ZEPHYRHILLS — After four years in the junior ROTC program at Zephyrhills High, Carly Patton is taking the logical next step.
She's going to West Point.
"I report July 2 for basic training, which is six to seven weeks long," said Patton, 18. "Then I'll start the academic year attending classes at West Point."
Her family has a proud tradition of military service, most recently including her father, who served in the Navy, and her cousin, who currently attends West Point. Patton, who served two years as company commander of the Zephyrhills ROTC program, said the military-based educational program helped develop her interest in the armed forces.
"In ROTC I learned discipline and met people who helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life," she said.
She's not the only Bulldog who sees a future in the military.
Tyler Welch, also 18, has his sights set on the Air Force. He wants to be a pilot.
"I've always liked flying, and when I was a kid I loved to see air shows at the Zephyrhills Airport," he said. "The stunts were so cool. I knew then that's what I wanted to do."
Welch has a grandfather who built tanks during World War II, and several other relatives serving in the Army and the Air Force.
He is weighing his future plans, which may include study at Pasco-Hernando Community College and University of South Florida before he applies to the United States Air Force Academy. Both he and Patton plan extensive military careers, with eventual jobs in the private sector. While Patton is interested in government work, Welch wants to go into aviation. Both, however, tend to make the armed forces the main focus of their life's work.
"I'm planning to be in the military for the long term," said Patton.
"I want to make it a career," said Welch.
Outside of her ROTC activities, Patton maintains a 4.2 grade point average and is vice president of the Zephyrhills High chapter of the National Honor Society. She is involved with the school's Key Club and plays a full range of sports, including cross country, weightlifting, tennis and track.
Patton, daughter of Rob and Amy Patton, also leads a student volunteer group that she started in the ninth grade to clean the trail areas of the Hillsborough River State Park. The group, which doesn't have a specific name, has helped young people make a difference — and earn community service hours applied toward graduation requirements.
"It's fun to walk the trails as we clean, to see how we're helping the trails and the park," she said. "And this year I've been studying environmental science, to learn more about how to help."
Welch, the son of Debbie and George Welch, is also an active volunteer. He coaches a Dade City Little League team and helped with the recent mayoral campaign of Zephyrhills High School principal Steve Van Gorden. And he has volunteered in a number of capacities for Hernando-Pasco Hospice, an agency particularly close to his heart.
"Hospice cared for my grandpa before he passed away," he said. "They were so nice and did everything for us. Volunteering is my way of giving back to them."
Welch maintains a 3.5 grade point average at Zephyrhills High School, where he has been active in everything from the chess and magic trick clubs to sports that include tennis and weightlifting.
"I've always been active in sports and plan to continue," he said.
Anything to keep him sharp for his future commanding officer.