Journey To Join

Story by Shane Phipps on 10/11/2018
NEW ENGLAND RECRUITING BATTALION, Maine On a blustery New England afternoon, in the back of an old strip mall, a young, dark-haired man with glasses runs back and forth between two cones, placed parallel to a chain-link fence. As he stops at one cone, a sharp beep indicates it's time to hustle to the next. With each iteration of this, the beeps come faster making him hurry his pace. His usual quiet and unassuming demeanor has morphed into a focused determination as the beeps come so quickly he's forced into a full sprint.

This is the shuttle run and it's performed as part of the Army's Occupational Physical Assessment Test one of the last examinations before joining the Army. The young man is Tyler Barrows of Manchester, Maine. Unsurprisingly, Barrows easily passed his OPAT, and will leave for basic training on Oct. 15. This is unsurprising, because on his journey to join the Army he managed to lose more than 75 pounds of body fat.

"I wanted to join the Army for almost the last three years, but at the beginning I was upwards of 240 pounds," said Barrows. "I knew I had to work hard to get into shape if I was going to achieve my goal."

True to his modest nature, Barrows devoted himself to his new lifestyle without advertising his goal, or even approaching a recruiter.

"I just wanted to be ready before starting the process," said Barrows. "I quit drinking soda which was huge for me. I used to drink a liter, or two, per day. I also started lifting weights once per day, and eventually would lift twice per day, taking every other day off. I've been so interested in the challenge of the Army, and the opportunity to travel, that after every setback I just stayed focused on that goal, pushed through and kept going."

By the time Barrows finally visited his local recruiting station, he had already accomplished what few are able to achieve.

"Tyler originally walked into our office ready to go," said Staff Sgt. Brian Leard, Waterville Maine recruiter. "He actually didn't mention his weight loss until later in the process. It's very uncommon for someone to go achieve what he did before even coming to see us. Most of the time, applicants need a lot of motivation from us. For me, that said so much about his character. The fact he took initiative on his own to work through those challenges and achieve his goal, proves he has the attributes to be a quality Soldier."

As fortune favors the bold, Barrows not only has secured his choice profession as a vehicle mechanic, but he will also be airborne and receive a substantial monetary bonus for choosing to enter basic training quickly.

"I want to work on diesel trucks when I leave the Army and I've always wanted to jump out of planes, so the Army is the perfect fit," said Barrows. "I don't think there are many organizations that would allow me to do both of those things as one job."

As Mr. Barrows approaches the reality of becoming Private Barrows, he is armed with a newly-found confidence and is reminded of his journey every time he takes out his driver's license.

"I've definitely gained more confidence throughout this entire process," said Barrows. "It's a huge motivation boost to see myself now versus then. A lot of people think my driver's license is fake because the picture doesn't look anything like me anymore."

His closest family members recognize this change and can see the confident and personable Tyler they've always known and loved, now apparent to everyone.

"His father and I are so proud of him," said Jennifer Barrows, Tyler's mother. "Tyler has always been quiet and shy. He would sit back and take it all in. Now that he has lost the weight and is joining the Army, he tends to join in on conversations and interact with confidence. He smiles more and shows the world the Tyler that we know and love."

While Barrows leaves behind a lot of sweat and unwanted pounds, he looks forward to his new life as a confident American Soldier.

"I feel proud and excited because I've worked so hard for so long," said Barrows. "Sometimes, I didn't think I'd make it -- but I'm here now."



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