One million people take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test every year to determine if they are eligible for military service and what roles in the military they qualify for.
When North Central High School’s Elijah Hiler, 18, took the exam, he placed in the top 6 percent in the nation, an exceptional accomplishment.
He could pretty well take his pick of what he wanted to do. What he did was enlist in the Navy last fall with a six-year commitment, with entry into the Navy’s nuclear engineering program guaranteed upon completion of high school this spring and of basic training after that.
If there is a stereotype of what an about-to-be Navy recruit looks like, the soft-spoken Hiler probably doesn’t fit it. He hasn’t had a haircut since sixth grade. And his hair now extends well below his shoulders. And yes, he realizes a buzz cut is in his near future.
Hiler looked at attending college, “but it didn’t seem like a good fit for me, just didn’t feel right, right now.” He enjoys working with his hands and making broken things work again. At North Central he’s been involved in the theater program, mostly behind the curtain, building sets. He also plays trombone in the school band and collects flags and banners.
“If it flies, I’ll collect it,” he said, and counts among his favorite flags the one from the Conch Republic, the tongue-in-cheek micronation declared for itself by Key West in 1982. He also researches mythology and has for eight years been comparing the origins and ideals of polytheistic and monotheistic cultures. “I’ve just found a link between Egyptian mysticism and Judaism,” he said.
Perhaps his greatest interest in school is in the genomics program, where he is currently researching two single-nucleotide polymorphisms of mitochondrial genomes of ancient bison, trying to trace their lineage to modern bison with the goal of better understanding their diversity. Why bison? Because they’re big and interesting, he said.
While he has enjoyed high school, Hiler isn’t leaving anything behind with regret or longing. “I view life as having a compounding effect,” he said. “High school is a test zone for the rest of your life. You shouldn’t allow the beta version to be the outcome of your life.”
Hiler admits that he wears who he is on his sleeve and that he is most comfortable in a structured and ordered environment where he can do something that makes a difference in the world. He thinks the perfect place to do that will be in the Navy, and there is some precedent for that in his family.
His grandfather worked his way up through the ranks to work in nuclear engineering in submarines. His parents, Edward and Lisa Hiler, met while enrolled at the Naval Academy and both had careers in the Navy, his father in electrical engineering.
“I’ve always known I wanted the military also,” Hiler said, “and I hope that I may even get to go to the Academy myself. I think I’d like to be a naval officer.”