News: National Guard uniform gives applicants vital edge at military academies
Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Getten
RENO, Nev. — A National Guard uniform or affiliation can give a Soldier or Airman or their dependent an edge when applying to one of the nation’s military academies, said military admissions officers here April 5 during Academy Information Day at the University of Nevada, Reno.
According to Air Force Academy admissions officer Maj. Sean Madole, Guardsmen are eligible for 85 slots in the military academies allotted to reserve-component service members and their qualified dependents.
“If you are in the National Guard, meet the core requirements and have a high SAT or ACT score, you are a shoe-in for acceptance to a military academy,” Madole said.
There are two primary ways for enlisted personnel to enter military academies, either via an academy preparatory school or direct appointment.
The United States has five military academies, including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Those four academies can accept applications simultaneously and have similar requirements for admission, including a congressional or service-connected nomination.
Applicants to the Coast Guard Academy compete in a direct, nationwide competitive process that does not require a nomination.
Each of the schools is highly rated and offers a myriad of academic opportunities that can build a foundation for a successful military or civilian career.
“If you think you want to go to the academy, then you have to go for it,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Hanifan, the Nevada Army Guard’s commander and 1986 West Point graduate. “Make sure you do your preparatory work to ensure you get there. Quickly identify what your weaknesses are and prioritize improving those topics and subjects.”
Madole noted that some slots reserved for service members go unfilled each year at the academies. To alleviate the unused slots, the Air Force created the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development Program to encourage commanders to nominate Airmen for the academy.
“It’s a shame some seats go unoccupied because any commander, including myself, can nominate an Airman (or Soldier) at any time,” said Lt. Col. Caesar Garduno, the commander of the 192nd Airlift Squadron and a 1989 Air Force Academy graduate who now an academy interview committee member for Congressman Mark Amodei. “That nomination doesn’t mean they will receive an appointment, but they could be well on their way.”
To take advantage of one of the 85 reserved slots, Guardsman must obtain a commander’s endorsement. It’s also recommended they also obtain a congressional nomination as well to ensure their final appointment to the academy.
“The prospective candidates should apply for every kind of nomination available, including all of the congressional delegates in their district,” said Ken Gray, the senior field representative for Amodei. “Unless they are set on one academy in particular, an applicant can improve their chance of acceptance by applying to all of the schools.”
Just like reserve force commanders, ROTC commanders can nominate college cadets. (JROTC commanders can also nominate top high school students.)
“Students participating in the ROTC should seek a nomination from their commander, too,” said retired Commander Stephen Schumacher, a Naval Academy representative at the information day. “Nominations are like raffle tickets: The more you have, the better your odds.”
Service-affiliated nominations for the 85 slots are also available for the children of reserve component service members.
The core requirements for nomination are nearly identical for West Point and the Air Force Academy. The two-step application process consists of obtaining a nomination and securing an appointment. Although just two steps, the process requires thorough preparation and can be arduous.
“I was a junior in high school before I realized I wanted to attend West Point,” Hanifan said. “Once I examined the requirements for the academy, I realized there were areas where I really needed some work.
“I hadn’t held a lot of leadership positions, wasn’t in ROTC and hadn’t done much in sports. Those are all areas the admissions board scrutinizes. So I realized I needed to up my game.”
Applicants are advised to meet with their local area liaison officer early in the process. Most of the application information is available on-line; visit the respective school’s web site and check the admissions section.
“Every applicant should locate their academy liaison officer early. They can and will help with the application process,” Garduno said.
Qualified applicants should obtain a recommendation from their unit commander or a higher-ranking officer in their chain of command.
The exact form for the Air Force Academy is USAF form 1786 and for West Point is USMA form 351-12. Both are found on the school’s web pages.
Active duty and reserve component Soldiers and Airman can apply to the academies’ preparatory schools directly. Civilian students must be selected by the admissions team to enroll.
“When I was at the academy, all of the prior service cadets I knew went to the prep school.” Hanifan said. “They were better prepared than most of us who attended right out of high school. Their military background combined with the prep school definitely gave them an edge.”
The first part of the application process is a pre-screening to determine if potential cadets meet the requirements and will be competitive in pursuing an appointment.
During the second phase of the process, applicants provide information concerning their extracurricular activities, physical fitness scores and medical readiness.
“Prospective applicants should take and excel in all of their courses, even if they are just remotely thinking about applying at an academy,” Garduno said. “Become physically fit and get involved with extracurricular activities where leadership can be exercised. Those types of activities are looked at very closely and a prospective student has to be well-rounded.”
Both alumni said preparation and timeliness was important in the application process. The academies won’t accept an application until an applicant is in his or her junior year, but there are a number of early steps an academy hopeful – even one already in a uniform -- can take to improve their chance for acceptance.
“The best advice I can give someone in uniform who is thinking about applying is to take as many college courses as you can,” Hanifan said. “Strengthen your study habits; take an ACT/SAT preparatory course and improve your weaknesses."
“With the educational opportunities the National Guard offers, including its tuition assistance and waiver programs, I recommend taking as many classes as possible.”
“If you are serious about applying to an academy, I would start thinking about the application process as a high school freshman or even earlier,” Garduno said.
Hanifan said the education he acquired from West Point helped him develop as a person and leader.
“The experience I gained at West Point absolutely helped me to become a better person,” Hanifan said. “I believe a Soldier can become a good officer regardless which college they attended.
“But for me, the academy experience taught me to handle stress at a young age and provided me an edge when I was a lieutenant. My West Point experience provided me a foundation in leadership as well as academics.”