Military academy appointments include soccer standout

Growing up, Victoria Mitchell always knew she wanted to serve her country with a career in the military.

She’ll soon get the chance, when she’s officially inducted into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28.

The 17-year-old recent Wesley Chapel High School graduate received her official appointment to the Navy in late March — about 10 months after she verbally committed to play soccer there last May and five months after she was nominated for appointment from the 12th Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

Wesley Chapel High graduate Victoria Mitchell will be inducted into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on June 28. She was nominated for appointment in November from the 12th Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis. (Courtesy of Victoria Mitchell)

Mitchell is one of six Tampa Bay area students who were nominated and subsequently received appointments to a United States service academy through Bilirakis’ office.

The others are: River Ridge High School’s Connor Beckman, United States Military Academy; Mitchell High School’s Austin Jerome, United States Merchant Marine Academy; Clearwater Central Catholic High School’s Annalise Klopfer, United States Naval Academy; Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School’s Dennis Teicher, United States Military Academy; and, Wiregrass Ranch High School’s Payton Wilson, United States Air Force Academy.

Mitchell, for one, vividly remembers when her acceptance letter arrived in an email.

“I was pretty much overwhelmed with excitement,” Mitchell recalled. “I actually read the email several times and couldn’t believe that, like, I actually got in. I remember showing the email to my dad and being like, ‘Is this for real? This means I’m going straight there?’ I thought I was going to a prep school at this point, so I was kind of down; I didn’t think I was going to get in immediately. I had almost given up hope and then I got that email when I least expected it. I was just overwhelmed, excited — like, it was one of the best days ever.”

Each year, members of Congress nominate candidates for appointment to four of the five academies: U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Annapolis, Maryland; the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York.

The fifth service academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, does not require a congressional nomination for appointment.

Applications far exceed open slots
Appointments by service academies are usually made between January and April, and sometimes as late as May. Congressional service academy nominations don’t always guarantee acceptance.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis held an annual reception last month to honor local students who received his nomination and subsequent appointment to a United States service academy.
Appointees, pictured from left, Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School’s Dennis Teicher, United States Military Academy; Wesley Chapel High School’s Victoria Mitchell, United States Naval Academy; Wiregrass Ranch High School’s Payton Wilson, United States Air Force Academy; and, River Ridge High School’s Connor Beckman, United States Military Academy. Other Bilirakis’ nominated appointees not pictured are Mitchell High School’s Austin Jerome, United States Merchant Marine Academy; and, Clearwater Central Catholic High School’s Annalise Klopfer, United States Naval Academy.

Approximately 1,200 candidates are selected each year for the Naval Academy’s “plebe” or freshman class, and each student is required to participate in Plebe Summer. Last year the Academy received more than 16,000 applications for the Class of 2022.

A 2018 study by the U.S. News and World Report found the U.S. Naval Academy to have an 8 percent acceptance rate — the 12th most selective among all colleges and universities in the United States.

Attending a service academy comes with an obligation and commitment to serve in the military for a minimum of five years upon graduation. Each student receives a full scholarship.

The application process alone is arduous, Mitchell said, from filling out hundreds of pages of paperwork to undergoing a background check and a physical fitness test.

It also requires a series of interviews before a group of retired and active duty service members, which she labeled “probably the most complex part of the application.”

Mitchell’s passion for the military traces back to her grandfather, Patrick Mitchell, who served in the Air Force for 24 years.

As a young girl, her family would take her to Air Force bases throughout Florida, where she was in awe of “seeing our soldiers in uniform and just everything they stand for.”

Mitchell, too, has always considered herself “a patriot at heart.”

Said Mitchell, “I love my country, and I’ve always known I wanted to serve my country and protect our land — especially like nowadays with all the controversy going on, there’s a lot of disrespect towards our nation and it kind of motivates me to stand up (and) encourages me to go join our military…”

Immediately after induction, Mitchell will report for Plebe Summer, which is designed to help freshman prepare for their first academic year at the Naval Academy.

During this time, plebes have no access to television, movies, the Internet or music, and restricted access to cellphones. They are only permitted to make three calls during the six weeks of Plebe Summer.

As the summer progresses, the new midshipmen learn basic skills in seamanship, navigation, damage control, sailing, and handling yard patrol craft.

Plebes also learn infantry drills and how to shoot 9-mm pistols and M-16 rifles.

Other daily training sessions involve moral, mental, physical or professional development and team-building skills. Activities include swimming, martial arts, basic rock climbing, obstacle, endurance and confidence courses.

Forty hours are devoted to the instruction of infantry drill and five formal parades.

Mitchell is looking forward to all of it.

“I know the summer’s going to be very difficult, very busy,” she said, “but overall, I’m excited for the structure of the academy.

“I’m really excited to gear up, do PT (physical training) with the brigades, I’m excited to basically learn to be a soldier, and I’m going to be living that life for the next four years, and they’re grooming me to be the best officer I can for our country, so I’m excited to learn everything over the next couple of years.”

Juggling academy life and soccer
Besides handling responsibilities of the service academy life, she’ll also be a member of the Navy women’s soccer team, a Division I program.

Mitchell, a forward, opted to strictly play club soccer her senior year after playing varsity soccer at Wesley Chapel High the past three seasons.

Her junior year, she posted a team-leading 34 goals in just 16 games played, earning second-team All-Sunshine Athletic Conference honors.

Also throughout high school, Mitchell was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She volunteered for Special Olympics and Relay for Life, and was a youth soccer coach for a local development academy.

The Naval Academy was the only school she applied to, after vetting other service academies and what they offered.

“It’s a pretty good fit for me,” she said, “because I get to play Division I soccer, go to school and then I also graduate as an officer.”

She plans to serve for at least 10 years, noting she also has an interest in entering the aviation field at some point.

“I’m going to see where it takes me,” she said of the Naval Academy. ”I know there’s a certain point in the Academy where you can sign on for more years in the service, which I’ll probably do,” she said.

Published June 20, 2018

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