineyard high school grads choose military service

Kyle Francis. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

While many of their friends soak up sun on the beach this summer before heading off to college, or work summer jobs, Kyle Francis and Denver Maciel are getting in shape, mentally and physically, for boot camp, not dorm life.

Their choice of military service sets the two young men apart from most of the other 154 graduates of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) class of 2012. Kyle picked the U.S. Marine Corps and Denver the U.S. Navy.

When asked what factored into their decision to enlist, both men spoke about a desire to serve their country, as well as the discipline and structure of military life, job training, educational opportunities, and travel. Neither wanted to head right from high school into four more years of school.

In interviews with The Times last week, they described their satisfaction with the different path they have taken, and what it means to them and their families.

Semper Fi

On Sunday, Kyle heads off to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Boston. On July 9, he will be processed and ship out for 12 weeks of boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C.

“I’ve always been interested in the Marines,” Kyle said. “I called them when I was 15 to see if I could sign up.”

He picked the Marine Corps because it has a reputation for being the toughest in terms of training and discipline, which in his opinion makes it the top service.

Kyle learned he could enlist at the age of 17 with permission of a parent or guardian and participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). He went with his recruiter, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Cory Heinzen, to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Boston the day after his 17th birthday in April 2011 to sign up for the DEP and start the process.

At that time Kyle took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), required for all military applicants. Scores from the ten tests are used to determine if applicants are qualified to enlist and to assign them to an appropriate job in the military. Among the options based on his scores, Kyle has requested electronic communications.

Anchors aweigh

Denver started talking with a recruiter last February in Providence. He deferred his entry into the Navy until he officially signs his papers when he turns 18 on August 15. In the meantime he is working at King’s Rentals and enjoying time with friends before they go off in different directions. At the end of September, Denver will head to the Naval Station Great Lakes and Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., for about eight weeks of boot camp.

He had also considered joining the Marines, like Kyle. Although Kyle and Denver met in middle school, their paths did not cross much in high school. Both were involved in sports. Kyle played hockey. Denver played football and lacrosse.

Denver said at one point he did tell Kyle he was also considering the Marines. Last fall, however, he changed his mind when he took a mentorship class in seamanship at MVRHS. Denver said he discovered he had an interest in navigation, thanks to his instructor, Sail Martha’s Vineyard program director Brock Callen.

“It was such a great experience, and it helped with my decision to join the Navy,” Denver said.

Boot camp preparation

Since last summer, as a “poolee,” Kyle has returned every month to the recruiting station in Hyannis for the Marines’ Initial Strength Test, which includes running, pull-ups and sit-ups, to make sure he stays fit before starting boot camp.

During his initial processing he participated in a field exercise that gave him and other recruits-to-be a taste of boot camp, complete with some yelling-in-your-face drill sergeants. Based on that experience, Kyle said, “I know boot camp will feel like forever.”

When asked if he is nervous, he admitted, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t, but I’m also ready. I’m so ready. I know what to expect.”

Kyle said the hardest part about leaving will be seeing people cry, especially his mother and girlfriend.

When he signed up for the Marines DEP last summer, there was no girlfriend in the picture. A few weeks later, however, Kyle began dating Hannah Burbridge, a student at Plymouth North High School. She is now 17 and will be a senior next fall.

To get through boot camp, Kyle said he would need to stay focused by not thinking about her or his family in Oak Bluffs, which includes his mother and step-father, Elexis and Erik Wildanger, brother Nathan,14, and sisters Jasselle,11, and Kyra, 8. His sister, Caitlyn Francis, 20, attends the University of Georgia.

“That’s the hardest thing; I’m a family guy,” Kyle said. “I’ll turn that off when I’m there.”

At the end of boot camp in October, however, he will come home for a 10-day visit.

“It will be hard to let him go,” his mother admitted. “You have somebody home for 18 years and then he’s not around,” she said. “We even talk every day when he’s off Island.”

Ms. Wildanger knows it will be difficult when it comes time to tell Kyle goodbye and send him off to boot camp. “I know it makes you proud, but it’s not like dropping your kid off at school,” she said.

She has already started writing letters to Kyle in advance of his departure and plans to mail him a letter every day while he is at boot camp. She also will distract herself at work this summer at her mother Sandra Healy’s business, Sandy’s Fish and Chips.

Knowing that Kyle is leaving this week, Denver said he is getting anxious to head off to boot camp.

When asked about his expectations, Denver said, “There can’t be too many worse things than running around in the middle of August at 5 am football practice.”

His mother, Dawn Gompert of Oak Bluffs, said she is very mindful of the difference between Denver and Kyle and their college-bound friends.

“We won’t see them much in the next four years, compared to parents who will see their children every six or eight weeks,” she said. “That’s the only thing I struggle with.

“And the sad thing is, because we live on the Island, if Denver has three or four days he’s accrued, he can’t come home for a couple of days. I’m already disappointed at the thought of him not being home for Christmas.”

Lots of support

Denver and Kyle spoke highly of the strong support they received from their families, friends and also the Vineyard community for their decisions to join the military.

Denver said his mother was surprised at first by his decision to go into the Navy and advised him to give it a lot of thought.

“Before he talked with a recruiter, I said are you sure?” Ms. Gompert said. “The commitment is huge. It’s not like going to college, where you can transfer out. This is the military. You don’t have that option.”

Denver’s dad, Corly Maciel, and uncle, Neal Maciel, retired State Police Island barracks commander, offered to go with him on one of his visits with his recruiter.

“We’re happy with his choice,” Ms. Gompert said. “More importantly, he’s happy with his choice.”

Denver is her youngest. His older sister Sara, 27, lives in Boston with her husband and 4-year-old daugher.

Kyle said his mother and step-father were very supportive of his decision, as was his dad, Scott Francis of Edgartown.

“It’s good,” Ms. Wildanger said. “Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t offer kids who don’t go to college many other options.”

Kyle and Denver credited the high school’s guidance department for providing information about the military and offering to set up and attend meetings with them with recruiters, if they wanted. They also spoke highly of their recruiters and said they did not feel pressured in any way to enlist.

At the high school’s honors night, Kyle and Denver were recognized for going into military service. They received a standing ovation. “That is something I’ll never forget,” Denver said.

This story was updated on July 5. The print version did not include mention of Kyle Francis’s sister Caitlyn and had his birth month incorrectly listed.