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Pacific defensive lineman trades football pads for Army fatigues

Caleb Wistock spent his spring semester in a different kind of classroom


While many of his friends were pulling themselves out of bed just before their 9 a.m. Monday class, Caleb Wistock rose every day of the spring semester at 4 a.m.

Before he could shake the blurriness from his eyes, he was out the door. Whether running, lifting weights or doing sit-ups and push-ups, Wistock and his teammates went through day after day of grueling physical training. Every day. Before breakfast.

The rest of the day was spent in combinations of classroom training and field experience. As a sophomore, Wistock was receiving job training unlike the kind that any of his Pacific classmates will ever have the chance to receive. He learned the customs and courtesies, received professional qualifications for his future career and even had the chance to throw a grenade or two.

Doing more before 8 a.m. than his classmates did in a whole day? You bet.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Wistock’s sophomore spring semester was not on the Pacific University campus, but was a study abroad experience like no other. The site was Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., were Wistock went through the rigors of Basic Training for the United States Army.

A member of a family with a long line of veterans, Wistock made the unusual decision to take last semester off and enlist in the Army. He spent the spring in basic training before spending the summer at Fort Lee, Va., for additional occupational training.

The idea of leaving school for a term to join the Army seemed unusual to many of Wistock’s professors and friends, but it was all part of a well thought out plan.

“Some thought it was a dumb decision. They looked at me as if I was giving up on school and going into the Army,” Wistock said. “They didn’t understand that I was intending on coming back the whole time. I have a lot of family who have gone into the military and figured it was my time.”

A CAREER DECISION

The idea of being a military man was not unusual in the Wistock family home in Stayton, a community of nearly 8,000 located east of Salem. Both Caleb’s father and uncle had served in the Marine Corps and his grandfather served in the Air Force. Caleb remembers spending much of his childhood playing Marines, and knew early on that he would be in the military at some point in his life.

After coming to Pacific to play football, Caleb and his father discussed what would set him up for the best possible career. Many military-bound college graduates move right into officer training with the chance to move up the ranks quickly. But such officers often lack field experience, making it tougher to gain the respect of the men they’re charged to lead.

“My dad was an enlisted guy and he told me, ‘If you want to do this, you want to (become) an officer after going through college.’ But a lot of the non-commissioned officers I talked to said the best officers are the ones who have come through the enlisted ranks,” Wistock said. “So to be the best leader, I figured that I should start at the bottom. That way I am giving orders and leading men in a place where I have come from, because I was that guy.”

In essence, Wistock will have the best of both worlds. He will serve in the Army Reserve for the duration of his college career, attending drills with his unit one weekend a month and for two weeks each summer. During that time, Wistock will also be able to move up in rank, pay and benefits. After graduation, projected for December 2014, Wistock will be eligible for officer’s training while having done his time in the enlisted ranks.

HE’S IN THE ARMY NOW

Wistock made the decision to temporarily leave Pacific late last fall. He enlisted in the Army on Dec. 12, 2011 and shipped out to Fort Leonard Wood two months later. What followed was one of the most intense 10-week training regimens around.

After a period of “reception,” where recruits are prepared for basic training, Wistock’s Army experience began with a shock and awe experience that he will never forget. On the first day, Wistock and 75 other recruits were loaded onto a windowless truck. They were subjected to a wild 20-minute ride with hard corners, sudden stops and plenty of bumps.

“No one said anything. Everyone was pretty scared,” Wistock said.

Once the ride stopped, two soldiers threw the trucks doors open. One blew a whistle, while the other issued profanity-laden orders for the recruits to quickly get out. Wistock waited patiently at the back while the rest of the company pushed through each other.

The systematic mental and physical training began right away.

“We got out and there were 45 drill sergeants lined up yelling, every one of them from the company,” Wistock said as he described the rite known in the Army as a ‘shark attack.’

“You have to sprint past them with your 75-pound duffle bag. You’re weaving, they’re yelling at you and then you finish and they tell you to fall in. Of course, no one knows what that means.”

The scene is organized chaos, designed to teach the recruits that they are no longer in control. Drill sergeants scream out orders, intentionally causing confusion and wearing the recruits down.

“We kept having to do push-ups or hold the duffle bags over our heads and do squats,” Wistock said. “It was only a 70-pound bag, but fatigue eventually gets to everyone.”

The physical load Wistock endured throughout basic training is directly tied to building mental toughness. The company rose at 4 a.m. to go through physical training, spent much of the day in training and took turns at night pulling guard duty.

In the end, only the strongest survive, and Wistock was among them. He and his company graduated from Basic Training in May.

“I had never been to a military ceremony like that,” Wistock said. “People were in step together and everything looked very clean, like no other graduation I had seen before.”

While many frown on drawing parallels between the sport of football and visions of war, Wistock is convinced that his involvement in the sport, both at Pacific and at Stayton High School, prepared him with the tools he needed to survive basic training.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t know how to work as a team. They were out there on their own, doing it for themselves,” Wistock said. “But in the military you can’t on your own. We have to rely on other people to get through our tasks.

“In football there is a lot of camaraderie. We’re all together to achieve a goal. It’s the same way in the military. I like that.”

FROM BARRACKS TO CAMPUS

While he has yet to break into the Boxers’ starting lineup, Wistock has continued to play a key role as a backup defensive lineman. Wistock played in eight of nine games in 2011. To date in 2012, he has made appearances in four of Pacific’s six games.

And between the practices, games and classes, the junior is keeping his military commitment. He spent the Boxers’ September bye week participating in a weekend drill at Joint Base Lewis McChord, near Tacoma. He missed a drill earlier this month for the Pacific Lutheran game, which he will make up in November.

His role in the Reserves allows Wistock the flexibility to keep both his school and military commitments.

“They are pretty flexible if you have something you can’t miss,” he said.

Wistock is currently attached to the Oregon Army National Guard’s 970th TC Detachment, based out in Eugene. The unit is scheduled to deploy for a tour in Afghanistan in January, but Wistock will remain in school. His current plan is to transfer to the 2nd Battalion, 218th Field Artillery unit, based in Forest Grove.

While the decision to return to school was a given, the decision to return to Pacific was not. Wistock considered transferring from Pacific after basic training, but there would not have been a chance to continue playing football. On top of that, it would have been hard to leave the friends and teammates who continued to support his military involvement.

“I came here for football, but what has gotten me to stay and why I wanted to come back was because of the relationships,” Wistock said. “I thought about going to Oregon State and doing the ROTC thing, but it’s the relationships and the level of education that Pacific provides that is important to me.”




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