Children like to talk about what they will be when they grow up. Most change their minds. Only a driven few realize their childhood dreams as lifelong goals.
Ever since I was a little kid, I just always saw myself in the Army, Pfc. Nathaniel Kirkpatrick said. I used to play Soldier growing up.
The middle child of five siblings, Kirkpatrick, 19, grew up in the town of Otsego, a small community in the heart of Michigan. His mother, Laurie Marculis, recalls that he spent most of his childhood in the forest around his house, practicing survival and just enjoying the outdoors.
He got pretty serious about the Army at 16 during those last two years of high school, when your teachers and counselors are really pushing you to make those decisions, Marculis said.
After graduation, Kirkpatrick spent one last summer vacation in Michigan then left home to pursue his dream of becoming an infantryman. I felt like that could offer the best opportunities to serve my country, he said.
The first stop on his journey was Fort Benning, Ga., for three months of initial training. He then moved to his current duty station, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Kirkpatrick found a new home with his fellow Soldiers in the sniper section of reconnaissance platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
They helped me out a lot, he said. They helped square me away. I definitely wouldnt be here if it wasnt for those guys.
Only six months into his first assignment, Kirkpatrick put his infantry training into action by earning the Expert Infantryman Badge. The badge was the culmination of a weeklong event that tested badge candidates physically one event is a 12-mile foot march with nearly 70 pounds of gear -- and mentally with a host of combat-related tasks and skills. Of the more than 800 competitors, Kirkpatrick, the youngest candidate, was one of only 159 to earn the badge.
It was pretty challenging, Kirkpatrick said of the EIB qualification. It was great to learn all the new things and to be able to challenge myself and push myself to compete against everyone else and get the EIB.
With barely a pause, Kirkpatrick moved on to a best Soldier competition for the 7th Infantry Division where he beat 11 other Soldiers to claim the title. I didnt have the wealth of knowledge that a lot of my competitors had. It was a huge learning curve, Kirkpatrick said.
Leaders around him recognized early on that he stood out from his peers.
He is the ideal private first class, said Staff Sgt. Peter Kacapyr, a Candor, N.Y., native, and team leader in the same platoon as Kirkpatrick. Hes new to the Army, but hes extremely motivated to learn.
When not busy competing for titles and badges, Kirkpatrick plays sports and hangs out with his fellow infantrymen. He is also an avid explorer who started making his way through the forests of the Olympic Peninsula early this year.
I do like it here. Its nice, said Kirkpatrick, though he added, it sure rains a lot more here than it does in Michigan. With only eight months in the Army, Kirkpatrick has kept busy, but he still thinks about his family back home.
Theyre my motivation really, Kirkpatrick said. All the support they give me through phone calls and through Skype and all the stuff they do for me, it gives me motivation.
Kirkpatrick said his family has been supporting his dream of being a Soldier since he was young. My family, they always knew that I was going to join, Kirkpatrick said. I always talked about it. They and my friends couldnt see me doing anything different.
Were just so proud, Marculis said of her son. Hes our only child in the service. Its something hes always wanted to do.
With his new EIB on his uniform and the title 7th ID Soldier of Year, Kirkpatrick is looking forward to what comes next in his career. I do want to be selected for Special Forces, he said. Thats what Ive always wanted to do. It would fulfill a dream. Kirkpatrick also hopes to attend Army Ranger School and Army Sniper School.
I know hes going to do whatever he sets his mind to, Marculis said proudly.