Alex City native Ryan Willis graduated at the top of his class at the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, earning the Navy’s Military Excellence Award.
Willis said the award came as a surprise, although he knew he had put his all into bootcamp.
“The award definitely gave me a confidence boost,” Willis said. “It shows me that if you put in the hard work, you get what you earn. There were guys there that were older and scored high on the ASVAB. I’m just 18; I knew I had to work a little bit harder.”
The hard work paid off, with Willis earning scores of 4.8 and 4.87 out of 5 on the camp’s two tests. He also placed first on runtime and fourth in push-ups in the physical test. He finished as the top graduate out of more than 1,200 young men that participated.
The Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award is the top award presented to the No. 1 recruit of their graduating training group. The MEA is awarded to the recruit that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military bearing and teamwork.
Willis graduated from Benjamin Russell in May and almost immediately joined the Navy. With multiple family members in the armed forces, Willis said he had always thought about joining the military, but it only became his goal in his senior year.
“It’s always been in back of my head, but I never thought I would actually join,” Willis said. “My friend said he was joining and I thought ‘I might actually do this.’ It started getting serious in March. I signed my paperwork July 31 and went to bootcamp on Sept. 2.”
Willis’ mom, Darlene Roth, said it wasn’t really a surprise Willis joined the military; his father, stepfather and two brothers are all in the military.
“His great-grandfather served on USS Alabama,” Roth said. “Growing up, we were always going to see his pawpaw’s ship.”
But until his senior year, Roth and family had expected Willis to continue his athletic career into college.
“Because he was such an athlete, we thought he would go somewhere and play baseball,” Roth said.
And Willis said he did have a few offers, including Central Alabama Community College.
But Willis said he felt joining the Navy was the right course to take.
“I love baseball and I had a few places I could have pursued,” Willis said. “I decided to join the military, get my school paid for and learn things you can’t just learn out in the civilian world. And I have my enlistment in the Navy on my resume if I decide to get out.”
With bootcamp complete, Willis is now in Pensacola, Floruda studying as an avionics electrician and awaiting his orders.
“Ryan has worn many uniforms (baseball, football, basketball and soccer) but has now found the one that really fits,” Roth said.