David Garcia had been considering the military primarily as a vehicle for college prior to his basic training in the summer of 2020, but that experience led him to pursue a military career.
"I've always had a very deep desire to serve my country and my community," but through his basic training experience, he realized "I really love the military atmosphere," said Garcia, a member of Dalton High School's class of 2021 and a national AP Scholar. He appreciates "the discipline, and that there's always a goal to be better."
Basic training in South Carolina at Fort Jackson for 10 weeks was "gritty, but awesome," he said. "I was out rucking for 10 miles with 50 pounds on my back, I got to shoot at gun ranges to learn marksmanship, and we were up at 5 a.m. every day to work out." Rucking is an interval training workout that involves walking with a weighted rucksack for a set distance to build muscle strength, improve cardiovascular endurance and provide other benefits
Garcia was a three-sport athlete at Dalton High — "I like to keep busy, it keeps me in shape, and coaches are almost like free personal trainers" — but the physicality of basic training was unquestionably strenuous, he said. For example, the Forge, the final basic training exercise, is an exhausting three-day-and-two-night test of marching, rucking and other tactical endeavors.
For many of his fellow trainees, being away from family and friends for an extended period was the toughest aspect of the experience, but Garcia regularly received care packages from his mother and maintained a voluminous letter correspondence with his girlfriend, he said.
"In the 72 days, I sent her (60-plus) letters, and she sent me even more."
Garcia will attend the United States Military Academy this fall, where he's interested in studying business administration, law and political science, but he plans a 20-plus-year military career, and "I want to become an officer," he said. His heart is set on returning to Dalton, either during, or, most likely, after his military service, because he "wants to give back" to his city the way he's seen so many of his role models do for years.
Matt Land, his head football coach at Dalton High, was one of those examples, as Land "even helped find homes for guys who were in" horrific domestic situations, Garcia said. He's "a wonderful man who is a mentor and role model for so many."
Land, who concluded his Catamounts coaching tenure with the 2020 season, was named one of the 20 most influential high school football coaches in the country in Friday Night Football Coaches magazine, a quarterly, coach-focused offshoot of national high school football magazine Friday Night Football magazine, in December 2020. He was also the recipient of the 2019 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award, given each year by the professional league "to honor exemplary high school football coaches for their character and integrity, leadership and dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field success," according to the NFL's website.
Land said Garcia is "one of the hardest workers we have ever had here at Dalton High School, a great role model, and one of my favorite Catamounts ever."
"Whether in the classroom, volunteering in the community or on the practice field or weight room, he always leads the pack," Land said. "He is a vocal encourager and always sees the (glass) half full."
"Land and the football program have increased my love for Dalton so much," said Garcia. "I want to come back here and give back the way he does."
Garcia followed Land's selfless example by giving his teammates rides home and helping them academically, he said.
"As a captain and a leader, you have so many responsibilities, and that's given me a lot of personal satisfaction."
Through football, he became more involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and the summer FCA camps have been a highlight of every football offseason for him, he said.
"That's deeply impacted me, and I know it's changed a lot of lives."
Garcia "is the type of young man that successful businesses and communities are built around," Land said. As long as it advances the team's agenda, Garcia "leads without concern of the personal cost" to him.
In addition to his academic prowess — to be a national AP Scholar, a student has to score a 4 or higher on at least eight different AP (Advanced Placement) exams in one year — Garcia played football in the fall, wrestled in the winter and played lacrosse in the spring of 2020 and 2021 (after running track in the spring his first two years of high school). He was a captain for football and wrestling.
"Wrestling is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and no sport is as difficult, because it's just about how hard you work," said Garcia, who plans to wrestle in college for the Black Knights. "It's a contest of wills between two men, and if you lose, you lose; there's no team to blame — you just didn't work hard enough."
Of the three sports, "I like wrestling the best, because I'm the best at it," Garcia said with a chuckle. Garcia qualified for state as a junior, and as a senior, he finished fourth at state, while his team reached the Elite Eight.
"I take great pride in Dalton's sports community, and I don't think you can know what it truly means to be a Catamount unless you've been on one of the sports teams here," he said. "Sports have taught and given me so much."
Garcia's talents can't help but become obvious, both in the classroom and in the athletic arenas, said Julie Gallman, a school counselor at Dalton High who was worked closely with Garcia since his freshman year to guide his academic ambitions. "I am honored and consider it a privilege to be this young man’s school counselor."
"I am very proud, and not a bit surprised, that David has chosen military service to our country," added Gallman. "I cannot wait to see what wonderful things David is going to do with his life."