An ‘official’ guest shows up for military graduation

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By Nancy Parsons

Great Falls High School student Austin Parker began early making career plans. By the time he was 17-years-old, he was steadfast in his decisions.


Three days after turning 18-years-old on Feb. 6, Parker was sworn into the U.S. Army.

A senior at Great Falls High, Parker enlisted in the military through the delayed entry program. He chose Military Occupational Specialty 31B (military police), a one-station unit training, meaning he had to complete basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) all together.

Law enforcement has always been a part of Parker’s life. His father and mother both serve in the public service field. His dad, James Parker, works at Tega Cay Police Department and his mother, Amy Parker, is out of work due to an on-the-job injury she suffered while working at Chester Police Department.

Parker was sworn into the Army a second time on July 17. This time, he was sent straight to Charlotte Douglas International Airport to board a plane to St. Louis, Mo. After arriving in Missouri, Parker boarded a bus to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He  remained in reception for nine to 10 days before beginning basic training with Echo Company 795th Military Police Battalion on July 26.

Parker completed basic training on Sept. 22. Military police do not have basic training graduation. Instead, they have a Value Tags ceremony and a Warrior’s Breakfast.

Parker continued straight to AIT for training as a military police officer. On Dec. 7, he graduated with Echo Company 795th Military Police Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Parker’s parents, his maternal grandparents Barry and Gail Vincent of Lancaster, his paternal grandparents U.S. Army (Ret.) Staff Sgt. Jim Parker and Marcene Parker of Lake Wales, Fla. and his girlfriend Geni Camp of Great Falls attended the graduation ceremony.

A special unrelated guest also attended Parker’s graduation – Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart.

After graduation, Parker joined his family at home for a few days. He was home on Dec. 9 when his mother celebrated her 42nd birthday.

“Needless to say, this is a birthday I will never forget, “ Amy Parker said. “Who would have ever thought I would be excited about turning 42? But this year, I knew it meant that I would be seeing my baby boy for the first time in five LONG months. And trust me, there was no greater gift. And for now, his boots are home.”

The Parkers were happy to have the county supervisor join them on their trip to Austin’s graduation. Amy Parker said Austin has known Stuart all of his life.

“Shane has been a family friend since his days in law enforcement. We all worked together,” Amy Parker explained.

During Stuart’s campaign for county supervisor, Austin became very interested in the politics of Chester County. He knew of Stuart’s law enforcement and military background.

“He had seen and heard first hand of the changes and the forward direction Shane had planned for Chester County,” Amy Parker said. “Once elected, whenever Austin saw Shane, he always made jokes, reminding him of ‘not forgetting Great Falls.’”

When Parker had to choose the topic for his senior project at school, he singled out The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. He had no idea that Chester County was already working to bring the WWAST to Chester County to play in a tournament, Amy Parker said. Parker and Stuart discussed the project as Parker worked diligently to raise funds for WWAST. He collected $1,746 for the WWAST.

During one of their conversations, Parker told Stuart that he had enlisted in the Army. Stuart offered his assistance and told Parker that he would like to attend his military graduation.

Stuart made arrangements for Parker and his parents to attend the WWAST banquet. During the banquet, Stuart recognized Parker for his commitment to join the Army immediately after high school. He also honored him as being the youngest, newest member of the military attending the banquet.

Stuart commended Parker on his senior project and for collecting over $1,700 for the team.

“You don’t see young people do these kinds of things,” Stuart said.

Following the tournament, Austin was invited by the WWAST team to join them at Buffalo Wild Wings. Stuart joined the group.

Amy Parker said Stuart stayed in touch with her son and asked for his address as soon as she received it. She said Stuart sent several letters, postcards and a care package while Parker was in training. When Parker received information about her son’s upcoming graduation, she shared it with Stuart.

“Shane flew out with our family and was there every step of the way,” Amy Parker said. “It meant so much to Austin for Shane to be there for one of the most meaningful days of his life.”

Having also worked in law enforcement, Stuart said he has known James and Amy Parker Austin for a long time.

While Stuart served as Chester County supervisor, Austin Parker gained his attention even more.

“What got my attention with Austin is that he made sure to be a voice for Great Falls,” Stuart said. “He always reminded me that as county supervisor, I needed to attend functions in Great Falls, I needed to participate and I needed to be involved…but Austin continued to be that voice. For a teenager to do that meant a lot to me as an elected official.”

Stuart said Parker’s decision to join the Army made him proud.

“Once again, another example  of a young person setting a goal and telling us how he was going to achieve it. Impressive! I’m told by Great Falls High that not too many students have joined active duty recently and this was special,” Stuart said.

Stuart said he told Parker to let him know when he would graduate from basic/ AIT and he would plan to attend (thinking graduation would be held in Columbia).

“However that wasn’t the case, graduation was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri instead. But I made a promise to be there and followed through. I was proud to attend Austin’s graduation on Dec. 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day,” Stuart said.

“For an 18-year-old to have all this training completed, a security clearance, a good career and opportunity speak volumes! His parents are very proud and Chester County is extremely proud of Austin’s accomplishments. Not many people have the opportunities he now has. I hope by promoting the positive, it will encourage young people to reach for their goals and get motivated to accomplish them,” Stuart  said.

Parker is scheduled to report to his first duty station on Thursday, Dec. 21, in Fort Drum, N.Y. He will serve with the 91st Military Police Battalion, 511th Military Police Company.