Long before graduation, Taven Tavarez had decided what his post-high school plans would entail.
Tavarez, a graduating member of Iola High School’s Class of 2020, joined the Army National Guard last summer, fresh off his junior year.
“I did it on a very big whim,” he recalled. “I took four days to think about it.”
Oddly enough, a rough encounter on a visit made a positive impression on Tavarez.
Invited to participate in a “breach and clear” drill, Tavarez was attacked from behind and shoved into a nearby locker.
Tavarez suffered bruised ribs in the attack.
He loved it.
“It was pretty funny,” he noted, adding that the trainees had two prime directives: be loud and be rough.
“Rough he was,” Tavarez chuckled. “It was nothing malicious. I knew the guy. We were just messing with each other.”
Tavarez was hooked.
Upon his enlistment last summer, Tavarez, then 17, completed 10 weeks of basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C.
“I think I take a lot of people by surprise,” he confessed.
Now, with high school officially complete, Tavarez is ready for the next step.
He leaves Monday for advanced individual training, where he’ll drill on learning fire direction control for an artillery unit. (Such a responsibility makes Tavarez the literal eyes of the artillery team. It’s up to him to identify targets and send locations to the cannon crewmembers.)
Why such an intense position?
“I like artillery,” he admitted. “I like blowing stuff up.”
It’s more than that, however.
Tavarez is an avowed firearms aficionado. He’s dabbled in blacksmithing since he was 9, took up welding as a high school freshman, and obtained his first firearm as a 15-year-old.
He earned his second welding certificate in two years this week at the Regional Rural Technology Center in LaHarpe, which was reopened briefly to students so they could complete their certification.
“I’ve always been fascinated with firearms, explosives and the nature of them,” he said.
He’d even hoped to build a pair of semi-automatic versions of light machine guns from the World War II era with his grandfather this spring, before finances got in the way.
As for entering the National Guard, Tavarez said, “I wanted to join something. I didn’t know which branch or what to do, which offered the biggest bang for your buck, or what had the coolest jobs.”
So as a self-described “militant libertarian,” Tavarez did some research on the armed forces.
Soon, he realized becoming a citizen soldier carried the most appeal, first for the freedom, and for the options joining the Guard afforded.
“You’re still getting training, and still getting all of the cool stuff,” he said. “If you look, you’ll see the last (Army) Ranger Challenge was won by two National Guardsmen. The last sniper challenge? National Guard. It’s what our Founding Fathers wanted, a part-time military to be our entire military.”
Tavarez quickly embraced the training. While classified with the “split-ops” — recruits including 17-year-olds like himself, but still with other adults — Tavarez soon was tapped by his drill sergeant as a “platoon guy.” The designation made him a de facto captain of his platoon.
“It’s almost unheard of for somebody that young to almost complete basic as the platoon guy and not get ‘fired’ at some point,” Tavarez said.
But he did it.
Since enlisting, Tavarez has been promoted twice, now the rank of private 1st class.
“I was pretty happy with that,” he said. “I’d been waiting a while for that promotion.”
IF ALL goes well at AIT, Tavarez has other pursuits. He’d love to join an airborne company. “I’ve wanted to be a paratrooper since I was a kid,” he said, quickly reciting the history of the German Fallschirmjäger, the World War II paratroopers who made a name for themselves for their skill and proficiency.
“It’s kind of odd to say that about the enemy,” Tavarez said, “But they were good at what they did.”
Outside of that, Tavarez plans to enroll in the fall at Pittsburg State University.
He’s undecided on a major, but plans to take his schooling seriously. His tuition is being covered by the Guard.
“Being in the National Guard is giving me options,” he noted.
But first is seven weeks of training, preceded by two weeks of quarantine, courtesy of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The quarantine will be akin to sitting in a doctor’s office for two weeks with no sleep.
“They do it to all the basic training guys,” Tavarez said. “There’s a method to their madness.”
If the recruits are sleep-deprived long enough, they’ll all follow the same sleep schedule once they’re allowed to hit the bunks, Tavarez noted.
“There’s a reason why they do everything.”
Tavarez gave another example of the expected discipline. He will be prohibited from drinking water from his camelbak pouch, unless he’s kneeling on one knee.
The reason? As a person ages, his knees begin to ache more.
The best way to cope with that is to “harden them up,” Tavarez said. “Then you’ll be able to shoot better when you’re on your knees, and be better at the range because you can hold that position a lot longer with no discomfort. It’s simple, outside-the-box thinking.”
TAVAREZ was undisturbed when classes were shuttered for the last nine weeks of the school year because of the coronavirus.
“Most kids who are hurt about it are kids who have been indoctrinated to thinking school is everything,” he explained. “They’re thinking, ‘I need this A or my parents are going to kill me.’ They focus all their time and energy on just school.”
The better barometer of post-high school success can be measured on work ethic and ability to deal with others, he contends.
Tavarez is eager to espouse the benefits of the National Guard to other young potential recruits. He’s heard positive feedback from a few.