MORENO VALLEY, Calif. â€” While her friends were enjoying summer at the beach, she was in basic training. While they were wearing flip-flops, she was in boots and while her classmates were enjoying weekends off, she was serving her country in the Army Reserve.
Pvt. Amber Spencer was one of 380 students who graduated from Vista Del Lago High School, Monday night, June 4. The 18 year-old Army Reserve soldier has served in the 304th Sustainment Brigade since she entered the military last summer through the Split Option program. The Split Option program allows soldiers to attend basic training during the summer break, between their junior and senior year of high school. After which, they qualify to participate in a reserve unit throughout their senior year. Spencer is scheduled to leave later this month for the next leg of her training at the Armyâ€™s Culinary School for nine weeks.
Balancing high school and Army Reserve commitments was very challenging. Spencer had to get a ride from her mother, to and from March Air Reserve Base, for training. Spencer missed the first two days of her senior year because she was finishing her final two days of basic training. She also missed a day of school in February when the 304th Headquarters traveled to the Fort Irwin firing range for three days of shooting practice.
â€œDuring my junior year, my friends thought I was crazy for joining the Army in high school,â€ said Spencer. â€œThis year they were all cheering me on.â€
Her junior-year English teacher was surprised to hear one of her students had enlisted in the military.
â€œIt was really impressive,â€ said Jana Boden. â€œI donâ€™t know any high school student who would choose to do that before graduating.â€
Boden described Spencer as polite and respectful, a sentiment echoed by Vista Del Lago principal Patricia Bazanos.
â€œSheâ€™s very impressive. She listens to her mom and is polite to the staff,â€ said Bazanos. â€œHer mom is our registrar here, so we have all watched Amber grow up.â€
Spencerâ€™s friends were not very surprised to hear that she had joined the Army. They describe her as friendly and caring, with a strong desire to serve.
â€œSheâ€™s very respectful,â€ said friend and fellow graduate, Marina Curry. â€œI think itâ€™s an honorable thing, so it fits her. I look up at it, not down. I think itâ€™s sweet. Itâ€™s a sacrifice for our country.â€
Spencer figures that her salary for one weekend of Army Reserve duty is probably more than her friends make at their minimum wage civilian jobs in a week.
â€œThatâ€™s what I focus on when I have to wake up at 5 a.m. on the weekend,â€ she said.
Now that she has graduated, Spencer is looking forward to finishing up her Army culinary training and pursing a civilian career in culinary arts as well.
â€œI figure everybody has to eat, so at least I have job security,â€ she said. Spencer said she loves to bake and admits to having a sweet tooth.
Sgt. Tyrell Bacon, who heads up the 304th Food Service section and serves as Spencerâ€™s boss, said having such a young soldier has brought a new dynamic to his kitchen.
â€œIt is different because most of the people who I deal with are usually adults. We all rallied around her to coach her through things,â€ he said. Bacon has helped Spencer balance her schedule so she could fully participate in senior activities, while still meeting her commitment to the Army. The 304th had a training assembly the weekend before Spencerâ€™s graduation, so Bacon made sure his youngest soldier was able to make it to her graduation party and other graduation activities. However, when she was in the dining facility (kitchen), Bacon had Spencer working like a seasoned veteran.
â€œThis is the first time Iâ€™ve had somebody who worked for me who made me feel old,â€ said Bacon. â€œItâ€™s going to be nice to see her come up through the ranks and finish her training and become a full-fledged food service specialist.â€