Local military members share what freedom means to them


Upon entering the military, freedom took on a deeper meaning for four Seymour High School graduates.

With Independence Day coming up Sunday, they were asked what freedom means to them.

For Justin Muhlbach, a 2012 SHS graduate, July 4 is his birthday.

“Freedom is the ability to express yourself the way that you want,” he said. “There is no uniform on how your life should be. In the United States, you have the freedom to choose your own moral compass by believing what you want to believe and raising your family how you want to raise them without persecution.”

To 2014 graduate Bridget Huffmaster, freedom means diversity.

“We do not have to cower in fear of being different or choosing what religion we want to follow or what we want to wear or what we want to say,” she said. “This is what makes our country so great. And for that reason, I happily forfeit some of my freedoms in order to keep this country great.”

Dylan Day, who graduated from SHS in 2018, said he’s fortunate to do what he needs to do without having worries or fears like some other countries.

“Being able to just wake up and enjoy life and say you’re a U.S. citizen and being in America, it’s just pure freedom,” he said. “Take it with open arms, but also don’t forget what goes on and don’t forget who fights for your country. There’s a reason that happens, and it’s because of everyone in every (military) branch doing what they do, so people really need to take into consideration what goes on so they can live their life.”

2019 graduate Jalen Stanton said several things come to mind when he thinks of freedom and Independence Day.

“I think of family and having the freedom to do whatever you want,” he said. “We have so much more freedom compared to other third-world countries that have so many restrictions of what they can or cannot do, and I’m just glad that I’m from America.”

One freedom these four had when they chose to join the military was picking the branch that best suited them.

Justin Muhlbach

In 2012, Muhlbach enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as an administrative specialist.

His first unit was Det 3 Comm Co. at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Kokomo. He later moved to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence.

“I think I always wanted to join ever since I was little,” he said. “A lot of my family served, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

In February 2020, he switched to the Indiana National Guard with Company C 2nd Battalion 134th Infantry Airborne in Seymour. He serves as an infantryman/paratrooper at the rank of specialist.

“I like the camaraderie and leadership you learn while serving,” Muhlbach said.

When asked how long he plans to serve, he said, “Until I retire, if I can.”

“It means a lot,” he said. “I am happy to serve my country so that my children can grow up in a safe and free nation and to fight for those who cannot.”

Bridget Huffmaster

Two years ago, Huffmaster made a career switch.

“I was formerly a registered veterinary technician, and though I loved what I did, it wasn’t the right career for me,” she said. “I grew up in a military family and knew right from the get-go I wanted to be in the Air Force.”

So far in the military, she has had a variety of experiences.

“I have been through two gas chambers to test my ability to operate in a stressful situation,” she said. “I have also been on one deployment, stateside to Maryland to assist FEMA with giving COVID-19 vaccines. It was very rewarding. People were very grateful. I also do a lot of instructing in the military to other members on my installation as well as brief commanders and create emergency management plans.”

Currently, Huffmaster is a senior airman, or E-4, stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.

“My job title is emergency management, but basically, I am FEMA for the Air Force,” she said. “I am also a certified HAZMAT technician for hazardous materials and a CBRN, or chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, defense instructor.”

Huffmaster said there’s a lot she loves about the military.

“You meet so many people that become such a big part of your life in a short amount of time,” she said. “I love how consistent everything is. My job, paycheck, days off, everything is always precise and consistent. I also love what I do in the military. Being an instructor, I get to interact with a lot of different people every day.”

As of now, her plan is to serve for at least 20 years.

“To me, serving my country means standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We are the guardians who keep the wolves at bay,” Huffmaster said. “It also means sacrifice. I sacrifice a lot of my freedoms so Americans can have theirs.”

Dylan Day

Seven months after graduating from SHS, Day joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I wasn’t too sure about college. I didn’t really like school as it was, so military was always the option,” he said. “I always strive to be the best, so the Marine Corps definitely suits that.”

He went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for training before going to schoolhouse in Pensacola, Florida, and Oceana, Virginia, to become an aviation technician.

“I never really thought about doing that as a job,” he said. “It’s what the recruiter gave me, and I just went with the flow, but I like it in a sense of if I decide to get out, the numerous amount of jobs I could work at … I could make six figures doing what we do in the civilian world. You get a lot of qualifications and different aspects of our career, so there are so many benefits.”

Since 2019, he has been stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina, working on jets and electronic countermeasure.

The only time he has not been stateside was from March to September 2020 when he went to Japan to support that country’s aviation technicians.

“Out of the experience so far, I’ve met a lot of people from all over the country and the world, so I get their different aspects of life and how they live and how people go about stuff that’s not in Seymour, Indiana,” Day said. “Then just the broader picture, a better discipline. I’ve learned how to socialize more. They teach you how to become a man in a sense … and just do things on your own.”

Being able to serve the country means a lot to Day.

“I like to be able to give back. It was almost like an obligation in my mind to be able to give back to the country,” he said. “It makes me feel good knowing I’m letting people wake up every day and being able to go to their regular daily jobs, not seeing missiles flying over their house and stuff.”

Day recently submitted his reenlistment package and will either go to schoolhouse to become a drill instructor or stay in Beaufort as an aviation technician.

“Everyone tells me to reenlist, so I’m taking their opinion and just running with it,” he said. “Just like any job, it has its days where I want to get out and go back and enjoy just a civilian life because there are a lot of things people don’t see that we have to deal with in the Marine Corps because it has its own operating system. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

Jalen Stanton

After graduating from SHS, Stanton said he decided to experience life a little bit and went from job to job.

He didn’t like that and said he decided to choose something bigger than himself: Joining the Marine Corps.

“I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough, so nothing better than serving your community and your country,” he said. “I really didn’t have a plan. This just came out of nowhere. The recruiter messaged me, and I was like, ‘Huh.’ I thought about it because my brother was a Marine. I was like, ‘Why not?'”

His oldest brother, Damon, was in the U.S. Army, while his other brother, Brandon, was in the Marines.

In February 2020, Jalen went to boot camp near San Diego. He then trained at Camp Pendleton in California and in Missouri before returning to Camp Pendleton, where he remains today working in motor transport.

“You do a lot of different cool stuff that you basically wouldn’t do if you were working in a factory or in college or a desk job,” Stanton said. “You make the best friends. You don’t think that you’d have that close of friends, but you make a lot of really close friends.”

Stanton and his brothers take pride in carrying on the family’s military legacy, as two grandfathers and a great-uncle all served in the Army.

“It just means everything to us,” he said. “We’ve gotten to see some cool stuff, and whenever we get the call to go somewhere, we’ll be ready to ship out and do what’s right and help our country.”

Damon and Brandon both are out of the military and currently live in Mitchell and work in Bloomington, and Jalen is considering completing his four years of service and then going to college.

“I want to be a state trooper or at least a cop whenever I get out, for Indiana, of course,” he said, “just to serve my community after serving the country.”

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