Photo by Luke Hoffman
Hundreds of Air Force recruits march in a straight line at basic training camp in San Antonio, TX. A sergeant stood in front of the crowd as they saluted: “Hut one! Two!” Henry Meeds, a 15-year-old at the time, finally saw his older sister’s stories of camp come to life as he faced the massive grey buildings and was immediately impressed. Each recruit dressed in navy and gold-studded uniforms wore the same straight face and stern eyes. After one visit he was captured by the environment and knew this was where he wanted to be.
Henry went home to research the fastest way he could enroll in basic military training and Technical School: joining the Air Force.
Bennett, his twin brother, realized his passion for planes before junior year. Shortly after a phone call with his uncle, Blaine Meeds, who was in the Air Force, Bennett found the best way to achieve his dream of becoming a pilot: joining the Air Force alongside Henry.
Now seniors, the boys are on the fast track to reaching their goals by graduating early in December. While their classmates are just starting to think about majors, the two will begin a plan that will take more than six years of their lives — including at least two months of basic training followed by six years working for the Air Force at the Missouri National Guard.
“Six years is a really big commitment, but I definitely think it’s the best route for both of us,” Henry said.
The Meeds will begin their undergraduate degrees at Johnson County Community College in January in order to get ahead on classes. Bennett hasn’t decided his major, but will pursue commercial or cargo aviation while Henry is interested music therapy. They will finish their last semester of English before taking a break from their academics while at training.
“We both wanted an opportunity to have a great experience and get a free education,” Bennett said. “Graduating early will just help us get a head start.”
Once finished in Texas, they can resume college at any school in Missouri, paid for by the Air Force in exchange for six years of service. With enlisting, the Meeds twins will be able to receive other bonuses such as job security and the GI bill that gives monthly allowances. The perks were appealing when the brothers decided to enlist, but they knew that it comes with up to 12 months of training starting at 5 a.m.
“The intensity will be an adjustment but it’s good for us and we’ll learn discipline,” Henry said.Drills, obstacle courses and competitions between other flights, or groups of recruits, in the Texas heat are set up to test each recruit’s physical endurance. Technical School is next with written exams to test their responses in critical situations.
Even so, the boys are eager to act in a simulated deployment and learn how to operate an M-16 rifle. Palmour, the boys’ sister who recently graduated training and tech school, has told them to expect a six-day physical program filled with long days of aerobic running and muscular endurance training.
“They won’t have contact with friends or family for at least two months,” Palmour said. “It will be a big culture shock more than anything for them.
According to the Meeds’ recruiting officer, Sergeant Jason Jones, training is supposed to push the recruits to their limits, and the Air Force will do their best to keep them out of their comfort zone. He told the boys to prepare to be separated because they will purposely be kept in different programs.
Even if they are separated during training, the boys will be reunited after training at the Missouri National Guard in St. Joseph, MO. While at the National Guard, the twins will be able to study their major and would never deploy unless there is a draft.
Even though they will be leaving high school early, Bennett and Henry will officially get their diplomas when they walk in graduation with the rest of the class in May. They can still go to prom, basketball games and any other school functions. Despite missing their last semester of high school, their sister has reassured them that the sacrifice is worth it. In their eyes, it’s the best of both worlds.
“Enlisting is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Palmour said. “It’s allowed me to travel the world, meet amazing people I would have never known and serve my country.”