Student is military academy nominee

Dean LaGattuta’s interest in attending a U.S. Service Academy first piqued when he was an adolescent and he learned his grandfathers, on both sides of his family, served in the Navy.

His interest in joining the service deepened through watching programs on the Military Channel and History Channel.

“The family legacy and then getting into military history really sparked my interest in serving in the military,” said LaGattuta, a senior at Freedom High School.

Dean LaGattuta poses for a photo with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn while volunteering for the 2015 Tampa Bay Heart Walk. (Photos courtesy of Dean LaGattuta)

Dean LaGattuta poses for a photo with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn while volunteering for the 2015 Tampa Bay Heart Walk.
(Photos courtesy of Dean LaGattuta)

LaGattuta is one of 14 students nominated for appointment to a United States service academy from the 15th Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Dennis A. Ross. He was nominated for both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy,

Eight other Tampa area students were nominated, along with six from Valrico and two from Lakeland.

“It is one of the highest honors I have as a member of Congress to assist deserving constituents in seeking appointment to a U.S. service academy,” Ross said in a news release.

If students who’ve been nominated receive an appointment from one of the five U.S. service academies (Military, Naval, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Air Force), they have a 10-year obligation to the service, including the four years in whichever academy they attend and six years of active duty.

“We’re looking for young people who are committed to being military officers,” said Gary Clark, chairman of the District 15 Nomination Board. “We’re looking at that from a standpoint of being an ‘officer for life,’ whether they want to serve a career and retire, or if they just want to serve in the reserves or the guard.”

Dedicating at least 10 years of his life to the military wouldn’t be an issue for LaGattuta, who sees himself working in public service for a long time.

“The military academies offer an incredible opportunity to not only serve my country, but give back, too, through the opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have, because I was born in such a great country,” said LaGattuta, who is expected to hear about whether or not he’ll be appointed in the next few months. “Also, it helps me develop my leadership skills and potential, and further my love for service.”

To even be considered for a nomination from Ross, LaGattuta and the other students underwent an arduous, in-depth application process.

“You have to get specific teachers from your school to fill out certain forms and get recommendations from them,” LaGattuta said. “You have your cadet’s fitness assessment. For the U.S. Military Academy, I had three essays of 500 words, and for the Naval Academy I had one essay.

Dean LaGattuta, wearing No. 25, competes in a soccer game against Wharton High School.

Dean LaGattuta, wearing No. 25, competes in a soccer game against Wharton High School.

“It’s just incredible how lengthy the process is,” he added. “But, it’s well worth it, and I understand why they do it. They want to make sure the people who are appointed really want to be there.”

For those seeking a congressional nomination, the application process tries to identify candidates that demonstrate leadership skills, have a strong moral character, excel in academics and can surpass the required physical fitness standards.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of three out of every four young people cannot qualify for military service because of physical capabilities, because of criminal records and being unable to pass the academic or aptitude standards,” Clark said. “So, we’re talking about a small subset within a smaller subset.”

Clark added, the nomination board reviews about 50 applications, narrowing the candidates down before conducting interviews and then making nominations.

Appointments by service academies are usually made between January and April, and sometimes as late as May, Clark said.

The odds of receiving an appointment based on a nomination are still relatively low, Clark said. Each service academy accepts between 1,000 and 1,200 applicants out of the 17,000-plus that are sent in from across the country.

“Last year, we nominated 12 (students), and we got 7 appointments.” Clark said. “So, if we can hit 50 percent, we feel pretty good that we’ve made some pretty good selections.

“The academies get the final say, which is why we try to put forward the very best (candidates) that we have to offer.”

LaGattuta appears to fit the bill as a desirable candidate, balancing academics, athletics and community service.

In addition to being a captain of both Freedom High’s varsity tennis and soccer teams, LaGattuta also serves as chairman of Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Youth Leadership Council, where his experience allowed him to be more informed about the probing issues within the Tampa community.

As part of the youth council, LaGattuta served meals to the homeless at the Trinity Café and also worked with underprivileged children at A Brighter Community, the oldest nonprofit preschool in Hillsborough County.

“It really grew and developed my passion for public service,” said LaGattuta, who’s surpassed 300 community service hours. “I love giving back to my community, and I think the most gratifying feeling a person can have is seeing they made a difference in someone else’s life, no matter how small it may be.

“And, all of these experiences have helped me build my application, build my file to hopefully make me a pretty good candidate (for appointment).”

Students not chosen for appointment by any of the five service academies could spend a year in college and reapply the following year, Clark noted. For some, it may serve as a blessing in disguise in terms of maturing enough to take on the rigors of service.

“That can go a long way towards developing their leadership and self-discipline, and things like that,” Clark said.

While the future of earning an appointment is still uncertain for LaGattuta at this point, the prospect of serving in the military is “all I see doing right now.”

“If I’m lucky enough to be appointed, I see myself making a career out of the military academy and public service, and serving my country,” he said.

Published December 30, 2015


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