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    Monroe, Iowa native appointed to attend West Point Academy

    Monroe, Iowa native appointed to attend West Point Academy

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Tawny Kruse | Pvt. Connor Poland, an Iowa National Guard recruit, and his parents, representatives...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Tawny Kruse 

    Joint Force Headquarters - Iowa National Guard

    JOHNSTON, Iowa – “You’re not accepted into West Point; you’re appointed.” This nugget of advice is number one of ten on a website list that shares how you can increase your chances of attending the prestigious United States Military Academy in New York.

    This year, Pvt. Connor Poland, a recruit in the Iowa Army National Guard, was appointed to attend West Point as a cadet (or “plebe,” as they call first-years at the academy) with hopes of becoming a member of the Long Gray Line – a reference to the proud and distinct lineage of West Point alumni. He was one of about 1,000 young people across the country accepted out of approximately 12,000 applicants.

    After completing the application process in January, he checked his email one morning in February before school, as usual, and found a message directing him to accept or reject their offer.

    “I remember feeling shocked,” Poland said “and then just feeling this sense of accomplishment. I did it.”

    Poland was recognized in a ceremony April 20, 2023, at Johnston High School. In addition to family, friends, teachers and Iowa National Guard representatives, Col. Mark Kappelmann, a West Point graduate himself and the Senior Army Advisor to the Iowa Army National Guard, attended the special event to congratulate Poland on his achievements.

    Poland was offered appointment through a congressional nomination submitted by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. The application process was extensive, but he checked all the boxes by excelling academically – he earned a 4.17 GPA and exceptional SAT and ACT scores – and by being a leader in his extracurricular activities.

    But academic achievements were only part of it. Letters of recommendation from his Iowa National Guard company commander, his teachers at Johnston High School and other community leaders were a key component of his application.

    Maj. Justin Foote, commander of Company A, Recruit Sustainment Program, said this is the first time he has had the opportunity to recommend a recruit to attend West Point. Poland joined the Guard as a combat engineer in October 2022. From the moment Poland attended his first RSP drill in November, he knew Poland was special.

    “Immediately, he shined,” Foote said. “He’s a natural born leader. He’s committed to whatever he puts his mind to, and in this case, the nomination to go to West Point was dear to his heart. He’s a gifted student, athlete and Soldier.”

    During one drill weekend, Poland scored 578 out of 600 possible points on the Army Combat Fitness Test, earning him a trophy with his name on it to be placed in his company’s display case for other recruits to aspire to.

    He also spent his time at monthly drills helping teach recruits during classes and cheering them on during physical activities. To encourage warriors to keep up with their fitness, they were required to upload videos of their workouts outside of drill. His parents, Brad and Jan Poland, helped out with that.

    “We said, ‘Well why don’t you come to the gym with us?” his mother, Jan, said. “So, a lot of times during his drill workouts he would take selfies with us and include us in his routine.”

    The high school senior lives in Monroe, Iowa, with his parents and two younger brothers. He said many of his core values were instilled in him by his parents’ steady guidance and strong belief in hard work. But his experiences in extracurricular activities also had a big impact on his personal growth.

    “Whatever I didn’t learn from my parents, I learned at the dojo,” Poland said. “The discipline, physical fortitude, the ability to learn and teach.”

    Poland began martial arts training at the age of five, and has since had the opportunity be an instructor at a karate dojo himself. One of his instructors, retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Sean-Paul VanGorp, was one of many who submitted a letter of recommendation. He served in an engineer platoon at West Point and knows how rigorous the standards of the academy are.

    “Connor encourages his students and peers while firmly enforcing the high standards he knows they are capable of...Connor's drive to excel is evident both on and off the mat. He never backs down from a challenge, and his energy and drive are contagious. He exemplifies the Army's core values and the West Point motto.”

    In addition to martial arts, Poland has also spent nine years in competitive shooting, during which he dedicated hours of volunteer work for the Dragoon Trail Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America. His high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Lehman, gave firsthand testaments to his character and work ethic as a student.

    “Throughout my 24 years of teaching, I have encountered very few students who excel both in and out of the classroom to the degree of Connor,” Lehman said in her recommendation. “Connor has balanced academic achievement with athletic competition and community service while being productive and successful in all areas.”

    He also stepped up to the plate by volunteering to represent the Iowa National Guard on Veterans Day recently. The Soldier who recruited him, Staff Sgt. Tiffany Wuertzer, spoke highly of his abilities.

    “We had one guy reading a snippet from a card, and Connor had his memorized and very confidently spoke in front of the whole student body,” Wuertzer said. “It’s really neat to see him grow. People recognize his ability to lead.”

    Poland spoke highly of Wuertzer’s patience and dedication to making sure he and his family understood what joining the Guard would mean for his future.

    “She would happily answer all of our questions,” Poland said, “and when she didn’t know an answer, she would find it and come back to us as soon as possible.”

    In addition to helping Poland through the process of joining the Guard, Wuertzer connected him to people who could help him with his West Point application. She was even able to administer the academy’s required fitness test at the armory after familiarizing herself with the standards.

    Foote admitted it will be difficult to watch Poland – with all his strengths and leadership abilities – move out of state to attend the academy, and upon graduation, go on to serve in the active duty Army as an officer.

    “In the Iowa National Guard, we strive to enlist the most talented and gifted Soldiers,” Foote said. “Sometimes, that means they’re going to go on to bigger things. But we 100% support it. We understand individuals have their own purpose, and we were blessed to help him on this journey.”

    When he reports to West Point this summer, he knows exactly what kind of work he wants to do as a cadet and future officer in the U.S. Army.

    “I want to work with my hands,” Poland said. “Whatever I do, I want the difference I’m making in peoples’ lives to be tangible in some way. I know this is only the beginning, and I’m excited for the opportunity to grow.”



    Date Taken: 04.20.2023
    Date Posted: 04.20.2023 13:38
    Story ID: 442993
    Location: JOHNSTON, IA, US 
    Hometown: MONROE, IA, US

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