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Students aiming for military academies get tips

Apr. 20, 2013 - 09:20AM   |  
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ANNVILLE, Pa. — Gabby Flamm wants to become a professor of military history some day, and figures a good way to achieve that goal will be to attend West Point.

Flamm, a sophomore at Central Dauphin High School, attended a service academy information day Saturday at Fort Indiantown Gap hosted by U.S. Rep. Charles Dent, R-Allentown, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

“The military academies are said to have the top programs in military history,” Flamm said, adding she’s looking forward to serving in the Army at a time when women can serve in combat. “Then I’d like to come back and teach military history — that’s my dream,” she said.

“It’s definitely going to be a hard process, but I’m looking forward to it,” Flamm said.

She realizes there’s danger involved in serving in the military, which was brought to the forefront this week with the death of two Pennsylvania National Guardsmen in an Apache helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Dent began Saturday’s program with a moment of silence for the two guardsmen killed — pilot Jarett Yoder, 26, of Berks County, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner, 34, of Susquehanna Twp.

Flamm said her parents are concerned about the danger. “But I want to serve my country — I love my country. … But you have a chance of being killed no matter where you go,” she said.

Dent, whose district includes parts of Dauphin and Lebanon counties, said he doesn’t believe the recent tragedy will affect the numbers of students seeking nomination to the academies.

“Even during the height of the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan we didn’t see the number of individuals drop. We saw people who were still interested, regardless of what was going on overseas,” Dent said.

Saturday afternoon’s event at Fort Indiantown Gap drew more than 50 students and their parents, and a similar event Saturday morning in the Allentown area drew about 60 students.

“Entering the academies are certainly a great way to serve our country, but they are not the only way,” Dent said, adding there are other military options available to them.

Students seeking nominations to the academies “are all first-rate kids. ... We want to see someone who wants to serve his or her country and is very motivated, with strong academic and leadership skills.”

Susan Zimskind, deputy state director for Sen. Toomey, laid out a daunting agenda for students hoping to gain one of the 10 nominations the senator can make to each of the service academies — the Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, West Point and Merchant Marine Academy.

Each of the U.S. senators and congressmen can nominate 10 students to each of the academies. The academies must accept one, she said.

“Basically these kids are applying to an Ivy League school,” Zimskind said. “It’s more than just academics. Leadership is a big part,” and most are athletes. “Most nominees are in the top 10 percent of their class, have solid board scores,” she said. Leadership experience is very important as well, serving as officers of clubs and captains of teams.

Joe Snyder, a freshman at Central Dauphin High School, said the event opened his eyes to what needs to be done to receive an appointment to one of the service academies. “It allowed me to see I have more work to do,” he said.

Snyder said he wants to attend West Point to “help my country,” and because he wants to feel part of something larger — to be able to tell his children or grandchildren some day that he was an officer. “It’s something I think I want to do,” he said.

After hearing the suggestions at the event, Snyder said he he’ll try to log more volunteer hours, “and pay attention more to my grades. They’re high now, but I’ll try to make sure they get higher, or not let things slip away.”

Flamm said she plans to focus on academics, and aspire to leadership roles in her extracurricular activities, which include sports, youth in government and work for charities.

Self-motivation from the students is critical. “We don’t want to hear from parents. We want to hear from the students. Students are the ones who have to call us. It’s very important they take ownership of this process,” Zimskind said.

At the interview each student undergoes, Zimskind advises, “Don’t chew gum; don’t wear flip flops. Look them in the eye. Most of these people are retired military. They don’t want to see someone looking down in their laps.”

Retired Army Lt. Col. Jill Maurer, who serves on the 15th District interview committee for West Point, said she tries to get things clarified from students’ applications at the interview.

“I like to tell them, ‘The taxpayers are spending a lot of money sending you to a service academy. What makes you more qualified? What makes you special?”

“I’m a hard worker” or “I’m dedicated” doesn’t cut it, Maurer said. She urges students to “tell me the story. I know you’re a wonderful person. What can you tell me that’s not on the paper?”

Jason Lane, who has been director of academy nominations for Dent’s office for more than eight years, said academics is given 60 percent of weight on students’ applications, followed by 30 percent for athletics and 10 percent for leadership. He said every student has to participate in athletics, whether on an academy team or in intramurals. Average GPA is 3.4, and SAT, 1220 combined.

His tips include: Take SATs in May, so that scores are available by the Oct. 4 application deadline; take challenging courses senior year; consider participation in ROTC and submit references from people who can show your character.

In the last eight years, Lane said Dent has had 112 students get nomination offers, which are announced in mid-to-late December. This year, Dent’s office has 12 students who received offers and 19 in each of the two years before that. Of the 12, six are recruited athletes, four are to the academies and two are to military prep schools. The service academies also have prep schools that they may offer students, often athletes, who they believe have potential, but whose academics need bolstering.

This year was a very tough year for the Naval Academy, which draws 56 percent of Pennsylvania applicants, with only one of Toomey’s nominees gaining acceptance, Zimskind said. He also had five nominees accepted each to the Air Force and Merchant Marine academies and three to West Point.

She encouraged students to increase their chances by applying for the four nominations most are eligible for, from Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Toomey and Bob Casey Jr. and their congressman. She noted that the senators, who draw applications statewide, receive many more applications than the congressmen. For example, Toomey receives about 500 applications, compared with Dent’s 50 or 60. Toomey only allows students to apply to one academy, but Dent’s offices allow application to multiple ones.

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