A White Sands Missile Range teenager, who was just awarded the state Military Youth of the Year award, is headed to San Antonio, Texas, to compete for regionals. Tyler Free, 16, said he was encouraged to apply for the competition because of his unique military experience.
“I felt there were people in our community who felt like they were the only people who go through military issues,” Free said. “I wanted them to know that they weren’t the only ones.”
The state award comes with a $6,000 scholarship to the school of Free’s choice. If he wins the regional competition he will be getting $10,000 for four years on top of the $6,000 he has already earned.
In order to compete Free had to write four essays on four different subjects. He wrote about his military experience, his personal brand, his vision for military youth and his Boys and Girls Club experience.
For his essay on military experience Free wrote about his most recent experience dealing with family issues. He said his father was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury around the same time his mother was diagnosed with epilepsy and chronic migraines. He said the two diagnoses helped him realize that his parents needed his care and support.
“It was a little hard having to adjust to what they were going through,” Free said. “I found ways to help them.”
Free’s father has been in the military for 19 years, all of Free’s life. He said his military life has been a great experience for him because he has been able to travel to 40 of the 50 states within the U.S. by the age of 16.
“I have been able to move all over the U.S., create lifelong friends and experience different cultures,” Free said.
He is currently in his second year at Arrowhead Park Early College High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He is hoping to obtain his associate’s degree in Aerospace Engineering before he graduates high school. Once he graduates Free said he hopes to obtain his master’s degree and possibly his doctoral degree. He said living at WSMR has greatly contributed to his interest in Aerospace Engineering.
“I’ve always had an interest in rockets but looking at and listening to rockets this whole time definitely sparked my interest,” Free said.
Reina Marquez, WSMR assistant youth director, was one of the WSMR Middle School and Teen Center staff members who encouraged Free to apply. She has known Free for about five years now and describes him as a teenager with a passion to help people.
“Tyler has a lot of drive to do community services and he is a prime example of what a military kid is and goes through,” Marquez said.
By March of 2016 Marquez said Free was already close to 100 volunteer hours for the year. Free is also the Keystone President for the high school council at WSMR. Marquez said she will be accompanying Free to San Antonio to provide morale support and guidance.
“We wish him luck,” Marquez said.