Alex Deseta always liked his school's regimen and rigor.
At Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, he flourished in football, track and sailing. He joined his father, also a Farragut graduate, in achieving the academy's highest rank, battalion commander.
After graduation? Joining the military felt natural.
"As a little kid you kind of want to rebel and do all that," said Deseta. "But actually, I felt quite fond of the military. It showed a lot of potential, the ability to see the world, and really had endless possibility."
He went to college at the Citadel. He went through intense training and infantry school.
Now 24, he's Army 1st Lt. Alex Deseta, deployed to Afghanistan's Nuristan province with the Army, Navy and Air Force. He trains local police. He oversees dozens of soldiers who protect contract workers rebuilding the region's roads, footpaths, bridges, water tanks, schools, clinics and government buildings.
Deseta called the St. Petersburg Times from Nuristan recently to talk about life overseas.
That sounds like a high-pressure job.
Of course, the danger and stuff will flash in your face. Now being an officer having soldiers that look up to me, they look into my eyes and say, "Okay, lieutenant, are you going to be leading us today?" I don't want to say it's a pressure, because it's an awesome satisfaction to lead some of the world's best soldiers.
How did it feel to learn you'd be shipping to Afghanistan?
I was kind of excited, just that I'd be able to put all the training that I've had into real world use. It was great coming over here with a joint unit with the Air Force and Navy guys. We're all kind of formed into one unit and we're still getting to know each other. For day-to-day operations, I'm leading around a 30-man element, and we'll go outside the wire and provide security for engineers, civil affairs people, to let them do their mission. I call them the spark-makers of this economy. We're just keeping them safe.
What is Nuristan like?
It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. You have so many mountains here that are just amazing, the rock formations. There's not a lot of trees that cover the mountains, so if you've ever been to Ireland or something, it looks like that.
Do you ever feel intimidated?
I wouldn't say intimidated. It throws you up against the wall and kind of gives you a check in the mirror. Are you a fit soldier? It's amazing how you have to be on your game 24-7, because they're looking at you to provide security for them. You can't just assume, "Hey, you guys know how I operate." I have to always go into detail on every step of the mission. Our intel threats are always great, up there with some of the strictest levels. With that, you've always got to be kind of on your toes and really watching out for yourself.
Do you interact with many locals?
We actually work with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. They're great. Every time we go out on a mission, we have one or both of them with us. You can't ask them to come out with you without having a cup of tea with them and some bread. The people here are all about self-respect and always keeping their word. It's like that saying "my word is my bond." That's kind of what the people are like here. It's pretty neat. If you talk to them, you can always rely on them.
What do your parents think?
My mom is scared to death, but she knows I'm over here for a good reason. My dad has nothing but pride for me.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.