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Bradwell seniors receive three of four main academy nominations
Bradwell Institute students who received service academy nominations were, from left, John David Howard, Mitchell McKnight, Alexandria Sletten, Edgard Lliso Jr. and Jamar Wells. - photo by Andrea Washington / Coastal Courier
Their high school days are almost done, but Bradwell Institute seniors John David Howard, Mitchell McKnight and Alexandria Sletten can say they ended their high school careers by making history.
The students recently received three of the four principal congressional service academy nominations awarded by U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), the first time the congressman has given a majority of such nominations to students from one school.
"This is the 15th year I have had the privilege to select nominees to our service academies and I have to say that it is rare to see so many top candidates from one school in the same year," Kingston said of the record. "The selection board does not consider the school each applicant comes from so it was a surprise to everyone when the selections had been made and we found that three of our four principal nominees were all from Bradwell Institute."
The three Bradwell students were among 18 students in the First District who received nominations, which are necessary to attend a military academy, for the Class of 2012.
The congressman's office receives about 50 applications each year. Roughly half of the applicants are interviewed and 10 to 20 students receive nominations.
Kingston's nomination helped Howard and McKnight receive appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Sletten receive an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Both Howard and McKnight have accepted their appointments, but Sletten declined her selection after receiving a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship to attend Valdosta State University.
Sletten said receiving the nomination and the appointment were "really, really big achievements" in her life, but she opted to stay close to home rather than move 1,600 miles away to Colorado Springs, Col., where the USAFA is located.
"Going to the academy is everything I've been striving for. I was 100 percent into going to the academy and the final step was getting the nomination," she said. "But I think I made the right decision to go to Valdosta State because it's close to my family."
Growing up in a family where both her parents were members of the Air Force, Sletten said she knew at an early age she wanted to follow in their footsteps and plans to become a combat aviator.
Family ties to the military are what also led McKnight to his decision to serve the country.
The son of 3rd Infantry Division Chief of Staff Col. Mark McKnight, he said watching his father's career and being around the Army atmosphere made a significant impact on him.
"At a young age, I always wanted to be in the military," McKnight said. "My father never really pushed it upon me, but just being around and inside the military family for so long and being enveloped by the environment has just overtaken me and inspired me to serve in the military."
He said at West Point he expects "to get a full overview of what an officer's supposed to do" as well as add to the school's legacy of more than 200 years of excellence.
But more importantly, McKnight said, he hopes to gain the tools that will make him "at least half the soldier" his father has become.
"I want to kind of follow in my father's footsteps because he's just had an unbelievable career," he said. "I hope to branch inside the infantry because I like to be up front where the action is and I've always been kind of a grunt like my father."
Howard, who is joining McKnight at West Point, did not boast about any familial connections to the Army, just his connection to his mother who kept him motivated throughout the tenuous nomination process.
He said going into the yearlong process he did not think he had much of a chance of getting the congressional nod, but his mother kept him motivated and made sure everything was mailed on time. In one case, she even drove to Kingston's district office in Brunswick to make sure his materials would not get lost in the mail or arrive late.
"I really have to give her credit," Howard said. "She's been my driving force."
And while for some graduating from West Point as an officer is about the status, Howard, who hopes to become a member of the Special Forces, said for him it means something much bigger.
"To me, it's not about being in charge of a lot of people," he said. "I'd rather know that I'm doing something that makes a difference."
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