By Christopher Smith
The Northwest Whitfield High School media room was filled with fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs football teams Tuesday evening as families gathered to celebrate student signings.
But none of the students were signing with a football team.
“They’re signing with the United States of America,” said Mandy Crossen, who helped coordinate the event. “I love the University of Georgia, but what’s bigger than signing to serve our country?”
Several seniors joined the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. National Guard at the military signing celebration. It’s believed to be the first of its kind locally, Crossen said. The celebration was designed like an athletic signing ceremony for high school recruits who signed with a college team.
For the seniors who signed, the day was met with excitement and nerves. Some students said they were the first generation to join the military, others said they were following their fathers and grandfathers who previously served.
“It was 2008 when I realized I wanted to join,” said Christopher Schlick, a senior who signed with the Army. “It was after my dad passed away. He was in the Army as an MP (military police). I’m following in his footsteps. Yes, sir. I have no concerns. I’ve looked at the possibilities. Someday, this job might require me to lay down my life. I’m prepared for that.”
“I knew I wanted to serve at some point,” said senior Josh Bailey, who signed with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as part of the National Guard. “I am very excited to walk (graduate) and get out there. My family has been involved with the military for a long time.”
Erik Rigsby, a senior who signed with the Marines, said he wanted to join because of a sense of brotherhood he saw in the organization.
“The Marines are just something special,” he said. “I’m really excited.”
Rigsby said he’s been mentally preparing for the 18 weeks of training he’ll soon start, but having family and friends show support through the military signing celebration “helps a lot.”
Crossen said that’s the point.
“I help organize a lot of signing parties here at Northwest,” she said. “I was talking to some seniors and some of them were talking about going into the military. Then the idea hit me. This is a huge population in our schools that we had not honored. The boys were thrilled. They couldn’t believe it.”
Sgt. Rafael Salazar with the local Marine Corps recruitment center said he couldn’t believe it either.
“I’ve never seen this,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve heard about anything like this. I thought to myself, ‘Man, OK, we’ll see how it goes.’ It turned out to have a good response. A lot of families came out and it gave these young men some recognition.”
Michelle Floyd said seeing her son Tyler Floyd leave for duty will be painful, but she’s glad to have been at the signing party.
“I’m very, very proud of him,” she said. “But it does shake things up. At least with college your son comes home on the weekends. It changes the entire family. They grow up fast and they grow up far away.”
Tyler Floyd said he’s prepared for the changes he’ll have to make to ready himself for the service.
“I know this will make me a better person, a better leader. It will be great adventure,” he said. “God has put this on my soul: To serve my country.”
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Lewis, who helped recruit Floyd into the Army, said he hopes to see similar signing parties at the school.
“I think it’s a real big commitment for these kids and their families,” he said. “To spotlight the initial commitment — well — I think it will mean a lot to these young men down the road.”
Terri Sutton, department chair for Northwest social studies, said she hopes the signing will have a “domino effect.”
“This is the first something like this has probably happened in North Georgia,” she said. “I hope other schools take the initiative to do this elsewhere. This won’t be the last time we do this. It will happen next year.”