You may have seen them on the “Today” show, in an article online or on your local news earlier this year — the 18-year-old quadruplets who joined the military. What you may not know is that another sibling enlisted alongside them, and they all did it for their education and future.
To say that the Lees family of Ada, Michigan, is dynamic would be an understatement. Parents Nick and Lyvonne have 12 children, including SEVEN who graduated high school in 2018 (biological quadruplets, two adoptees and one high school student they took in). FIVE of those 18-year-olds joined the military: quadruplets Nevin, Rose, Bryce and Mason, as well as Yoel, who was adopted from Ethiopia more than a decade ago.
So who decided to join first? Well … that’s a little tricky.
“Bryce is going to say that he’s the one,” said Rose, who started Air Force ROTC in the fall. “But I think Nevin actually … he’s the one that set this all into play.”
Nevin got a jump on all of his siblings by graduating high school early — in December 2017 — to join the Marine Corps. He’d already been through boot camp and was doing more training when we met with his family. It turns out they all joined for similar reasons.
In a large family like the Lees’, money can be a concern. Thankfully, the teens’ parents taught their kids the importance of education and financial stability — preparing themselves for the future without get into crazy debt. That’s a big reason why they chose the military.
“I never really wanted to do the same ole, same ole,” Bryce said, referring to college. He said he was never really a “school guy,” so when Navy and Marine recruiters contacted him, he listened to all the options they presented. He picked Navy.
“People view the military as — I mean, I viewed it in a bad way at first,” Bryce said. “Like, you go in, you’re in combat and you come out with PTSD — stuff like that. But that’s really not what it is. There’s tons of jobs working on ships that can transfer over.”
He chose to be an electrician because it could translate to the civilian world someday.
Mason made a similar choice. He likes working with his hands, so when Bryce clued him into careers in the military, he chose the Air National Guard.
“It’s more career based instead of just joining up and trying to find a path,” he explained.
Mason said he wasn’t the most focused kid in high school, but he knew he liked mechanics, so when he learned about the ANG’s aerospace propulsion field, he signed up. He’ll be working on C-17 Globemaster III jet engines, propellers and ground support equipment at Memphis Air National Guard Base in Tennessee. Eventually, this career will also transfer to the civilian world.
Yoel joined the Marines like his brother, Nevin, and left for boot camp in late October. He’s still not sure what he wants to do long-term, but since his siblings looked into the military, he did, too. He almost settled on the Navy, but Nevin talked him into visiting a Marine Corps recruiter, and that just clicked.
“I didn’t want to go to college … wasting time and money and coming out not knowing what I wanted to do,” Yoel said. “With the Marines, or the military in general, you can go in and try out some things and they’re paying for all the expenses. … It’s about experience — that’s how you’re actually going to figure out what you want to do.”
He plans to take advantage of the educational benefits later in life when he’s more sure of his career path. For now, he chose a Marine Corps career in logistics.
“I’m going to be the person who’s in charge of figuring out pretty much everything you’ll be needing” as a unit, including ammo, MREs, vehicles, etc., Yoel said. “It’s a job that requires a lot of organizational skills.”
Rose knew what she wanted. She volunteered a lot in high school and always had a desire to serve. Her brother-in-law, Matt, commissioned into the Air Force as a pilot, so that’s why she picked Air Force ROTC. She started classes at Eastern Michigan University in the fall while commuting to the University of Michigan for her military obligations. Her goal: to become an emergency medicine doctor.
“I hope to do a program where I can travel the world and help people in need, especially developing countries,” she said. “I thought the military was a fantastic way to get involved.”
Her dream is already coming true. She’s one of the top AFROTC recruits in her class and has been asked to spend the summer in Spain or Pakistan to live and learn the culture and the language, as well as to shadow doctors at hospitals there.
I didn’t meet Nevin since he was away at Marine Corps training when we met the Lees family, but they said he did well in boot camp and became a squad leader when he was still 17. When he visited home about two months in, his parents said he was like a whole new person — more attentive, listening better and even using “sir” and “ma’am” on them.
“He learned direction,” said his father, Nick. “He knew what he needed to do, and that was nice.”
Nevin has continued to excel with the Marines. He’s now back home attending college because the service wants him to be a pilot.
The teens had heard many rumors during their recruitment, including that the military is for people who don’t want to continue schooling. They’re looking forward to proving those myths wrong.
“The military’s not just running around and shooting people. There are careers,” Mason said.
“You can do school and the military,” Rose said. “You also don’t really need school if you don’t want to go. You can learn a lot of new skills in the military.”
Yoel and Nevin, who both did well in school, are happy to debunk the “Marines are dumb” myth.
“[I always heard] they’re the ones going to be on the line ... with the guns and exploding things — that’s the picture people put in my head,” Yoel said of the Marines. “But there are so many things in there you can do. You can have any job.”
People from all over the world join the U.S. military. It can be a hard adjustment for some, but likely not the Lees.
“Because our family’s so diverse … people’s mindsets are different — how they act, their demeanor and everything is different,” Mason said. “So, I feel like I’m prepared for it.”
Meeting people from other cultures? Easy.
Trying to work as a unit with different ideas and personalities? Check.
Dealing with lot of moving parts? They do it all the time.
“I’m used to living around a lot of different people and personalities,” Yoel said. “So, it’ll be pretty easy for me to go into boot camp and see people from around the world.”
Now they’re excited to problem-solve with people they’re not related to.
“It’ll be good for us to separate and come back together eventually,” Mason said.
If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life yet, don’t ignore military recruiters.
“No one wanted to approach them because it’s kind of intimidating,” Mason said of the students at his school. He learned more about the Navy from his brothers. In fact, the family said that of the 200-plus students who graduated with them, they were the only ones to join the military.
“When the [military] recruiters come into our school, you don’t really get much time to sit down and talk with them one-on-one. It’s literally just them standing at our lunch while people are busy trying to sit and eat with their friends,” Yoel said.
The teens believe there needs to be a better way to show students all the opportunities available in the military.
“It’s a great path … if you don’t want to get in debt and spend a lot of money and not even use your college degree,” Mason said.
And of course, if you want to see the see the world.
“It’ll be a really good experience,” Bryce said.
Yoel’s 17-year-old biological sister, Denkenesh, who was also adopted by the Lees, is considering the military, too. We’ll have to wait and see which branch she picks!