High school senior is youngest post commander in American Veterans history

By BARRY COURTER | The Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 18, 2016

As a little girl growing up in Polk County, Tenn., Danielle "Danifriend" Cain loved to spend time with family friend Dan Reed. He'd tell her of the things he saw and did during the Vietnam War, and the stories captivated her. They still do.

Perhaps because of those tales, she also loved to play Army and could often be found enlisting the help of her older sister, Courtney, and their three male cousins.

Their dolls were recruited for many of the battles.

"We'd tie firecrackers to our GI Joes and our Barbie dolls and throw them off the front porch," she said.

"We were pretty rough and tough," she said of herself and her sister. They also spent a lot of time with their father, Dan, in his garage working on old cars.

The day she turned 12, she and Reed sat down to begin reading his diary from the war.

"He'd tell me war stories," she said. "It wasn't really scary stuff and not negative. It was just the truth."

Now 17 and a senior at Tellico Plains High School in Monroe County, Cain was just appointed the youngest post commander in American Veterans history. AMVETS Post 911, Polk County, was founded by Cain and became official on July 4.

Seventeen is the minimum age to join the Reserves.

AMVETS is similar to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion in that it is a support organization for military personnel.

"It is different in that it is open to everyone who has ever been a member of the military," said John Hoellwarth, national communication director in Maryland.

AMVETS National Communications Director John Hoellworth said Cain is easily the youngest post commander in AMVETS' 68-year history. The median age of group members across the country is 66, and the median age for new members is 58.

Cain is the only 17-year-old in the entire organization at the moment, he said, and just under 5 percent of the members are female.

Cain attended boot camp this past summer — she left a week before school ended last year and returned two days before it started this fall — and is now a mechanic in the Army Reserves here in Chattanooga. Her goal is to be a noncommissioned officer in the Army, attend the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and ultimately become a teacher.

She said she's always known she would one day enlist in the Army. Things got fast-tracked when she scored well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test given by the Department of Defense to those interested in joining the military. She took it at age 16 back in November.

"It's on a 100 scale and the average is in the 30s," Cain said. "I scored in the 70s."

The first half of the test is academic material and the second covers things more related to machinery and shop. Cain scored in the 99th percentile on the second half. That caught the attention of recruiters from the Air Force, the Navy and eventually the Army.

Attending boot camp before her senior year of high school gives her a jump start on her military career.

"I'm an E3 [Junior Enlisted] and could be a sergeant by my sophomore year of college," she said.

Cain, a captain on the basketball team at Tellico Plains, said she's only had a couple of weeks to organize and make specific plans for Post 911, but "I want to look at taking care of our local veterans. They don't get the respect they deserve."

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