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Senior Alex Hayes eyes terrorism war’s front lines

Alex Hayes between classes near Hudson High School’s “Window of Honor,” which recognizes previous graduates who have gone on to join the military. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

When 18-year-old Alex Hayes talks about the high-stakes military career he’s planning, you won’t hear the word, “bravery,” very much –- at least when he talks about himself.

That’s because it’s not so much about courage to the Hudson High School senior. It’s about a higher mission that’s been growing deep inside him since he was a child.

“I want to protect people –- this is my goal in life,” Hayes says in a Star-Observer interview between early-morning classes last week.

“I want to protect everyone close to me and everyone who values life. I enjoy life so much. I feel like everybody should be able to enjoy it and not have to worry about terrorist threats. … What better way to do that than the military?”

After being inducted into the Army National Guard in December, Hayes has set his sights on one of most hazardous jobs on the front lines of the nation’s ongoing war on terrorism.

“I’ll be 74 Delta, which is the Army’s chemical, biological and radiation experts,” he notes matter-of-factly.

“If there’s a terrorist attack or a dirty bomb, I’ll be one of the people who test to see if it’s toxic or not.”

Hayes will start his nine-week basic training June 30 at Fort Leonard Wood in Ironwood, Mo. Ten weeks of 74 Delta training will follow.

He plans to continue his military training in UW-River Falls’ Reserve Officer Training Corps program for four years after that, also majoring in psychology — one of his favorite classes in high school, along with criminal justice and history.

Eventually, he’s thinking about a post-military career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency.

“74 Delta is definitely one of the specialty jobs that they look for,” Hayes says.

“After 20 or more years in the military, you can get your pension, and then you can transfer into the FBI or the CIA. I could probably join right after the military -– if I decide to leave the military. I might stay in the military permanently, but I’ll decide that later. I’ll see where the road takes me first.”

He credits his family –- especially dad James and mom Amy, but also 4-year-old brother Weston, 8-year-old sister Jazlyn and older step-sister Amanda -– with giving him the discipline and focus at the heart of the Army’s right stuff.

“I like things to be structured. I’m very organized. I think things out before I do them,” Hayes says.

“My dad provided me with a lot of that. He doesn’t give me much leeway in doing something wrong, and his rules have helped me a lot. … My whole family has been supportive –- we’re a pretty close family. They’ve all helped put a lot of structure in my life, which has pretty much made me what I am today.”

So has his high school career, which until this year also included cross-country, swimming and track.

He gives special credit to his Hudson psychology teacher Bob Smith and his criminal-justice teacher Jessica DeSautel, whose classes brought some real-world context to his future career plans. Before that, Alex was mainly inspired by TV shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Bones.”

“I know, they’re just TV shows, but they still looked pretty cool to me,” he chuckles.

“Some people say high school doesn’t help with your future, but in reality high school has changed my opinions on a lot of things. I feel like I owe this high school, and I’m going to miss this place. What I’ve learned here has been extremely valuable to me. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Meanwhile, he’ll never forget the moment he was sworn in at the end of his Army screening.

“Once you raise your hand and take the oath there, you are officially in the military,” he recalls.

“I felt so much pride at that moment. This is one of the best things I’ve done in life. It’s a giant step into my future.”

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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