Among the biggest shocks that hit Jason Pelletier at Army basic training was when he realized he was older than most of his drill instructors.

Pelletier, 41, graduated earlier this year from Basic Combat Training and will soon finish advanced training to be a combat medic. Enlisting two decades past the age of many of his fellow recruits was a long-term goal for Pelletier, who said he was driven by a still-painful memory of a mistake-filled first enlistment in the Air Force at a more traditional age. 

“For me, it’s an opportunity to put on the uniform again, to serve and honor my original commitment, and to be able to do so in an honorable way,” Pelletier told the Army in a release.

In 2000, Pelletier, then 18, enlisted in the Air Force but was out two years later because of disciplinary issues, which mostly stemmed from underage drinking, Pelletier said. He was issued a General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions, a status that barred him from re-enlisting. 

After his military career ended, Pelletier pursued a football scholarship at West Alabama, which led to work in the fitness industry and modeling in California. Later Pelletier moved into finance jobs, landing at Navy Federal Credit Union. 

But Pelletier still felt like there was something missing. As a mortgage supervisor at Navy Federal, Pelletier said he was surrounded by other servicemembers and hated that he only had two years of service to show.

“I wanted to have that same sense of pride,” he said. 

U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Jason Pelletier gets a photograph with his Drill Sergeant after graduating from U.S. Army Basic Combat Training. Lt. Col. Michelle Lunato

Pelletier tried to join the Army National Guard four times but was rejected because of his discharge. Even after his failed attempts, Pelletier found himself knocking on the door of an Army Reserve recruiting office. He was told that his age and prior discharge required waivers to reenlist but the resistance didn’t deter him. It felt like a challenge.

“It wasn’t like a mid-life crisis type challenge, even though some may say that,” he said. “I still have a lot of gas left in the tank and I want to be able to push myself as far as I can go.”

Pelletier tried another Army recruiter, Staff Sgt. Paul Behling who recommended that the hopeful 41-year-old get letters of recommendation to support his application.

Pelletier spoke to his supervisors at Navy Federal who were happy to support him. They also referred him to one of the Vice Presidents also serving as an Army Reserve colonel. That led to his coffee meeting with Col. Matthew Lawson, commander, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division. 

Luckily, Pelletier’s crime of being young and stupid wasn’t a deal breaker. Pelletier said he “laid it all on the line” and explained that he wanted a second chance to serve.

“He was very open and honest that he had made a mistake during his first enlistment and took responsibility for it,” Lawson told the Army. “It was clear this wasn’t just an idea, this was something he was actively working on and he was looking for assistance in bringing the process to reality.”

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Then Pelletier faced another hurdle after Behling suggested he try to get a recommendation letter from a one-star general.

“I thought, you have got to be kidding me. I don’t know any one-star generals,” Pelletier recalled. He asked Lawson if anyone in his chain of command might be sympathetic to Pelletier’s story to which he recommended Brig. Gen. David Samuelsen, commanding general, 98th Training Division.

“I thought, man, what am I doing here? This guy is going to think I am an idiot and a has been,” he said.

Eventually, Samuelsen reviewed Pelletier’s records and thought about their conversation. Samuelsen thought of a Winston Churchill quote, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

And so he wrote a recommendation letter for Pelletier to get a waiver to enlist.

“He admitted his mistakes, took corrective action, and has lived an exemplary life for over two decades since his discharge,” Samuelsen said, noting that his desire to become a urgently-needed combat medic was a strong argument in his favor. 

Pelletier was in. 

After completing 10 weeks of basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Pelletier earned the nickname of ‘Senior Wolf’ in the Wolf Pack unit. He’s spent the summer at the Combat Medic Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he is scheduled to graduate in August. Pelletier said he wanted something “high octane” and found it a “real life applicable skill set.” 

“I know a lot of people who don’t get a chance to have a second chance, or they feel like they are too old or it’s too late for them,” Pelletier said. “To be able to do this is very surreal.”

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