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News | July 1, 2024

41-year-old joins U.S. Army Reserve to complete what he started at 18

By Lt. Col. Michelle Lunato 98th Training Division -Initial Entry Training

Going to U.S. Army Basic Combat Training at 41 years of age is uncommon. In fact, it requires a waiver. That did not deter Jason Pelletier. However, that wasn’t the only waiver he needed.

Pelletier enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2000, when he was 18 years old. His enlistment ended only after two years due to a number of disciplinary issues, mostly stemming from underage drinking, said Pelletier. Though the General Under Honorable Discharge did not effect his future overall, it did bar Pelletier from re-enlisting.

Pelletier accepted the end of his military service and moved on with life, accepting a college football scholarship with West Alabama. This led to a career in the Southern California fitness industry. Pelletier even did some fitness modeling after meeting with a founder of the Gold’s Gym franchise.

Eventually, Pelletier moved on into the finance industry, working for Morgan Stanley, Hancock Whitney Bank and now, Navy Federal Credit Union. Outside of work, Pelletier was established as well with a wife and two children. Essentially, everything was wonderful and Pelletier had no complaints, but he did have one looming regret. He still had a desire to serve, and felt like he needed to complete his obligation to the Nation that he left undone when he was discharged from the Air Force.

This desire to serve pulled on him enough that he attempted to join the Army National Guard four separate times over the years. But each time, he failed due to his Air Force Discharge. And as a mortgage supervisor at Navy Federal, Pelletier said he was surrounded by servicemembers, and he hated to say he only served two years.

“I wanted to have that same sense of pride,” said Pelletier.

After speaking to some military friends and doing more research, Pelletier decided to go to the Army Reserve recruiting office. He was determined serve again. He had remained fit and healthy. There should be no reason someone could not make this happen, he told himself.

His age and Air Force Discharge required waivers, and it didn’t look promising when he started to get resistance.

Pelletier said he was not going to accept that answer.

“At this point, at 41, I just looked at [joining the Army Reserve] as a challenge. It wasn’t like a mid life crisis type challenge, even though some may say that. Maybe sometimes, I will even admit that myself, but it was like, I still have a lot of gas left in the tank and I want to be able to push myself as far as I can go.”

Not taking no for an answer, Pelletier spoke to another recruiter.

“No disrespect to that guy, but he is not going to work for me. Will you work for me?” Pelletier recalled asking Staff Sgt. Paul Behling, the recruiter who took on the challenge of enlisting a 41-year-old who needed an additional waiver due to a discharge two decades ago.

Behling absolutely worked for me, said Pelletier. He saw my desire to serve and matched it with his own passion.
“His attitude and perseverance are no doubt the reason why he is an incredible recruiter who truly cares about bringing in applicants who desire to serve in the U.S. Army.”

Knowing this was no ordinary recruitment, Behling recommended Pelletier to get some letters of recommendation.

Being at Navy Federal, Pelletier spoke to his supervisor and one of the Vice Presidents. They were happy to recommend him and were entirely supportive. They even recommended that Pelletier speak with another Vice President, one who was currently serving as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

That led to Pelletier meeting Col. Matthew Lawson, commander, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training). Over coffee at the Navy Federal campus, Pelletier told Lawson his story, including the mistakes in his youth that led to the early discharge from the Air Force. He explained why he wanted to still serve and his sense of patriotism.

Pelletier said he “laid it all on the line so he didn’t have any surprises.” He explained that he didn’t want the past to define him, and wanted a second chance to do it right. And not only that, he was mentally and physically ready for the challenge.

After listening to Pelletier and considering it, Lawson said he was compelled and happy to write a letter of recommendation.

“He was very open and honest that he had made a mistake during his first enlistment and took responsibility for it, but now, wanted to make it right and be a good example for his family,” said Lawson.

It wasn’t just the openness from Pelletier that impressed Lawson, it was the fact that Pelletier had already taken action by speaking to a recruiter, his family and supervisors.

“It was clear this wasn’t just an idea, this was something he was actively working on and he was looking for assistance in bringing the process to reality.”

Mistakes happen in life. The key is taking responsibility and learning, and Lawson said he saw that ownership and growth in Pelletier.

“It really comes down to the facts that Jason knew he made a mistake and wanted to make it right. A great many Soldiers have made mistakes and gone on to have productive careers, so I saw this as no different,” said Lawson.

With Lawson’s letter of recommendation secured, Pelletier thought, this is it. I am finally getting in! Behling agreed that the letter from a colonel was great, but suggested a letter from a one-star general may help even more.

Pelletier understood Behling’s reasoning, but was taken aback by the new request.

“I thought, you have got to be kidding me. I don’t know any one-star generals. Maybe one who has been retired for 30 years, but I don’t think that is going to help,” recalled Pelletier.

Not one to be deterred though, Pelletier contacted Lawson again, asking if he knew anyone in his chain of command who might be willing to listen to his request. Lawson thought of his division commander, Brig. Gen. David Samuelsen, commanding general, 98th Training Division (IET).

When Lawson set Pelletier up for a call with Samuelsen, Pelletier said he got a bit worried.

“I thought, man, what am I doing here? This guy is going to think I am an idiot and a has been.’

Pelletier said he only hesitated momentarily though and reminded himself of the goal and his never-quit attitude.

“If you want something, go out and fight for it, and don’t take no for an answer. Keep kicking that door down.”

So one more time, Pelletier was telling his story, mistakes and all, but this time to a one-star general. He said Samuelsen carried himself very stoically by how he listened and the questions he asked. In fact, he told Lawson, he was a little concerned after the call.

“I don’t know if he likes me or not, and I don’t know what he is going to say.”

The 98th Training Division commanding general said he took the call because he was intrigued by Pelletier’s desire to serve after all these years. And after listening to him, he was impressed by his courage, tenacity and resiliency.

Samuelsen said he reviewed Pelletier’s records and their conversation, then thought of a Winston Churchill quote, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

With this is mind, Samuelsen said it was easy for him to write a letter of recommendation supporting Pelletier to be granted a waiver to enlist.

“He admitted his mistakes, took corrective action, and has lived an exemplary life for over two decades since his discharge. His desire to serve the [U.S. Army Reserve] as a combat medic, which is a strong need, coupled with his civilian accomplishments and pure tenacity made this a strong case for support.”

With all the paperwork in line, Pelletier had finally received his yes. He was going to U.S. Army Combat Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for 10 weeks and then immediately on to Combat Medic Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas for another 16 weeks.

That fact that he had to work so hard to get to this point did not escape Pelletier. In fact, he said he thanks God every day for the opportunity.

“I know a lot of people who don’t get a chance to have a second chance, or they feel like they are too old or it’s too late for them. So to be able to do this is very surreal.”

Of course, being the lone 41-year-old recruit at Basic Combat Training, did make Pelletier stand out naturally. Not only was he older than his fellow recruits, he was also older than his drill sergeants.

With physical fitness a strength of Pelletier’s, he quickly established himself as motivated and able to accomplish the demands, sometimes even better than his younger recruit peers. And when given the opportunity to share his story with them, he did.

“I think that gave them the sense of why I was there and took it so seriously.”

Pelletier said he’d tell any fellow recruits who would listen, that failures are just part of life. The key is to work hard and fight for what you want. Never take no for an answer and don’t let the past define you.

Between proving he was mentally and physically capable of the demands at Basic Combat Training and him sharing his story, Pelletier earned the nickname of ‘Senior Wolf’ in the Wolf Pack unit.

Now, Senior Wolf has moved on to Combat Medic Advanced Individual Training, with an expected graduation date in late August.

Pelletier said he chose combat medic as his military occupational speciality because he wanted something “high octane” and found it a “real life applicable skill set.” Not in terms of changing his career but for more of a practical use in emergencies.

“If something happens, I might be able to preserve someone’s life,” said Pelletier.

Ironically though, Senior Wolf said his recent studies have told him a thing or two about his aging body that he fortunately has not recognized yet.

“God gave me a body and the ability to do things I do at 41, even though I reading about in my medic class that I am deteriorating at this point,” laughed Pelletier.

Regardless of his fitness level, Pelletier admits that going through Army training at 41 years old is a very humbling experience that not a lot of people would subject themselves to. However, after trying for so many years, it’s a chance to finish what he started two decades ago.

“For me, it’s an opportunity to put on the uniform again, to serve and honor my original commitment, and to be able to do so in an honorable way.”