Liberty Bell High School senior Dusty Patterson was one of 18 students across Central Washington nominated by Rep. Dan Newhouse to attend U.S. military service academies.
Although many military academy prospects begin working on their application in their junior year, Dusty didn’t start his until last fall, when he became inspired to consider attending a service academy. “We were in Colorado looking at colleges last winter,” says Dusty, the son of Jeff and Molly Patterson. “We decided that since we were in the area, we’d go look at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It was there that I became aware of the educational and career opportunities provided by a U.S. military academy.”
“Going to a military academy had never crossed my mind,” Dusty says. “But there are really some opportunities there that you just can’t find anywhere else.” Dusty is interested in engineering, which makes a military academy a good fit, but he’s also curious about pursuing flight programs and becoming a pilot.
The nomination from Rep. Dan Newhouse is an honor hard-won, involving a rigorous application process. “The application itself is really long,” says Dusty, “longer than for any other colleges. This year, because of the pandemic, many schools are making it easier to apply by accepting the common application. But the application to the military academies is just as long as ever,” presumably to weed out all but the most dedicated candidates.
The application consists of a long set of essay questions, asking the applicant to consider the essential qualities of a military member, leadership styles, commitment to public service, and the definition of community. The completed application, along with a high school transcript, is submitted to one’s U.S. senator or congressional representative for review. After Dusty made the initial cut for nominees to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Rep. Newhouse’s military service academy review board — consisting of an admissions officer and a panel of seven active or retired military members — interviewed him. “It’s typically an in-person interview,” Dusty says, “but it was a video conference this year.”
Applicants like Dusty also undergo a thorough medical and vision examination through the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board, which testifies to the applicant’s health.
In addition to his nomination from Rep. Newhouse to the Air Force Academy, Dusty submitted an application to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, which does not require a nomination. Now it’s just a waiting game. Dusty hopes to hear from both military service academies in March. Should he be accepted, he’ll then have about a month to decide what direction to go in: military academy or traditional college. If he chooses a military path, once he completes his schooling he will be committed to a minimum of five years of military service upon graduation, or longer if he pursues becoming a pilot.
Does Dusty recommend that other Liberty Bell students seek military academy admissions? He says he’ll need to wait and see if he gets accepted and attends before vouching for the experience. But simply completing the process has been an accomplishment, he says. “You have to really want to go there, to do all that work for the application.”