Most kids dream of becoming a professional athlete, singer, doctor, even a teacher, among other desirable professions.
But Centereach’s Gianna Oliveri chose a different path after a few visits to local air shows as a youngster.
"I would always talk to the military personnel, and I was fascinated by everything the soldiers had to say," she said. "I felt I had a call to duty. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ "
On Dec. 22, the 17-year-old went to a recruiting office in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, and enlisted in the United States Army.
"We always knew that she was very interested in the military, even at a young age," said her mom, Taylor. "She was like, ‘I want to join the Army,’ yada, yada, yada, and a few [weeks] after her 17th birthday [Nov. 17], she signed the papers. That’s when it really hit me."
Private First Class Oliveri leaves Monday for basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. She wants a career in the military and dreams of being a motor transport operator (soldiers who are responsible for transporting people and cargo).
"This has been hard on us, but we’re also so proud of her," Taylor said. "She’s been so focused on this — she really wants it in her heart.
"We are so close as a mother-daughter and as a family, and we’re sad she’s leaving, of course, but we raised her the right way . . . We support her decision 100%."
After 10 weeks of basic training, Oliveri will attend AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in Missouri in late September, before going to Fort Benning (Ga.) for Airborne School.
"During her junior year she started talking about being interested in joining the Army," Centereach softball coach Colleen Bellois said. "You could tell she had this passion . . . and when she started her senior year she was fully invested."
The 5-6 Oliveri would wake up early and prepare for her fitness test — a timed two-mile run, as well as timed push-ups and sit-ups (two minutes each). Sometimes she would have to leave softball practice early for additional workouts. Oliveri passed the fitness test in June.
"Her training for the Army never interfered with anything," said Oliveri’s close friend and junior pitcher, Brittany Dost. "She worked just as hard as anyone on and off the field. She’s, by far, the most dedicated person I know. If she says she’s going to do something, she does it and stands by her word."
Oliveri played centerfield and batted .275 this season for Centereach (3-11) which tied for sixth place (with Huntington) in Suffolk League III. She maintained a B+ average and received the President’s Award in June.
"I’m a pretty good multitasker, but this certainly hasn’t been easy," said Oliveri, who played three seasons of varsity soccer, two seasons of varsity softball (and two seasons of JV basketball). "Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and take one thing at a time, and try to focus on what’s the most important thing at that moment."
These days, Oliveri wants to spend as much time with her family as possible. The oldest of three, Oliveri has two younger brothers (Santo, 15, and Giovanni, 12). Oliveri said she was inspired by her Uncle Warren, who has made a career in the Army and is currently stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado.
"Over the years she has taught me to be true to myself, and if I have a goal to go for it and achieve everything to the fullest," said Dost, who wants to study to be a nurse and play softball in college after her upcoming senior year. "She showed me to never take baby steps and go the whole nine yards."
Dost and the rest of Oliveri’s teammates didn’t have to look too far for motivation this season.
"She puts everyone around her first," Dost added, "and for me to play with someone as dedicated as she is — getting into the Army while playing softball — it was just an honor to play with her."
Oliveri has advice for anyone contemplating their future.
"Follow your dreams," she said. "People can have their own opinions, but in the end, doing what you want to do is most important. Follow your heart."