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Randy Purdy.
Randy Purdy. (Courtesy of Girls and Boys Town)
Randy Purdy.
Randy Purdy. (Courtesy of Girls and Boys Town)
Family-Teachers Sean and Sallye Lee join Breanne Kimberling at her graduation. They are the Girls and Boys Town surrogate parents.
Family-Teachers Sean and Sallye Lee join Breanne Kimberling at her graduation. They are the Girls and Boys Town surrogate parents. (Courtesy of Girls and Boys Town)

Breanne Kimberling is terrified of her future.

At 17, and with special permission, she’s bound for four years of soldiering and a life path she didn’t see coming.

“I’m scared,” Breanne said. “Everyone I’ve talked to, and everything I’ve thought about the Army is war, and the situation in Iraq is scary and I’m scared to be away from my family.”

Breanne graduated in May from Girls and Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., and joins the roughly 23 percent of classmates who have selected the U.S. military as their future, if even for the short-term.

“This is something that is going to be good for me. Structure is something I’ve always needed in my life,” said Breanne, whose troubled youth had her constantly fighting with her parents and, at times, in trouble with the law.

Founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan to aid troubled youths, Boys Town grew in popularity and eventually took in girls. In 2000, it changed its name to Girls and Boys Town.

It has 19 sites in 14 states and the District of Columbia, accepting students remanded to the program from courts, schools, churches, youth counselors and parents themselves. Some house up to eight trouble youths working to change their lives for the better.

Joining the military is a strong recommendation for some of the graduating students, particularly those needing extra discipline or structure, said spokesman John Melingagio.

“But we don’t target kids and say ‘military all the way,’” he said. “We talk to them about all their options. We have a long-standing tradition of kids giving back, kids who get help in places like this and want to contribute to the community and their country, and the military is an attractive option for that reason.”

The Omaha campus, with 550 students living in 70 homes, is the largest of the sites.

This year, 17 of the 74 Omaha graduates joined the military, maintaining a tradition of an average of 25 percent to 35 percent of graduates joining up. Many students also gravitate to jobs in social services and public safety, such as firefighting, police and ambulance service, Melingagio said.

A recent Girls and Boys Town study covering 16 years showed an average 30 percent of its youth join the military. The national average of high school students joining is about 5 percent, Melingagio said.

Breanne’s Family-Teachers, the adults with whom students live, championed the U.S. military as her best option, she said.

“This wasn’t my idea,” she chuckled about her July appointment to show up at boot camp in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

She’ll enter to become a veterinary food inspector, though she won’t be dealing with the animal side of business. Instead, she’ll learn to inspect foods consumed by troops, especially perishable items such as meat, dairy and produce.

Another graduate, Randy Purdy, 18, felt no pressure to go military, said the soldier candidate.

“I enlisted in the Army out of pride and a sense of duty and because the Army offered the greatest educational opportunities,” he said two days before leaving Nebraska for Fort Benning, Ga., and boot camp.

And while the educational benefits were the major draw, he knows of the sacrifices servicemembers must make, he said. A former student, now a private in the Army, recently shared stories of his year in Iraq, said Purdy, a “rebellious teenager” who had a lot of trouble in school and was “not very good with attendance.”

“He talked about the heat and sand and that they didn’t have all the best of stuff, but I can handle all that,” said Randy, who plans to be a network switching system operator and maintainer — in other words, a “computer techie.”

“I’m ready to fight for my country,” Randy said. “That would make me even more proud of myself.”

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