Military options appeal to senior


Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj

This story started in the December issue of  The Rock.
At the United States Air Force Academy, undergraduates are cadets. Fourth class cadets, like at other universities, have a freshman orientation the summer before enrollment, but unlike other universities, these students undergo Basic Cadet Training. BCT lasts six weeks and “is designed to introduce new cadets to military life,” according to the USAFA admissions website. The “physically, emotionally, and mentally” demanding six weeks also prohibits both visitors and phone calls.
It’s an undergraduate experience senior Hannah Hughes never envisioned for herself, partially because she’d been unaware of its existence. But with a family history of military service, including an older brother who serves in the Air Force, Hughes had respect for the armed forces and could not escape the USAFA’s appeal once she learned of its existence as a junior.
“[My brother] enlisted in the Air Force after he graduated from high school,” Hughes said. “Going to his graduation and everything … I found really fascinating, the camaraderie of all of it, and it just really drew me in.”
For Josh Hughes, who is now a senior airman, joining the Air Force directly after high school allowed him to serve his country first from Italy, for two years, and then from Cheyenne Wyoming for the last year. Being away was hard for both him and his family, he said, but particularly for Hannah, with whom Josh Hughes had been closest growing up. His knowledge of his sister’s personality and strengths, combined with his experience in the Air Force, has reassured him of Hannah’s ability to succeed if she were to attend the Academy and later serve.
“Hannah would excel in the Air Force. She has drive, motivation, leadership. She cares for people. … All those traits are what makes a good officer. Most have to learn them or find them along the way, she is already there!” Josh Hughes said in an email interview. “I would be honored to salute her and follow her command.”
Joining the Air Force through the USAFA has a lot more to offer post-graduation than a traditional university experience, Hughes said …
Continued exclusively online
… but it would also allow her, after graduation, to start her five years of required military service as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Further, she would have a degree from one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation, according to the USAFA admissions website, with possible majors ranging from biology or physics to aeronautics or military & strategic studies. This guaranteed job placement, coupled with the financial adeptness of a free college education, is logically appealing, Hughes said. Further, the “life lessons” ingrained into cadets will build her up as a person, she said, in a way that only a service academy can.
In fact, “character” is one of the four parts of the USAFA’s curriculum, with the other three being “academics,” “military” and “athletics.” The Academy focuses on these four facets with rigor, unlike typical undergraduate experiences. For example, according to the USAFA website, cadets must take three physical education classes each year and must represent the school in a Division I sport.
This demanding “athletics” curriculum aims to “develop good physical condition and the traits of teamwork, courage, aggressiveness, self-confidence and an intense desire to win,” according to the website, and is actually part of the admissions process, in the form of a mandatory fitness test that requires applicants to max out on pushups and pull ups, run a timed mile and throw a basketball as far as possible. Hughes has already completed this process and tested above average overall. Hughes works out regularly to prepare further for the Academy itself, with a regimen that includes a daily run, nightly ab exercises and alternating pushups and other upper-body strengtheners.
“One of the days [at the summer seminar offered at the Academy], we emulated a day in the life of a freshman, and so we had to do all of the physical training,” Hughes said. “There was no, like, ‘Girls, you do this many, and guys, you do this many.’ It was just, ‘Do them until you puke.’ … So just keeping myself in shape is what I’ve focused on to prepare myself.”
This Candidate Fitness Assessment is just one portion of the extensive application process. Hughes has already finished writing the necessary essays for both the school itself and for the congressional nomination applications, as well as the medical testing, which included a physical and eye and hearing tests. On the first of this month, Hughes interviewed in front of a panel of five judges for Missouri Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer’s nomination to attend the Academy, and on the following Wednesday, she received a call that she’d received it. This past weekend, Hughes found out she had also earned Senator Claire McCaskill’s nomination.

“I think the most challenging part has, for me, been just the stress of writing all the essays and getting all of them down to a certain number of words and making sure they’re perfect not only to show your achievements and stuff, but to show your character and integrity, because it’s a service academy, and those are really big things to them,” Hughes said. “So I think just finding the right way to portray myself was the most difficult. And then probably knowing that it’s taking so much time, and I’m giving it everything, but it’s so competitive that there’s still that good chance that I don’t get accepted, and then that’s just so much wasted.”
Former RBHS guidance counselor Matt Miltenburg, who is staying home to look after his twins, has guided Hughes through the process of applying, but has also been a person on whom she has relied over the years, she said. Miltenburg said Hughes has “made all the right decisions” when deciding to apply, such as researching the school and really evaluating whether she wanted to go “for the right reasons” rather than just to receive a free education.
“When you have to give back several years of your life in service, service that could put you in harm’s way, it’s important to realize that there is a certain cost there,” Miltenberg said in an email interview. “However, I was reassured that when she returned from the summer program excited, she was doing it for the right reasons. Once she made the decision, I’ve just been helping her through the application process, which is long and arduous. She’s a great writer and I’ve enjoyed working with her on her essays the most.”
Though Miltenberg has helped Hughes through the application and initial decision-making process, he initially met Hughes while coaching RBHS cross-country. As a coach, he said he could see Hughes’ importance to the team both as a state-alternate runner her junior year as well as a leader. He later saw this leadership in Hughes when she became a member, then president, of the Ambassadors, a club made up of those who welcome new students to RBHS.
“Hannah is just a rock. Even though she has so much going on, school, work, personal life, you know that you can depend on her. She works so hard that it sometimes hurts, literally. Last year, she was so determined to succeed on the track she ran herself into a hip stress-fracture,” Miltenberg said. “That’s a thick bone and very hard to do and is indicative of Hannah’s ability to endure pain, and all other obstacles, en route to her success.”
Miltenberg said Hughes has the characteristics of discipline, sacrifice and selflessness, all necessary for success at the Academy. She can “zero in on a goal” without sacrificing “close relationships with the people she cares about.” However, Miltenberg believes Hughes has been and will be successful because of a single characteristic called “grit.”
“She possesses something psychologists and educational researchers have labeled ‘grit.’ This essentially comes down to the ability to persist on with one’s passions despite setbacks, struggles or failure,” Miltenberg said. “Hannah has taken hits, lots of hits, but comes back every single time. Among the hundreds of students I’ve worked with, I don’t believe I’ve ever worked with a student that possessed more grit. That’s why Hannah will succeed.”

By Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj