From Study Hall to Mess Hall: Former Woodgrove Grads Meet the Challenges of a Military Career


Written by Chris Tuttle

Imagine leaving the comforts and safety nets of family life and friends of high school behind and entering an unfamiliar world of uniforms and discipline. Signing up for a life of responsibility, hard work and resilience, as well as dependence on teamwork and the grave possibility of encountering injury or mortality on battlefields and in warzones far away from home. Former Woodgrove students, First Class Airman Daniel Daum of the United States Air Force and Infantryman Garrett Jones of the United States Army made the bold decision to meet these challenges and follow in the footsteps of countless men and women and join the military after graduation, leaving the days of yellow school busses behind for good.

Both Daniel Daum and Garrett Jones have special memories of their years at Woodgrove, and though they graduated two and a half years ago, still recall happy times spent there with friends in a great school environment. Jones has especially fond memories of Tech Ed teachers Ms. Bingaman and Mr. Jose, as well as former Earth Science and Astronomy teacher, Mr. McMillen. Daum believes that the teaching staff at Woodgrove High School was outstanding and that the quality education he received at Woodgrove prepared him well for the future. He feels that his years at Woodgrove has given him the upper hand.

“I’m in an environment where I literally meet new people every day from every state in the country, and after getting to know them, and the areas they’re from, I’m grateful to have gone to a school like Woodgrove,” says Daum.

Daniel Daum’s decision to join the Air Force was inspired by his father’s enlistment in the Navy for over 30 years, but the deciding factor to enlisting was the realization that the benefits that the military could offer overshadowed those of working at various local restaurants. Daum was nineteen years old when he enlisted in the Air Force in May of 2017.

Garrett Jones posing for picture in Afghanistan on Valentines Day

Garrett Jones was convinced by his early teens that he wanted to join either the Army or the Marines. However, during his junior year of high school, he was on a downward slope not paying attention in school and partying too much. He was able to turn his life around never giving up on his passion to join the military and kept in contact with military recruiters. The father of his girlfriend, Keegan Berber, was in the Army so they supported his decision to join. Jones joined the Army at the age of 19 in November 2015.

Joining any branch of the military requires several weeks of basic military training before graduating. This regimen typically tests the physical strength of an enlister as well as their teamwork and coping skills. Jones remembers Basic Training itself as fairly easy and jokes that the hardest part about it was trying to stay awake in class.

“I had no problems with anything,” he says. “Other people, not so much. We had a lot of people quit or fail out.”

For Jones the most difficult part of BMT was only communicating with friends and loved ones via letters. Daum recalls his BMT experience as challenging, but fulfilling, “Being perfectly honest, the hardest part of Basic Training was not the Military training instructors or the PT or the rigid structure of everyday life. The hardest part of BMT is living, working, and being successful with the forty-five-fiftyish people that you are going through training with.”

Basic training transforms civilians into soldiers and prepares recruits for the strenuous jobs and lifestyles that they will face in the military. Though Jones and Daum hold different positions in the military with Daum in training to be an All Source Intelligence Analyst for the Air Force and Jones being an Infantryman for the U.S. Army, their days are equally long compared to their former high school lives. For Jones, days can either be relatively short (minimum 10-11 hours of duty) or 24 hour shifts in the barracks.

Jones’ company, the Delta company, works with heavy weapons such machine guns and grenade launchers. As such, Jones himself is currently a .240b machine gunner, but he performs more tasks than simply target practice. He wakes up at 4:30 and starts physical training at 6:30, where he runs every other day and works out in the gym. From there he starts his daily tasks of field work or maintaining barracks.

“Some days we get off really early (anything before 3 pm I consider early) but unless we’re super busy or have a range day, we are guaranteed to be gone before 5,” Jones explains. “All those times are subject to change depending on the situation.”

Much like Jones’ typical day, Daum’s work day always begins with physical training. After one to two hours of PT, starting at 4 am, Daum has classes to attend at his Tech school in Texas where he is in training to become an Intelligence Analyst. At around 5:30 pm., Daum gets released from duty for the day and is free to relax.

First-Class Airman Daniel Daum in full uniform.

“Tech School is also a unique environment in that your duty is to go to school or train every day,” Daum remarks.

The daily training, exercise and practice that employees of the military perform ultimately prepare them for deployments which in times of war are inevitable for almost every member of the military. Jones was deployed to Afghanistan only months after enlisting for much of the year 2016 and his company will go again in February 2018. He remembers living in relatively nice living conditions with AC, a perfect contrast with the extreme Afghani daytime temperatures sometimes reaching the triple-digits. Jones was a driver of mwraps in Afghanistan, which are heavily armored trucks that could hold 6-9 people, depending on the vehicle’s weapon system.

“Getting them ready for work was a decent amount of work, but once we went out, we would be listening to music and having a blast,” he recalls.

Days could be quite long, however, especially when Jones did dismounted patrols with his equipment in the summer heat of Afghanistan. One day, an incident occurred where the Taliban’s special forces attempted an ambush on Jones’ company. Although the trucks became stuck in the sand, US apache helicopters eventually routed the Taliban. No US soldiers died in that ambush, but Jones saw a dead body there for the first time in the form of a shot Afghani National soldier (on the US side), who was shot in the face and another one who stepped on an IED placed by the Taliban and was blown over the tree line.

Although the risks, horrors, and dangers of deployment are apparent, both Daum and Jones are excited for the opportunity of deployment. As stated earlier, Jones will be going back to Afghanistan in February 2018, and Daum says that once he finishes training as an Intel Analyst, he is likely to get deployed in the future.

“In the Air Force as an intelligence member, deployments should be frequent for me. They typically last 6-18 months,” Daum describes, “With my job, a deployment is an opportunity to use what I have learned to very directly affect the mission in whatever country I am in.”

Garret Jones at his wedding with his high school sweetheart, Keegan Berber.

When it comes to the future, the military provides these young men with an opportunity to attend college for free as well as many other educational benefits, thanks to the post 9/11 GI bill. In Daum’s case, he can obtain school credits equivalent to that of an associate’s degree in a field after completing technical training. Although Daum is unsure whether to reenlist or not after his six years of service, he is planning on completing his training and go on to get a BA degree.

Jones, who married his high school sweetheart, has enlisted for seven years and could easily see himself stay in the Army for additional years if he could switch jobs to do something that he enjoys and would provide him with the skills for a job in the civilian world. Jones is looking toward being an auto mechanic and working on vehicles, modifying them for racing.

“Because of my service I am able to attend school for free, as long as I maintain all C’s or higher. I’m not sure if I want to go a university though,” Jones explains, “I want to go to a trade school and learn how to work on vehicles and stuff like that.”

Infantryman Garrett Jones and First Class Airman Daniel Daum reflect on lessons learned since leaving the safe walls of Woodgrove with its encouraging teachers and predictable A and B day schedules and have words of wisdom to share with students just a few years their junior. Jones emphasizes to really focus on school work.

Infantryman Garrett Jones with one of his primary weapons, the 249 SAW Machine Gun.


“I wish I could go back and put more work in and get better grades as a result,” he says.

Daum echoes his advice and encourages Woodgrove students to work hard and be the best at everything they do while keeping a certain amount of humility. Then he adds that he wishes that someone had told him what great opportunities the military has to offer young men and women and that one should never be ashamed of thinking about joining up.

“Especially if you are from the Loudoun County area, you may be surrounded by people going to very prestigious universities and it may seem as if they have everything figured out. An individual may get the idea that joining the military is a last resort or that it is a lowly job in comparison. Trust me, it is not, ” Daum emphasizes and shares that he has been given high salary job offers from civilian companies while still in training. “The military and specifically the United States Air Force has done so much for me and it can help others too.”

General Patton once said that the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country. Like scores of young people before them, Garrett Jones and Daniel Daum have been willing to give years of their lives in defense and protection of their country. Three years ago, they were preoccupied with the daily routine at Woodgrove and hanging out with friends. Today, their lives are filled with physical training, drills and the expectation of deployment to hostile areas. The transformation from school boys to soldiers is complete.