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Ever since his cousin was killed in action four years ago, Tyler Rodgers has felt a calling to join the military. A junior at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School (SAS), Tyler was excited to learn that he did not have to wait until his 18th birthday to make a commitment to serving as his cousin had. This spring, Tyler entered the Tennessee Army National Guard in a program that will allow him to complete his high school education while beginning his preparation for military service.

Tyler idolized his older cousin who was an Airborne U.S. Army Ranger. On April 17, 2017, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, who was on his third deployment to Afghanistan, was killed while conducting combat operations in Nangarhar Province. He was just 22 years old.

Tyler’s decision to follow his cousin into service is emotional, but it is also practical.

Through his National Guard service, Tyler will earn money for college. His long-term plan is to become a doctor and the National Guard will also help to pay for medical school. Of course, he first has to graduate high school, and the National Guard’s Split Option Enlistment Program allows him to do that.

Tyler begins his National Guard training on weekends through the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) this spring which will prepare him for Basic Combat Training (BCT). On May 26, after the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee academic year ends, he will report to Fort Leonard-Wood in Missouri for BCT. Come fall, and his return to high school classes for his senior year, he will return to the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) to keep him mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared for National Guard service.

After he receives his SAS diploma, Tyler will continue his training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. At Fort Sam Houston, Tyler will participate in a 16-week combat medic course, the first step towards his ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. He will continue a similar school year/summer training regimen through college through the ROTC. Tyler signed an 8-year contract that consists of six years of active duty with the National Guard and an additional two years in the National Guard reserves. Tyler will be 25 when his obligation is fulfilled. He will then attend medical school.

Committing to a plan for the next 8 years is something that few of us ever do. Making that decision at 17 is particularly extraordinary, and Tyler did not make the decision lightly. “I couldn’t explain to you how nervous I was the night before I signed the commitment,’’ said Tyler. His National Guard recruiter Sgt. Brian Staggs said that Tyler handled the stress well.

Like many high school juniors, Tyler is also considering his college application. “I don’t want to have the same experiences as everyone else,” said Tyler. “The National Guard is helping me to set myself apart from other kids my age, and I know that won’t hurt in my college applications.” Of course, it also won’t hurt that Tyler is a high honors student and MVP of the golf team. Vanderbilt University or the University of the South, two of his leading contenders for college, would be lucky to get him, and, as National Guard member, Tyler will receive the equivalent of in-state tuition in financial support through the Tennessee String Act at whatever institution he chooses to attend – public or private.

“I think it’s important for other students to know that this is a path you can take,” said Tyler. “It’s a time commitment, but in exchange for your time you’re getting skills and experience you can use for a lifetime.” Tyler’s SAS classmates are proud of his commitment. “My friends have been very supportive and encouraging. This has been a hard year for all of us and having this plan for the future has helped me keep pushing through. One friend told me, ‘I could never do what you’re doing, but I have the utmost respect for you.’ That means a lot to me.”

ABOUT ST. ANDREW’S-SEWANEE SCHOOL: St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School is a private, co-educational, Episcopal, boarding and day college preparatory school serving 230 students in grades 6-12. We CHALLENGE our students to fulfill their greatest potential while helping them to cultivate lives of BALANCE and JOY