The process of getting accepted at a U.S. military academy isn’t an easy one.
There are the standard college entry tests combined with essays and background checks. Each person has a multitude of forms to fill out, a physical fitness test and, eventually, a nomination from one of their state’s senators or representatives.
As Libby Desch found out, that last requirement can be intense.
While many Congressman require only a nomination request and an essay of why the applicant want to attend the academy, Rep. Denny Rehberg requires each prospective nominee to pass muster with a review board.
“I probably have never been so nervous in my whole life,” said Desch, a senior at Helena High School who is applying for the U.S. Naval Academy. “I have never actually done a formal interview like that before.”
She wore her nice clothes and drove to Bozeman to face the five-person board made up of volunteer military and civilian personnel selected by Rehberg to interview each candidate.
“I just tried to act calm and smile,” Desch said. “There’s definitely an air of I want to make eye contact the whole time, I want to be respectful. (High school students) have never really been exposed to that before.”
It’s a process that has existed for the better part of two decades.
“We interview every kid who turns in an application,” said Tom Schultz, a spokesperson for Rehberg.
This year, 27 received nominations to four of the five military academies – the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy does not require a congressional nomination.
Only a few will be selected as “principal” nominees for those schools. Those nominees, if they pass the physical requirements, should be guaranteed a spot in the particular academy. The rest are accepted at the whim of the academies.
“This year we had two (principal nominees) in the Navy, one at the Air Force Academy, one at West Point, and then at the Merchant Marine Academy,” said retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Bruce Bramlette, one of the five members of the board. “They’re pretty much assured (a slot).”
Applicants are expected to be the top students in their class, have demonstrated leadership skills and excelled in extracurricular activities.
The board generally likes students who are involved in their school and community, participate in team sports and have the standardized test scores to prove their academic strength.
“We like to help young people that want to be in the military,” he said. “My board and myself have a real deep sense about the military, and if we can help somebody who wants to be an officer, we’re all for it.”
In all, Rehberg’s office nominated three individuals from the Helena area — Desch, Greg Fox (currently a student as Montana State) and Caleb Metroka — for their academies.
Sen. Jon Tester added Mathew Butcher (currently residing in Pennsylvania), Brice Clairmont of Capital High, Roberto Medina (Loyola University in Chicago) and Paden Wallace of Helena High to the list of local nominations.
Sen. Max Baucus’ list included those nominated by Rehberg and Tester, but also Ryan Reers, who grew up in Helena but is with his family now stationed in the United Kingdom.
All nominees will complete the application process, then wait to hear if they’ve been accepted.
Having spoken with graduates about their time at the Naval Academy, Desch knows that the rigorous schooling and training would be difficult, but she’s still looking forward to the experience.
“I think if I would get an appointment I would literally be blown away. If you have an appointment, you have what it takes. I know I would be able to do it, I would definitely go.”