MIDLOTHIAN — Hayden Whatley is looking ahead to a future he’s been preparing for over the last three years. He’s worked hard to build strength both mentally and physically to reach his goal of becoming a Marine.

“It’s just something I have wanted to do since I was 5 years old. My mom has a picture of me sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun just firing away. I have my war face on there,” Hayden said.

It has been a persistent dream, one he has carefully mapped out complete with contingencies in the event his path veers, but the overall outcome will be the same. He will become a leader of men and serve his country.

Hayden “ships off” for boot camp in San Diego on June 13.

“Once I get there it’s 13 weeks long. Then when I come out, I’m a Marine. After that I go to my MOS (military occupational specialties), which is my job school,” Hayden said. “I don’t how long I will be at MOS because I don’t have my specific job yet.”

The young man sits tall with shoulders straight, his confidence apparent with unwavering eye contact as he outlines his plan.

“I know what area I am going into. I’m going into avionic mechanics and either work on fixed wing or rotary wings,” he said. “Then after that, I go to my fleet, but I won’t know where that is until I actually get assigned to my duty station.”

He plans to apply to the Marine Corps Enlisted Commission Education Program, which will allow him to obtain his college degree and become a Marine officer.

“From what I understand, you are an active duty Marine at your duty station for one year. After that time you can apply and go before a board and see if you qualify for this program,” he said. “If you do qualify they will send you to a school that has an NROTC program in it. When you come out, you come out as a first or second lieutenant. You also have to sign a six year contract if you get accepted into that.”

He said the GI Bill would cover the cost for housing, books and meal plans.

“I understood the MECEP was an accelerated program, so school is your full-time job. It’s not one of the six-year plans. If you are in school and they are paying for it they expect you to take it on as job,” Hayden’s father, Boyce Whatley, said.

The program is competitive and applicants have to score at least a 22 on ACT or 1,000 on SAT and a minimum of 72 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

“I scored a 75 or 80. I have met all my requirements,” he said, saying his scores qualified him to select any job in the military. “I can have anywhere from being a grunt or cook to intelligence specialist. But I chose avionic mechanic. That’s what I want to do with the MECEP program – I want to come out and fly planes.”

Through the program he may have a choice of where he goes to school but his preferences would be Texas A&M University or the University of Texas to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering.

“I have always had an interest in aviation,” he said, saying he doesn’t fly but he has been up in a glider. “Every time I go up in a plane. I think it would be so cool to fly this thing – go through the air. Especially when you see the jets on TV – they go to Mach 1 or Mach 2 – that would be fun to do.”

Hayden graduated from Midlothian High School last December, a semester early. He is carrying 14 credit hours at Navarro College to work through his basic courses.

“Originally we thought he would deploy for his basic in February. Because they have to time it where you can get in to your MOS at certain times it didn’t work out until June. They want you to come right out of basic then hit your next school,” Boyce said.

But it hasn’t been an easy road convincing his parents to go along with his plan and Hayden said it has been a “hard sell” with his father.

“She (Mom) at first was kind of scared and then she accepted it and now she’s kind of scared again. He was the hard parent. He did not want to sign my papers to enlist,” he said.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about Hayden’s alternatives and his father said he would have preferred Hayden pursue an appointment to a military academy.

“But Hayden told me that he felt that those he would at some point command and they would have more respect for him if he came up the hard way through the ranks,” Boyce said. “I told him there is a difference in being in basics and sleeping on the ground or in the sand and having sheets on your bed. He chose to work his way up and I respect that.”

Boyce describes his son as “pumped up” – an apt description of a young man whose bedroom walls are lined with Marine posters and flags. Plastered to the wrought iron fence where Hayden parks his car is a sign noting the space is reserved for Marines.

If by chance he is not accepted in the MECEP program his plan is to follow through with obtaining his engineering degree.

“I would probably be through on-base schooling or community colleges nearby that would accept my credits. I’d still be working to get my degree and just serve my four years and after that I could go to college to finish up the degree,” Hayden said.

But the Marines are looking for more than just “a few good men” in this competitive program. To make the grade he will have to display his ability to be a leader of men, something he has distinct ideas about and why he believes it is important to come up through the ranks rather than go through an academy.

“I don’t want to come out of college and be a leader and not know what these people have been through or their backgrounds or what their basic (training) is like. To be an officer you have to go through OCS training – it’s kind of like another basic and it give you a little taste of it as an officer and not as a grunt,” he said. “At basic boot camp I’ll be treated as a grunt and when I go to OCS school, I will be treated as an officer. I will have gone through both so I will know where they are coming from.”

If he is accepted as an officer, he is looking at becoming a career Marine and after his 20-years of service he would like to work as an aeronautical engineer in the private sector. Even if things don’t go according to his plan, he expects to serve from eight-12 years.

Hayden said he is striving to better himself. Most of his friends are Marines or soon to be Marines. For the past three years, he has been working out with other recruits. To achieve his goal of being a squad leader or guide in basic training, he said he has to be in the best physical shape possible, not just his own best but better than the others.

Hayden is excited and focused on the work ahead of him. He knows boot camp will be tough, but it’s the first step on his journey. He said basic training is where they make one a Marine.

“It is divided into three phases. The first phase they break you down where you feel like you’re nothing at all. The second phase they start teaching you the Marine Corp ways – they teach you knowledge and how to do certain things and how not to do certain things. And in phase three you have to prove to them that you learned all that stuff,” Hayden said. “I will be coming back with the high and tight – probably won’t smile that much but I’ll be a Marine. They don’t smile that much when they get back from basic. After 13 weeks of hell, when you come back, you’re not very happy.”

He said he can’t be certain of how his plans will play out but that doesn’t concern him as long as he is serving his country, he will make the best of it.

“Even if it came to it, I would risk my life to protect this country and the citizens. I am not it in for fame or glory – I am in it for my country,” Hayden said.

Contact Rebecca at rebecca.hertz@gmail.com or call 469-517-1451.