Brad Kelle was about to enter the University of Illinois in 2004, when he did some hard calculations about paying for his biochemistry degree.
That's when a Marine recruiter told him that he'd scored high on standardized tests and could essentially select his mission.
"The recruiter listed off helicopter crew chief. I had no idea what that meant, but it sparked my interest," he says.
That job turned into crew chief for Marine One, the helicopter that carries the president, and that has made him responsible so far for the safety of two presidents and one former president.
His father, Bruce Kelle of Champaign, said the decision to go with the Marines has made all the difference for the sergeant.
"Now he has leadership skills," the father said. "He has really matured in a way that will help him in college."
Kelle grew up mostly in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Wauconda High School in 2004.
The sergeant gets out in eight months and intends to go to college with his GI Bill education benefits.
Being the crew chief means Kelle has to be ready for any emergency, including landing in water. That proved to be a hurdle for him.
"I needed five weeks of extra water training" to learn to swim with full gear, he admits.
Kelle is the man who signs off on the VH-3D chopper's safety. Throughout the flight, he monitors the gauges and troubleshoots for pilots, as well as keeping an eye out for unforeseen threats.
He's worked for George Bush and Barack Obama. When George W. Bush was president, his father – George H.W. Bush – was also a guest on Marine One, which may be the first time the copter ever carried two presidents, Kelle said.