GREENFIELD — They went their separate ways after graduation from Greenfield-Central High School in 2010.
Jordan Keith joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Benjamin Vowell headed to the Air Force Academy. Zach Langhans followed in the footsteps of his friend, Ben Frost, and went to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The three of them have finally come upon graduation, and each is taking a different path going forward.
After graduation, Vowell will move to Hanscom Air Force Base in Boston. There, he will be working on national fiber security issues.
“I’ll be an acquisitions manager,” Vowell said. “That’s what I wanted to do with my business degree.”
Langhans is set to graduate this week from the United States Military Academy at West Point. When he graduates, he will have a bachelor’s degree and commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Everyone who graduates from West Point enters the Army. He will be joining engineers and go to a basic officer’s course in Missouri. After that, he will join his actual unit at Fort Lewis in Washington.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great opportunity up there,” Langhans said.
Keith is also planning on opening up his opportunities in the Coast Guard. His first assignment will be on a ship out of Portsmouth, Virginia. He hopes to become a pilot and attend flight school after that.
“My dad (Brent Keith) was in the Air Force, so I was originally looking at the Air Force Academy. I’ve wanted to fly planes since I was 3,” Keith said.
His plans were changed when he was young, and his mother overdosed on drugs. Later, he chose to fly for the Coast Guard to stop drug trafficking and save lives that way.
The Coast Guard has allowed him to do that. One of the missions of the Coast Guard is drug interdiction, accomplished by intercepting and stopping drug runners. Pilots are an important part of the interdiction and rescue services.
“I knew it was going to be challenging, but one of the good things about it is you make really good friends with everyone in your class,” Keith said. “From day one to graduation, you pretty much do everything with them. It really builds teamwork. That’s one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten from this experience.”
In 2010, when Vowell, Langhans and Keith graduated from high school, the group found inspiration from G-C alum Ben Frost. Langhans was moved enough by Frost’s decision that he decided to head to West Point. Their time never overlapped at the military academy, but Frost’s commitment had a profound effect on Langhans.
“He showed me that was an option. I had never really known much about the academies before I started talking to him. He showed me there was that kind of opportunity out there,” Langhans said.
Frost had some words of encouragement for Langhans and the others.
“I told them to do their best and enjoy every minute of it, because it really is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Frost said.
Langhans and Vowell also have a long history together.
“Zach was my best friend in high school. We kept in touch over the years. We hang out every time we’re home on leave at the same time,” Vowell said.
When he graduates, Vowell will owe five years of active service.
“I hope to come back and be a professor at the academy. I have the opportunity to do that in about five years, when I’m a captain,” Vowell said.
Langhans went to the Air Force Academy for a semester exchange, and was able to spend time with Vowell.
“That was a good experience,” Langhans said.
But, it isn’t all fun. It’s a lot of work too.
“It’s extremely rigorous, in ways that were different from what I expected,” Langhans said. “It was physically challenging, but it was more mentally strenuous, at least at first. It’s a big culture shock. Coming from a small town in Indiana to a new state and joining the military culture is a big shock.”
Frost has a jump start on the three soon-to-be graduates. Since graduating from West Point, Frost has become a field artillery officer and is currently a captain. He recently began the field artillery captain’s career course at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
“It’s the school where we teach all field artillery officers the requirements to command a field artillery battery or work on a battalion level,” Frost said.
He has just left his previous assignment with the first battalion field artillery regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia.
“They could (next) put me anywhere in the United States. That’s the fun of it,” Frost said.
All the guys agree that eschewing the more traditional route of a four-year state school following graduation in favor of what they actually did was the right move.
“It was a very good fit for me. It’s very academically strenuous and a challenge, but we get a lot of leadership experience, and we have physical training. We have multiple aspects that you don’t get at a normal college. We also get the opportunity to serve our country. It’s the best of both worlds, in my eyes at least,” Langhans said.
When he made the decision to go to West Point and pursue a military path, many people didn’t understand it, or just saw that Langhans was joining the military and worried about his future without a four-year degree from a traditional college.
“A lot of times people don’t understand that it was a four- year college. You actually go and get a degree then become an officer instead of just enlisting in the Army,” Langhans said. “If you want to pursue higher education but also become a leader in the military, you have that opportunity.”