It’s the middle of a school week. Josh Finkel, a 20-year-old college student, visits his girlfriend, Jordyn Whitman, at her apartment in downtown Plattsburgh. He brings with him a bag of food from McDonalds. Whitman has not eaten or seen her boyfriend all day. She shakes with excitement. Finkel sits on the floor against the wall.
Whitman sits next to him, unwrapping her burger and chatting with her roommates, who are sitting on a couch in their living room. Finkel remains quiet.
Out of nowhere, Finkel says, “Did you know on average 22 veterans a day commit suicide?” Following this, Finkel springs into push-up position and performs 22 of the calisthenic exercise.
Finkel is referring to the Til Valhalla Project. Participants in this project do 22 push ups a day to ensure the memories of fallen veterans are not forgotten.
Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, there has been an increase in military students. More and more students are taking advantage of education services while being connected to the military.
According to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics at RTI International, the 9/11 GI Bill, put into effect in 2009, has greatly increased education benefits for students enrolled in the military post 9/11.
In 2011-2012, military students represented 4.9 percent of the 23.1 million undergraduates. The numbers are only increasing.
Finkel had always been thinking about joining the service. “My parents weren’t a huge fan of it,” he said. “But they are very supportive.”
In January, Finkel will leave for basic. He will take the whole semester off from school. He also plans to continue his career in the military after he graduates from college.
“My contract is for six years,” Finkel said. “After that, depending on where I am in life, I may renew my contract.”
Whitman worries about Finkel and often confides in her roommates for advice. However, at the end of the day she remains confidant.
“I’m going to miss him being gone for 14 weeks,” Whitman said. “But I’m not too worried.”
She is up for the challenge. Whitman believes this will only bring her and Finkel closer together.
“I feel like when couples have to go that long without talking it makes it more special when they finally can,” Whitman said. “It’s a true test of how strong a relationship really is.”
Finkel grew up on Long Island, New York. He attends SUNY Plattsburgh, a university in a small town in upstate New York, where he majors in physics.
He enjoys playing the saxophone, listening to Green Day and spending time with his girlfriend, Whitman. Finkle is also a brother in a fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon.
“There is going to be a lot happening next semester,” Finkel said. “It’s going to be strange being away from Jordyn, my fraternity and my friends, but I think it is definitely worth it long term.”
While on a trip to Hawaii last summer with his family, Finkel visited Pearl Harbor. Finkel’s grandfather served in the Navy and his great-grandfather served in the Air Force. After that visit he decided if he wasn’t going to join the military now, he was never going to.
Once a month Finkel goes to basic. He leaves Saturday night and returns Sunday evening. Basic is broken into three phases: red phase, white phase and blue phase.
Red phase involves fitness training and discipline. White phase is about weapons qualifications. Blue phase involves field-training exercises.
After basic, Finkel will attend AIT, which is advanced individual training. AIT is different for every job. He is aspiring to be a combat engineer.
Finkel will be gone for 14 weeks at basic. His friends, his fraternity and Whitman will all miss him. However, Whitman thinks nothing less of her boyfriend.
“It’s exciting,” Whitman said. “I’m proud of him. He’s an inspiration.”