The uniform is part of his family.
His dad and his grandfather wore Army fatigues. His uncles wore Marine dress blues.
A tan, collared shirt and black cap make up sophomore Harrison Dysinger’s first uniform. It’s more simple than the ones his family members have worn in the past — no flak jackets, no gold trim. Then again, this is only Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). But it’s a start.
Harrison is only a sophomore, but he knows his path — the military. Maybe not the finite details, but the basics are set in his mind. Serving his country. Following his family’s example.
It’s been a certainty since he was a little boy. Harrison’s mom, Denee Compton, saw that he was like any military boy — he liked to play with guns and make-believe war. But Harrison also had a passion for the military, and for the family members who were part of it.
“I just came to love the military people, the people who my dad worked with,” Harrison said. “They are some of the most broken people you will meet, because of everything they have seen. But they are also some of the strongest, the most whole people you will meet. And that’s what I love.”
His love for the military began in the Iraq days, when his father, Thomas Dysinger, spent half of the year in Afghanistan. Thomas called once or twice a month. It was the most communication he could keep up. The distance didn’t estrange the two; it forced them to cherish moments more.
“When you only have half the year together, everything means more,” Harrison said. “It’s just more important to make time for one another.”
In many ways, the military life is all he knows. Although he didn’t live on base with his dad, he could never fully get away from the military. His grandfathers’ houses were filled with relics; dishware from Japan, an admiral’s sword. Family dinners were filled with his uncles, who were ex-Marines and soldiers.
They told him about their times in Korea, Japan and Vietnam. They gave him advice for his future in the service, jokingly trying to sway him to their particular branch. For Harrison, the military was a lifestyle.
When he came to East, Harrison found a new connection to the environment he loved — JROTC. For Harrison, JROTC was a natural choice. His dad had done it in high school. Harrison didn’t mind re-arranging his schedule, or waking up an hour early.
These hours spent in uniform, perfecting drill routines and memorizing commands, taught Harrison a discipline that he saw bleeding over into other aspects of his life. His focus on school increased as he became used to discipline. He began to spend more time thinking about how to help other people.
“Harry was always the helpful kid, but I feel like [JROTC] has increased that even more,” Denee said. “It’s just little things. In our neighborhood, he’s always the kid going around and helping people pull their trash out to the curb. He just always looks for other people.”
Although Denee appreciates the positive impact she has seen JROTC have on Harrison, she worries about his eagerness to enlist straight out of high school. She grew up in a military home as well, surrounded by older brothers in uniform, watching her mom pack Pringles cans with cookies to ship to bases in Japan and Germany.
“I can definitely understand the appeal, the excitement, why he wants to go in so quickly,” Denee said. “But I just hate to see him wait for education. I want him to have options.”
Harrison sure when he will be enlisting. He knows what he wants — he wants to serve. Even more, he wants to be able to support himself financially. The military will give him a way to do both. As a sophomore, however, he is willing to remain uncertain about the details of his life after high school. And although he knows that he wants to join the military, he isn’t ready to give his entire life and career to service.
In this way, Harrison doesn’t want to emulate his father. This will be Thomas’ final year in the military, and his service began before Harrison was born. Thomas is currently stationed in Leavenworth, where he plans on remaining with his wife. It’s the closest that Harrison has ever been to his dad.
“I think it’s just a relief, after so many years of constantly having that unknown,” Harrison said. “[My dad] was never really on the front lines, but you can never really feel safe when you don’t know what’s going on or where he is. I just don’t think I want that for myself for the rest of my life.”
Now, Harrison lets JROTC remain his constant connection to the military. His next two years will be spent like most high school students — determining the right choice for education. Even though he doesn’t want to devote his entire life to the military, Harrison knows that he will soon be following his family’s legacy for at least four years.
“I think, at the end of the day, I just feel like it’s something that I have to do,” Harrison said. “It’s what my family does, and it’s what I want to do. I want to protect my country, and protect my family.”