From Lake to Shining Sea by Maria Corpuz
Jaide Goner can’t swim. She grew up on 16th and Lake, a neighborhood she calls “impoverished.” Swimming pools were hard to find and even if there was one, she didn’t have a way to get there. Jaide said she got used to local news defining her community by gangs or gun violence.
“Growing in this area has been rough for me in the past, I’ve seen people overdose on drugs, get robbed, and even get shot right in front of me. I even lost a close friend to gun violence. Everyday, I make it a goal to get my family and I out of here because I don’t want to fall victim to it as well, and trust me I have been close once before,” said Jaide.
North Omaha has always been home to 18-year-old Jaide. From meeting her first boyfriend to taking her neighbors car to teach herself how to drive, her whole life has revolved around here. Despite the hardships that Jaide has seen, she doesn’t see adversity being the only thing North O has to offer.
“North O is what real life consists of, and I believe that’s what builds character and strength into a person. I know how hard and low life can get, but also remaining strong to come up out of it. I wouldn’t change that for the world,” said Goner.
After graduating from Omaha South High in 2017, Jaide wasn’t sure about the next best step. She didn’t see college as an affordable option due to rising tuition costs. While on vacation with a friend in Arizona, they discussed her options. He suggested the U.S. Navy.
“I told him he was crazy, I can’t swim so that wasn’t going to happen. I can’t swim,” said Jaide.
Despite her fear, Jaide thought about it more and realized that joining the military might actually offer opportunities for her that she wouldn’t be able find elsewhere. She knew that if there was a way to better provide for herself, she had to take every opportunity.
In March of 2018, she headed to the Bellevue recruiting office. Ready to start the enlistment process, she had her social security card, birth certificate and driver’s license in hand.
“No one had really prepared me. There was a lot of people sitting in the recruitment office who knew everything and had already studied to enroll in the Navy. I was the only one there who didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know how to properly salute someone,” recalls Jaide.
The lack of knowledge didn’t keep Jaide from moving forward in the application process. A recruiter helped her fill out an application to be an enlisted sailor and gave her study materials to help her prepare. Since Jaide didn’t have any previous experience or further education, she chose the path of an enlisted sailor.
The Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) is where recruits complete the enlistment process and usually takes a few days. There, recruits see if they meet the Navy’s medical, academic, and moral standards. According to the Navy, this process includes testing for vocational aptitude, a medical exam, a background screening, career counseling and job selection, and an enlistment or commissioning oath.
Jaide is currently in the midst of this process. She spent three hours taking The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a multiple-choice exam that included questions about standard school subjects like math, English, writing and science. The ASVAB helps recruits decide what career will fit them best.
“It’s very hard if you don’t study for it or remember anything from school. I struggled with the math part since it has never been my strong suit. But luckily, I scored high enough to qualify for some pretty good job choices. The lower you score, the less jobs you can choose from, and usually those jobs are the worst pick,” Jaide commented.
The most embarrassing and uncomfortable part of the process for Jaide was the physical examination. Much like a regular medical exam, she had her height and weight measured, hearing and vision examined, urine and blood tested, and completed drug and alcohol tests. Failure to meet the military’s health standards can lead to disqualification.
“They want people that are perfect without any issues — there’s a lot of factors. They asked me questions about my mental health — suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety. As a woman, they asked me questions about the normality of my menstrual cycle. They even asked me a question about acne — of course I get acne,” said Jaide.
Jaide realized that these questions are meant to weed people out and that she needed to have thoughtful, honest responses. When she was asked about past health problems, she brought up a medical issue that caused her to be hospitalized back in 2016. This has started an in-depth look into her medical past and held up her enlistment process. What was supposed to take a few days, has now taken months. They are currently confirming with hospitals and doctors that she is physically fit to serve.
Once Jaide’s medical history is cleared, she will meet with a service enlistment counselor to help her choose a career within the Navy. Together, they will look at her ASVAB score, the needs of service, availability, physical requirements and what she prefers before deciding which path is most suitable for Jaide.
“I’m hoping for quartermaster and if not, then flight deck or military police. I’m just trying to steer clear of paperwork and combat,” said Jaide.
After choosing a career focus, she will sign an oath committing to the military and her fingerprints will be documented for security clearances. According to the Navy, the recruit vows to defend the U.S. Constitution and obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“If you are signing up for the military — you need to be as truthful as possible. The contract is basically committing yourself for the next 4 years and stating that you have been honest so far,” said Jaide.
Jaide is hoping that by September, she will be attending boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. The seven week training program will prepare her and other enlisted sailors to serve in the fleet. According to the Navy, the curriculum focuses on customs, etiquette, mental and physical fitness, while emphasizing the discipline for success. The training that Jaide will complete will reinforce the Navy’s Core Values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. It’s a big jump, she said, going from being a civilian to a sailor in a matter of days.
“I think it will give me more character and more courage and more confidence. If I can do boot camp, if I can go to the Navy, if I can conquer my fears of swimming, then I can do anything,” said Jaide.
Enlisting in the military isn’t foreign to her family. Long before she was born, her great-grandfather, Levi Goner Sr. and her great-uncle, Levi Goner Jr. served in the United States Air Force. Jaide remembers tales from her childhood of her great-grandfather serving in Germany. She remembers her Aunt and Uncle recalling their childhood as part of the military: moving from state to state. In March, the same month that Jaide started the recruitment process, her great-grandfather passed away.
“I was about to tell my family that I was considering the military but then he passed away. At his memorial was when I decided that I was going to do it. I’m going to stick to it and be a person of my word and make him proud. He’d be proud because I am trying to make something out of myself and I’m not getting stuck in what everyone else is doing,” said Jaide.
When Jaide announced to her family that she would be joining the military, they were shocked, but proud. Although Levi Sr. died before Jaide decided to enlist, she feels his spirit of courage lives on. “I never thought I would follow in that same direction, but I saw the life it provided for family, and I wanted to do the same,” said Jaide.
Jaide’s 10-year-old sister, Kynadie, is her biggest cheerleader and one of the hardest things to leave. In admiration, Kynadie follows Jaide wherever she goes. When Jaide thinks about the four-year commitment she is making, she worries about not being there for certain milestones in Kynadie’s life.
“Wherever I’m at, she’s at. She’s my shadow. So that was another big thing holding me back, I’m not ready to leave her, she needs me. But, she’s the main person telling me to go and live my life,” said Jaide.
Kynadie sees Jaide as a supportive, mother-like figure, and says that she will miss Jaide after she leaves but promises to send notes. Jaide said she was hesitant to leave her family and friends behind but figured that if people are willing to stay in her life, then they will.
If all goes according to plan, Jaide will start as an E-1 Seaman Recruit, which is the lowest among enlisted ranks. Payment is based on rank. The higher the rank, the more money is made. The basic annual pay for an E-1 is just under $20,000. As an enlisted member of the Navy, she will receive room and board. The money that she makes will be used for personal needs such as her phone bill, sending money back to her family, and personal savings.
“There’s all types of benefits, not just financially. The main thing for me is I did something out of the box and took myself out of my comfort zone and I was able to learn a trade that I never thought I’d do in my life,” said Jaide.
While enlisted, the Navy will also pay for higher education. For Jaide, the chance to build her resume and continue her education is something that is highly valuable, especially for a young woman from North Omaha. Even more valuable than that, however, is the opportunity for personal growth.
“Living in North Omaha, I have had to learn to not be dependent on anyone and to not let anyone question my worth. I’m scared to swim. But I go for the challenges, I go for the scary stuff,” said Jaide.
Even though her circumstances didn’t enable her to learn how to swim, it did prepare her to face the challenges of becoming an adult. Jaide truly believes that there is no place better than North Omaha. The community’s culture and the people that live there have had a lasting effect on her.
“I’ve learned and seen a lot growing up in this area and it has helped mold me into the person I am. 16th and Lake will forever be in my heart,” she said. “When they throw me in the pool and I have to swim for my life, I will.”