Editor's Note: Today we're beginning a new American Morning original series that will track three military recruits from their final days as civilians through deployment. Our Jason Carroll has been given unprecedented access by the Pentagon as the president outlines a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. In the first piece, it's off to the Army for a high school football star who traded the gridiron to be all he can be.
By Jason Carroll
Will McLain is 18-years-old and a week away from taking the oath to enlist in the United States Army. We gave him a video camera to show us how he was passing the time; there were lots of parties.
“It’s always funny because even when I'm partying with my friends or something like that they always got to throw those Army jokes in. … They think I'm doing a good thing. They figure it’s better than just rotting away in Rosamond."
Rosamond, California is Will's hometown. It’s in the western Mojave Desert; a large stretch of land with a small population of about 14,000. A place Will McLain can't wait to leave.
“I'm kind of glad to be getting out of this little town because it gets old, but there's a lot of things you will miss, you know.”
It’s a place where dirt bike riding is surpassed only by motorcycle racing in popularity. We met up with Will the day before he was set to leave Rosamond. A day his 12-year-old brother didn't want to leave his side.
“I think it hits them more that I'm leaving. This last week, I think it's truly hit them,” says McLain.
Like a lot of high school football players, McLain had dreams of pursuing a career in the pros.
“All I could think about was I’m gonna go pro, no matter what. And then I guess junior year I realized there were a lot bigger fish in the sea.”
McLain says early this year he began to really think about advice from his uncle. “My uncle would always yell at me 'you need a backup plan.’ And that’s why I figured the military would be the best bet.”
Will had grown up with guns and always liked the idea of joining the military. So he tried to convince his parents to allow him to enlist before his 18th birthday in May.
“They made me wait until I was 18 so the blame was fully on me, because the way my mom worded it was she didn’t want to be responsible for sending me to Afghanistan.”
And now with time running out at home the reality is sinking in.
“I'd day about a week ago it truly hit me. That's when I forgot how to sleep and stuff. I just pretty much lay there and think, 'Oh man, I'm leaving in a week. I'm leaving in three days. I'm leaving in a day.’”
For McLain's parents – Bill, a construction worker, and his wife Lori – Will's future is now taking shape.
“We'll worry that he won't come home in one piece. … We've got hearts and prayers and everything. That's all you can ask for. He might be 5000 miles away but he knows people care about him,” Will’s father says.