Published April 5, 2023
BY SARA EYJOLFSDOTTIR
Following the trend of a generational passion for aviation and service, Carmel High School senior Riley Speidel was inspired by her grandfather who flew for the Air Force and her father who pilots for airlines to apply to a number of military academies, a common decision for those sharing her interests.
Those looking for an alternative to the traditional four-year college path after graduation have often turned to military academies, but must overcome a commonly misunderstood application process and a demanding environment if accepted.
The five U.S. military academies–the Military Academy (West Point), Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and Merchant Marine Academy–do not share a common application and each utilizes a unique portal, contributing to the grueling nature of this application process.
“The application process was actually more like two different applications,” says Dante Fiala, who graduated from CHS in 2022. “One was the actual application and the other was the process of applying for a nomination, in this case by Jimmy Panetta.”
Besides filling out the daunting application itself, additional requirements for an application include an interview with a local Blue and Gold Officer, someone who screens applicants while also often acting as a guide through the complicated admissions process, and a nomination from a congressional representative. Each congress member only gets five cadets at each academy, which adds to the already competitive nature of these additional requisites.
Along with the formidable tasks of these interviews and screenings, applicants must also pass a medical exam and a rigorous fitness test that often requires extensive training. CHS seniors Noah Mayer and Speidel have both completed this extensive application process and are hoping to attend military academies next year.
“To prepare for the fitness exam, I took a practice fitness test every week leading up to the exam,” says Speidel, who has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. “The hardest thing for me was actually the kneeling basketball throw, which is a really unnatural action and really relied on learning the correct technique.”
For those who are accepted into these prestigious academies, the challenging academics, harsh conditions and strict schedules all serve as preparation for the military while also offering a high-quality education that comes with no cost of tuition.
“You will be placed in a high-stress environment with a packed schedule from dusk to dawn, with almost no free time or relaxation,” says Fiala, who was enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall but has since opted to attend Monterey Peninsula College. “All of this is, of course, to prepare you for life in the military, so it stands that it would be so harsh.”
Not all interested in pursuing a career in service choose to apply to and attend military academies, with some instead opting for Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, through other universities, including 2021 CHS graduate Hunter Brophy who will be commissioned as an officer in the Navy after completing ROTC through the University of Southern California.
“Inside the Naval Academy, the only life you have is purely military,” says Brophy, who was initially inspired to join a military program by his father, who served 20 years in the Navy as an aviator. “I chose ROTC because I wanted to have a life as a student as well, where you have to figure out food, housing and everything else you would as an adult.”
In contrast to Hunter’s decision, his brother Kurt currently attends the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland. Military academies attract applicants with their guaranteed commission that contains a minimum of five to eight required years of service, depending on the academy.
“Since tuition is free at all the service academies, five years of active duty serving as an officer is required after graduation,” says Speidel, who hopes to combine her passion for aviation with service by joining the Air Force. “I hope to become a pilot for the Air Force so that increases the commitment to 10 years.”
Whether it be continuing a family legacy or pursuing a passion for service, military academies give students an opportunity to complete affordable schooling along with military training in an environment that is almost incomparable. Military academies have a long history of building character and discipline in their students, which is something that Mayer always hoped to emulate after observing these characteristics in his father, a West Point alum.
“At the Naval Academy, I want to improve upon the leadership skills that I currently have and help add to the incredible camaraderie of the academy,” says Mayer, who is planning on committing to the U.S. Naval Academy. “Whatever path life leads me down, I want to use the skills and experiences that I will gain at USNA to improve the people and community around me.”