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Service, Education and Honor

Kentuckians in U.S. armed services academies

Students on Parade Field as Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr. became the 59th Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Photo: Michael Lopez/U.S. Army
Cadets and cadre participate in Air Assault Training tower rappel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, June 4, 2019. Dozens of cadets and cadre are participating in the grueling two-week course as they attempt to earn the coveted Air Assault badge. (U.S. Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
Helicopters at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point during Branch Week 2020. Photo: U.S. Army
Cadets participate in Honorable Living Day, having tough conversations and building strong relationships (U.S. Army Photos by CDT Hannah M. Lamb).
First class cadets walk across Luck Reservoir on their way to graduation, May 25, 2019 (U.S. Army Photos by CDT Alex Gudenkauf)

There is no setting to which the phrase, “live, eat, sleep, breathe,” applies more than any of the five United States armed forces service academies. “It’s 24/7 military and 24/7 college, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep,” says U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a West Point graduate who represents Kentucky’s 2nd District, in his Virtual Academy Day video. 

The Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, Military West Point and Naval service academies are elite institutions where acceptance is highly competitive and the application process begins early in a student’s high school career. 

Those who are accepted must have an outstanding academic record, proven leadership skills, athletic prowess and community involvement, among other qualifications. They must also obtain an official nomination, except for the Coast Guard, from a member of Congress from their state, the vice president (exception: Merchant Marines) or president. 

Once students enroll, they face rigorous coursework and training to prepare them for the mental and physical demands of military service and leadership. Graduates receive bachelor’s degrees and are also commissioned as military officers. 

Meet four of Kentucky’s armed forces service academy students and future leaders: 

William “Reed” Campbell, cadet/master sergeant, Class of 2022

Nominated by: Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and 5th District Rep. Hal Rogers 

Parents: David and Jennifer Campbell, Inter-County Energy consumer-members

At the end of his sophomore year in high school, William “Reed” Campbell attended an engineering summer camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA). He enjoyed it so much he decided to apply for the USAFA Summer Seminar, a two-week session held the summer of his junior year. The experience set the course for his college educational path and his career.

“I came home and simply said, this is where I want to go to college,” the 20-year-old student from Stanford recalls. Campbell had visited dozens of other universities but found nowhere else like the USAFA. “It was a surprise to me and my parents, but it just felt like that is where I was supposed to be,” he says.

Campbell is now in his second year at USAFA, working toward a bachelor’s degree in military strategic studies. Though the 6-foot-8-inch cadet knows he is too tall to be a pilot, it hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for his chosen career.

“I wasn’t someone who was going into it looking to be a pilot necessarily,” he says. “I also understand the Air Force will put me where they need me.” 

Rachel Samotis, ensign, Class of 2020

Parents: Suzette and Ted Samotis

Rachel Samotis of Erlanger had no interest in a service academy until she was a high school sophomore and learned about the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Once I learned about the humanitarian missions of the Coast Guard, I decided it was a good choice for me,” says Samotis, 21. “I’ve been fortunate enough to do some humanitarian work through mission trips and volunteering growing up. I grew to understand the importance of helping others and that drew me to the Coast Guard.”

Although a congressional nomination is not needed and the application is like any other college or university, students must exhibit characteristics that align with the Coast Guard’s values and leadership skills.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) offers nine academic majors, integrating academics, athletics and military experience. Samotis, an operations research and computer analysis major, graduated earlier this year.

“The USCGA has a saying that it takes 200 weeks, but it’s essentially a four-year undergraduate program,” she explains.

For Samotis—whose grandfathers and father served in the military and younger brother is currently in the Navy—the experience taught her a lot about herself.

“I’ve learned that most of the time I am the only thing holding me back,” she says. “Whether it can be starting something new or taking on more responsibility, I can never succeed at it if I don’t make myself try it first.”

Eric Michael Paar, cadet, Class of 2021

Nominated by: Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents the 3rd District 

Parents: Bruce and Carrie Murphy

Eric Paar hasn’t graduated from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point yet, but the 21-year-old has already proven he’s got what it takes. A 3rd Regimental commander, Paar is in charge of 1,200 of his peers.

“I never imagined myself doing that in high school,” says the graduate of the Christian Academy School System in Louisville.

An economics major with a minor in applied statistics, Paar says the program at USMA challenges a person in just about every way imaginable. In three years, Paar has surprised himself with what he is capable of doing.

“I didn’t think I could fire off a rocket or rappel from a Black Hawk helicopter.” But he did.

Paar knew early on that he wanted to go to a military service academy and to serve in the military. An uncle and a cousin are West Point graduates who shared tips with him, but it was his father, Christopher Paar, who was a driving force in his decision. 

“My father enlisted in the Army before I was born and passed away when I was 6,” he says. “I remember hearing his stories and he would show us his uniform.”

Paar began preparing his junior year, completing the preliminary application, and attending a summer leadership experience the summer before his senior year.

After his 2021 graduation, Paar will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and is planning to pursue aviation, a 10-year commitment. 

“It’s long, but it’ll be worth it,” he says. “And it’s a guaranteed job for 10 years.” 

Kelsey M. Cyrus, midshipmen 2nd Class, May 2022

Nominated by: 5th District Rep. Hal Rogers 

Parents: Steve and Vivian Cyrus, Fleming-Mason Energy consumer-members

For Kelsey Cyrus, the lengthy and challenging application process for admittance to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) included transcripts and letters of recommendation as well as a physical fitness test, medical qualification exam, an interview and a nomination from an official source in addition to the separate application for congressional nomination. 

The 20-year-old oceanography major from Morehead, who wanted to “be a part of something bigger than myself,” is in a four-year program that will lead to five years of service as an officer in the Navy or Marine Corps. She is the only member of her immediate family to go to a service academy, or be in an active duty status.

Cyrus’ first introduction to the service academies was in her junior year of high school.

“I received an invitation to apply to the Naval Academy’s summer leadership program,” she says. “Through their summer program I found out this is where I want to go to school.”

What has surprised Cyrus most about her experience is how much she appreciates being surrounded by people who come from different backgrounds yet share similar values.

“People at the Naval Academy are open-minded and determined,” she says. “We value integrity, structure and ambition.”

Cyrus has learned that she values the diversity of opinions and appreciates the differing perspectives that make her question her own point of view.

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