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Three sign with Air Force, Marine Corps at Fairland

May 4, 2019

ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio - At the center of the green tablecloth sat a paper and pen waiting for a young man to sign.

Each wore the shirt and logo of the “team” he was inking himself to, and each had accepted his “full ride” offer.

But unlike the standard high school sports signing, three Fairland High School seniors committed to futures beyond a game, likely beyond four years, and with much deeper consequences.

The only school in the Tri-State that does it, Fairland hosted its annual military signing day right after school Friday in Rome Township, Ohio.

Jonathan Elliott enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, while James Gardner and Caleb Kretzer signed with the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I feel good and excited, and like I know what I’m going to do in life, but at the same time there’s a little bit of nervousness,” Elliott said after signing alongside several family members. Elliott ships out to San Antonio for basic training June 4, ideally to work toward becoming a pilot in some capacity.

It’s become a three-year tradition for the close-knit school, which signed eight enlistees last year. Hearing words of encouragement from family, fellow students and their recruiters, each one sat with the stone-set face expected of a military man. A few fidgets and bouncing knees, however, betrayed at least a few inner nerves.

But all three took it as a day they had always known would come.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was 7, so I’ve just been waiting,” said Kretzer, who leaves for Parris Island, South Carolina, on June 10 with aspirations to become a mechanic.

For Gardner, the deciding factor was to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who served in Vietnam.

“That kind of pushed me along to join the Marine Corps,” said Gardner, aiming for a career as an infantryman. He will arrive in Parris Island on July 22.

It would seem like added stress atop the whirlwind of emotions seniors feel before graduation, but each took it as a step toward greater matters and beyond what he grew up with.

“I think the brotherhood bond forged in battle is just a deeper connection, and I think I look forward to that more than just going to school with kids I know,” Kretzer said.

“And at the same time,” Gardner added. “I feel like it’s the end of a chapter, and this is going to be a whole new adventure in my life.”