By Congressman Joe Pitts
Representing Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional district is an incredible honor. Working in the House of Representatives is certainly rewarding, but perhaps one of the best parts of the job is meeting the incredible young people who apply every year to attend one of military academies: the Military Academy, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.
Each year, I nominate a few dozen high school students for one or more of these academies. I have a dedicated board of retired service members who help me choose the best qualified candidates. In many years, half of the students I have nominated get accepted to one of the schools.
As a nation, we should take pride in the quality of these schools. Our academies are among the best schools in the nation and in the world. Because of their quality, they receive far more applications than they have space to take. The acceptance rate is between 7 and 15 percent.
The Naval Academy is the fourth highest institution of higher learning to get accepted into, ranking above Yale, Julliard, and MIT. The Military, Air Force and Merchant Marine academies are all in the top 20.
Those statistics are even more incredible to think about in the context of what attendance at one of these schools demands. First of all, each of these schools has strict standards of physical fitness. Unlike most other universities, these schools demand that students develop both the body and the mind. Just to be considered, an applicant has to be in excellent shape.
Each of the schools then has strict requirements for service after graduation. Students sign up to serve their country, often in dangerous fields of battle.
That so many young men and women try so hard to get into one of these schools says a great deal about our national character. People tend to look wistfully at the past and bemoan the current generation, but working with the students who apply for our academies gives me great hope in the future of our nation.
The students who get into one of the academies could certainly get into another school that requires less from them. The Ivy League universities with similar academic standards don’t make students crawl out of bed early in the morning. When a student graduates from Harvard, they often have their pick of high-paying and interesting jobs. A graduate of West Point may find themselves fighting at the frontline in Afghanistan.
But young Americans aren’t shying away from this challenge. Many are embracing the opportunity to serve and protect their nation. The academies build the next generation of leaders who will then pass on our unique American values to another generation.
Strong military academies help us keep our nation strong. Students primary training is directed toward military service, but graduates of the academies do incredible things long after their service has ended. They run corporations, build new companies and charities, and they give back to their communities.
Students from every state and district, from every socio-economic background, and of any race come together to mold themselves into military officers of the highest quality.
Not every student who I nominate gets into an academy, but even applying is admirable. Attendance at an academy is not the only way to serve our country or to serve as an officer in the military. I myself did not attend the Air Force Academy, but I did achieve the rank of Captain flying B-52 bombers. Many of our finest officers attended other colleges before entering one of the services.
Again, I would like to reiterate how much hope and joy it gives me to meet with so many young, energetic Americans who want to give back to our nation. I fully expect that next year I will meet many more students who would make excellent soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
High school students who are thinking about attending one of the academies should contact my office to find out more about the requirements and the application process. I am always happy to help students figure out whether the one of the academies is a good fit for their talents.