By Alicia Constant
Patrick Henry College
At the age of 23, Tyler Stockton (Government, ’13) came to PHC, having served four years as an active duty Marine infantry machine gunner and doing two combat tours in Iraq. He decided he wanted to join the military in the aftermath of 9/11, when he was a 15-year-old freshman in high school. He finished his high school diploma in three years and enlisted at 18.
Arriving at PHC after two tours of duty, Stockton was not the typical freshman: “Coming here wasn’t my first time away from Mom and Dad. I was already living my life and this is where I chose to be.
“I was used to having a unit where most of the people ranked below me,” he added, “and I came here as a freshman at the bottom of the totem pole. I was older than most of the seniors, but they knew more than I did about the school, and it was a humbling experience.” He laughed, adding, “I was used to people saying, ‘Yes, Corporal,’ and instead it was, ‘Hey, freshman,’ and I had to remember, ‘I’m actually not allowed to yell at you.’”
When Stockton arrived at PHC, he didn’t expect his fellow students to understand what he had been through during his tours of duty, nor did he want them to. “People want to take care of us, but I served so my mom, my sister and my wife wouldn’t have to experience what I’ve experienced,” he said. “My scars are my own, and I don’t want them to know.”
While some students and alumni have pursued active duty, others have chosen to serve part-time in the Army Reserves or the National Guard.
“The military is a big organization,” Stockton said. “You can be a truck driver or a flight line engineer and never leave the U.S., or you can be in Special Forces on the front lines. Military experience is not necessarily uniform.”
Junior history major Caleb Bohon has worked in communications with the Army Reserves since 2007. He came to PHC in 2008, and has since been deployed twice, once in 2009-10, and once in 2012-13. His deployments have slowed down his degree track, but they have also allowed him to save money to pay for college.
“When I’m here I try to focus on my studies, but when I’m deployed I can’t really take classes,” Bohon said. “Because I’m a history major, I have to take Latin or Greek, and the main thing I have tried to do while deployed is working on keeping my language skills.”
Colin Cutler (Literature, ’10) wanted to serve because both his parents and his brother are in the military, yet during his junior year he decided he wanted to go to graduate school and eventually become a college professor.
So, instead of pursuing active duty, Cutler joined the Virginia National Guard in January 2011. He currently serves the National Guard as an infantry platoon leader, working approximately one weekend each month and attending two weeks of summer training. National Guard members are deployed to state and local emergencies and also can be deployed overseas every 5 or 6 years. In March, Cutler travelled to Germany for a month to assist with the final stages of training for a unit being deployed to Afghanistan.
“[The military] was my first immersion in life on my own,” Cutler said, noting that his service was a proving ground for what he’d been taught at PHC. As a literature major, “I learned that people are stories, and to see people first.” In the military, he learned, “It’s not about you; it’s about your buddy. If you take care of your buddy, everything’s going to be ok. And that’s love, really.”
Stockton, Cutler, and Bohon are among the many PHC students and graduates who have served in one capacity or another in the U.S. military. They each agreed that the military provides a dynamic opportunity for Christians to share Christ through their actions.
“I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink excessively, didn’t embrace pornography, and didn’t have anger and violence issues,” Stockton said. “I was very different. And I didn’t want people to say ‘Oh, you think you’re better than me?’”
He said his humility—and being willing to “fail openly”—shocked many in his unit. “I would go up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry I cursed,’ and their jaws would drop,” Stockton said. “They would say, ‘You don’t need to apologize, dude,’ and I would say, ‘Yeah. Yeah I do.’”
Because Patrick Henry College doesn’t accept government funds, incoming military students cannot use money from the G.I. Bill to pay for school. Stockton, however, says that has been a blessing, because his military service has allowed him to save the money that paid for his PHC education, and he plans to use his G.I. Bill funds toward law school.
Stockton would advise students considering the military to pursue that calling—and once in, to find a good church: “God has called us to love Him, and to love our neighbor. If someone has the desire to serve their country, by all means, go. The key is, do you love the Lord? Do that, and live your life.”