Seniors Riki Fujimura & Matthew Rutledge Complete Basic Training

Mina Pecoraro, Reporter

     Basic training, also called recruit training for the military is designed to be a mentally, physically and emotionally intensive process that prepares incoming military personnel for employment by teaching them the skills they need. Normally, adults who are interested in serving are put through this training, but for Seniors Riki Fujimura and Matthew Rutledge, the call to action was earlier than most. Through the military’s Split Option program, they were able to take part in basic military recruitment training during summer break between their junior and senior years of high school. 

     “I wanted to join the Army, probably back when I was in eigth grade. It was either the Army or joining the police department — I was always an active guy. My father’s a police officer; when he tells me the story of what he do(es), I kind of want to do something adventurous and cool. Once I got to freshman year, I took the JROTC class and they gave me an insight view of what the Army is like. So that’s when my brain clicked and (I decided that) I’m joining the Army.” said Fujimura.

     For the two boys, this experience was a big opportunity to get a headstart on their futures. Both were inspired by their families to strive for a career in public service. “It’s easier to start your career when you start your basic, because you can already start getting paid, because you’re actually a member of the program now,” said Fujimura. Rutledge added, “My mother and my father were both in the military and I wanted to join so I could have benefits for my family.” 

     Their training took place at Fort Sill, Okla. and lasted two and a half months. For both boys, it was their first time traveling and living without their families. The isolation that came with their new environment was a major mental challenge. “For me, the most challenging (aspect of training) was being away from home, especially when you go to a place that you’ve never been before,” said Fujimura. “You start having all these emotional breakdowns inside, like, ‘what if I come home and I don’t pass?’ ‘What if I let down my family?’ The emotion keeps on adding up and it’s gonna affect your physical capability of doing all these other exercises that they plan for you.”

     As they trained through the summer, the seniors not only gained skills necessary for their new lives as military personnel but also many life skills. Their mentality was a major part of helping them push through the rigorous training. “In basic training, I learned to be more disciplined, I learned to eat better food (and) make my health style better. I learned to appreciate what I had before I left, and you learn to make more friends that you never thought you’d make.” said Fujimura. Rutledge added, “(I learned about) being a leader and successfully being a leader, and not just a boss, by being there for them and being there to guide them through everything. Not just telling them (orders) and having them drown when they don’t know what to do.”

     Both boys felt pressure to do well, and this helped them to push through the two and a half months of strenuous training. To help motivate the boys, they thought of their families at home to increase their drive and stamina and help them finish their last phase, the “blue phase,” of training. “On my last physical training test, I was running with the US Army patch — I was running being like ‘I need this, I want this for my future and for my family.’ So doing it for those guys was my motivation,” said Rutledge. Fujimura added, “By then, as soon as you finish blue phase, you’re known as a soldier and not a trainee anymore. So the fact that the drill sergeant treats you as a person, I think that’s the best part of basic training.”

     As they completed their last day of training at Fort Sill, the boys were no longer trainees — they were now soldiers of the US Army. Fujimura is a Mortuary Affairs Specialist (92m) while Rutledge is working to complete Advanced Individual Training and become a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic (91b).