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The Reflection

Three Gull Lake Seniors to pursue futures at service academies

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Skyler Fliestra, Luke Edgerly and Jeremiah Smith will begin school at two of the five US military service academies next year. Edgerly and Smith will attend the Air Force Academy and Fliestra will attend the Naval Academy. Photo courtesy of Skyler Fliestra.

Gull Lake High School will be sending three seniors (Luke Edgerly, Jeremiah Smith, and Skyler Fliestra) to military service academies next year. While there are service academies in place for each branch of the United States military, Gull Lake’s class of 2018 will be represented at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Military service academies have a rigorous application process, but once admitted, students who attend receive countless benefits, including free schooling and the opportunity to commission as an officer. However, service academy alumni are required to complete a few years of military service after graduating.

“It’s one of the best leadership institutions in the world, but if you’re talking about benefits and perks, it’s free tuition, free room and board, you get a monthly stipend of about $1000 that covers uniforms. And I think meals as well,” Edgerly said. “The benefits are incredible.”

Edgerly, who will be attending the Air Force Academy in the fall, found out about the school because of an assignment in Dr. Howard’s French class his sophomore year.

“During college week, we were to look into eight different colleges or something, a ridiculous number, and the French courses that they required, and I couldn’t come up with an eighth school,” Edgerly said. “At that point, I had no interest in it [the Air Force Academy], but I said, ‘Oh, I’ll try the Air Force Academy, they’ll have an aeronautical engineering program.’”

Smith, who also plans on attending the Air Force Academy, said he had considered a future in the military since his freshman year, but considered both the academies and ROTC (The Reserve Officer’s Training Corps). Smith was first introduced to a possible future at one of the service academies by his pole vault instructor, Kevin Anderson, who had attended the Naval Academy for two years.

Fliestra, on the other hand, didn’t begin seriously considering the Naval Academy until he got on its campus the summer after his sophomore year, when he was in the area for National History Day.

“That summer after sophomore year, when I was nearby the Naval Academy, I toured campus and I knew that it was an option for me, and, over time, I became more interested in attending there,” Fliestra said.

After attending summer seminar (a week long camp at the Naval Academy) the summer after his junior year, Flietstra said he knew it was the place for him.

After discussing the option with his parents and praying for years, Edgerly said he was confident in his decision to move forward in applying to the Air Force Academy.

Sports and leadership experience are both important for service academy applicants. Smith has excelled in these areas throughout high school, serving as a captain of the wrestling team since his sophomore year. Photo by Parker Feraco.

“I’ve been praying about it for three years and it was a pretty clear answer to prayer when I started moving forward,” Edgerly said. “I’ve never been so confident with something, the fact that it’s for me.”

To apply to a service academy, students are required to submit essays, test scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts and other credentials, just like any other college. However, the application process also requires physical fitness testing, multiple interviews, and at least one congressional nomination―each of which has a separate application of its own.

“You contact congressional and senator’s offices, interview with them, give them your grades and write essays and they nominate you to the academy,” Edgerly said. “You need to have at least one nomination to get into the academy.”

Edgerly received nominations from both Michigan senators and congressman Fred Upton. Fliestra also received three nominations.

“I got three nominations, one from my father, which is called the Presidential nomination, and I got one from Fred Upton and one from Gary Peters,” Fliestra said.

Smith got one nomination from congressman Justin Amash.

Smith said he applied to schools all over because he wasn’t confident he would get into either of the service academies he applied to.

“With the academies it was kinda like a shot in the dirt for me,” Smith said. “Because, you know, I have a pretty good GPA, I did alright on the SAT, so, I mean, I wasn’t expecting to [get in], but I was shocked when I got the call, but thrilled.”

According to Smith, he got called out of Mrs. Rowland’s economics class to learn about his acceptance.

“I got called down to the office, and I was thinking it was for something else, but then all of a sudden Mr. Eastman tells me to go into his office and made me make a phone call to Justin Amash’s secretary,” Smith said. “And I was like, ‘Wait a second,’ and so I called her and she let me know I got accepted.”

Edgerly plans on serving as a fighter pilot after he completes school at the Air Force Academy. He said he’s ahead of the game as far as flying goes–not only does he have several hours of flying experience but he attained his private pilots licence earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Steve Chanter.

Smith called his parents to share the good news before going back to class.

“They were both shocked, we were all breathless, and then I came back to class, told a couple kids in there and yeah, I was happy,” Smith said.

Flietstra got the news of his acceptance when he was in class as well.

Edgerly said he got a call from Fred Upton with news of his appointment to the Air Force Academy while he was driving down 131 in nasty weather.

“I pulled off the interstate and talked to him for a few minutes, and I almost started crying on the phone with him,” Edgerly said. “It was one of those few times when I’ve teared up.”

According to Edgerly, his parents were equally pleased with the news.

“I called my parents, talked to them–my dad almost had a stroke, my mom started crying–because  we knew that I was gonna get in but it was really nice to finally have that confirmation,” Edgerly said.

Over the next couple months, Edgerly, Smith, and Fliestra will be getting ready to leave their civilian lifestyles behind and begin a completely new way of life. Until then, they will be preparing mentally and physically for basic training (or “plebe summer,” as it’s called at the Naval Academy), which begins at the end of June.

Edgerly, Fliestra and Smith all said they received continuous support from their parents throughout the application process. Photo courtesy of Gull Lake Community Schools.

“I feel prepared for the academic side because I tried to take challenging courses in high school, but it’ll still be difficult, and there’s a lot of intense physical training, but I feel like I’ve done a lot to prepare for that,” Fliestra said. “Just adjusting to a new environment and schedule will be difficult.”

According to Edgerly, he’s looking forward to the regimentation and accountability that will come with being at the Air Force Academy, but will miss his family back home.

“I mean, I’m only gonna get to come home and see my family three times a year,” Edgerly said. “I mean, the longest leave you get, if you choose to take it, is three weeks in the summer.”

Smith said going to the Air Force Academy will mean leaving behind everything he’s ever known―except for Edgerly, that is.

Annie Thorn

This is my first year on staff at the Reflection. I enjoy running track and cross country. I also spend a lot of time volunteering at Gracespring and the Richland Community Library. After I graduate this year, I hope to go to college and pursue a career in public history.


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