PE teacher prepares to pursue Army Ranger dreams

The Wagner family makes a trip May 2 to Summit Coffee in Davidson. Josh Wagner is preparing to leave his job as a physical education teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to join the Army. Clockwise from front are Gavin, Soren, Elizabeth and Josh. (Chris Tittel/MIM photo)

By Chris Tittel

DAVIDSON – Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Josh Wagner wears his on his arm. Literally.
Wagner and his family, who live in Huntersville, sit out back at Summit Coffee on a warm afternoon in early May.
Elizabeth Wagner bounces son Soren, 15 months, on her knee while son Gavin, 8, enjoys a vanilla shake.
Wagner lifts the sleeve on his T-shirt to reveal on his upper right forearm the tattoo of a passage from the Bible: “But those who hope in the Lord/will renew their strength./They will soar on wings like eagles;/they will run and not grow weary,/they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
“That’s my grandfather’s life verse,” he said. “He used to recite that to me.”
Above the passage are five stars, each filled with the color of the birthstone of his grandfather, father, Gavin, Soren and his own.
Wagner, who has loved working with kids as a physical education teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the past eight years, is about to quit his job and pursue a dream he has had since childhood.
Next month, Wagner, 32, will enter the U.S. Army.
“I’ve always wanted to join the Army, just that the timing was never right,” he said. “It’s been in my heart since I was little.”
Wagner will undergo more than 16 weeks of training, including basic combat training, advanced individual training and airborne school, at Fort Benning, Ga.
The training will prepare Wagner for the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
“The 75th Ranger Regiment seeks highly motivated, physically fit and intelligent Soldiers to serve within its ranks,” the Army website reads. “Successful Ranger candidates are self-starters who possess the dedication to be three time volunteers: first volunteering for service in the Army, volunteering for Airborne School, and volunteering by requesting assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment.”
Wagner has proved that he’s the “right stuff” for the Army through his leadership at Paw Creek Elementary.
“This is a high-poverty school where the only meals most of the kids have all day is the breakfast and lunch we serve,” he said. “I love working with the kids and serving as a role model.”
Wagner runs the safety patrol program at Paw Creek.
Each week, up to 12 students are selected to help keep order as kids board afternoon buses home. Patrol members are given green badges and belts to wear while on the job. Students with decent grades and good behavior qualify for safety patrol membership.
“It’s an honor to be chosen and it keeps the kids motivated,” he said. “It sounds like a little thing, but it’s big to them.”
Wagner has also worked the past eight years as a coach for the Carolina Rapids soccer club.
Carolina Rapids Executive Director Thomas Finlay said Wagner has left a very positive impression on him and the club’s 3,800 members. He said Wagner not only teaches club values – character, community, competitiveness and commitment – but also lives them.
“Josh is always smiling and upbeat,” Finlay said. “It’s a reflection of his personality and how he approaches life. He impacts everyone around him.”
As for Wagner joining the Army, Finlay was supportive.
“He’s defending our values and our freedom,” he said. “Josh is the type of guy to do this.”
Elizabeth, who works in sales at AT&T, said she backs her husband’s decision to join the Army. She and Josh have been together for 11 years.
“He’s been wanting to do this his whole life,” she said. “I’m 100 percent behind him no matter what.”
Although Elizabeth said she has her fingers crossed that Josh will eventually be stationed in Hawaii, she’d be happy to go anywhere.
“As long as we’re all together,” she said.
Although he has been looking forward to this since he was a child, Wagner said he hopes to look back on the experience in later years as having been positive and rewarding.
“I don’t want to be 60 and have any regrets,” he said. “I want to serve my country.”

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