All across Johnson County, high school graduates are marking the end of one phase of their lives and preparing for the big leap forward into adulthood.
Many students will be headed to college.
But for some, the next step will involve more than lecture classes and dorm rooms.
These students have been accepted to major military academies throughout the country. They’ll be heading to West Point, New York, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, to train with the upper echelon in military minds.
Greenwood High School senior Austin Montgomery and Center Grove High School seniors John Dever and Chapman Johnson join the prestigious ranks of young men and women attending U.S. military academies.
Center Grove High School senior Alex Aukerman also will attend the U.S. Military Academy to play football.
Throughout the West Point community, it’s known as “R Day.”
Hundreds of new enrollees at the U.S. Military Academy report at 6:45 a.m. for their first day as cadets.
They’ll be inundated with requirements, procedures and other information.
Already, they’ve been told the only things they’ll need to bring are boots, tennis shoes and dress shoes.
Austin Montgomery knows it’s going to be the start of the most difficult activity he’s ever done.
“Basically, they’ve told us it’ll be awful. They do it on purpose, to break you down right from the start,” he said.
Montgomery has decided to attend the academy and enter military service. He plans to study systems engineering, and is looking forward to a disciplined life of service and study.
“I was attracted to the Army aspect in general. I like a structured lifestyle and wanted that environment,” he said.
Military service became a goal his junior year at Greenwood Community High School. He was attracted to the academies because of their high academic standards.
Last summer, Montgomery attended a weeklong student leadership event at the U.S. Military Academy, to see what life would be like at West Point.
He lived in the barracks with 500 other high school seniors, attended classes and went through some physical training.
The week was meant to be a taste of what life as a cadet would be.
“I loved the people that I met there, I loved the campus, I loved the military aspect. So I decided that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
From that point, he started the seemingly neverending process of enrolling at West Point.
Montgomery was subjected to academic examinations, physical tests and medical clearances. He sat through multiple interviews with local U.S. Army representatives and needed a nomination from his Congressman, Rep. Todd Young.
That initial process ended in January, and he learned by March that he had been accepted.
Montgomery will be the first person in his immediate family to enter the U.S. Army, though he does have a great uncle who retired as a colonel.
He understands that the U.S. Military Academy will test him in ways he’s never experienced before, academically, mentally and physically.
But his time at Greenwood has prepared him, he said.
“I took the most difficult classes here, especially the science classes that made me push myself that extra step in my learning,” he said.
Montgomery will report for R Day, or Reception Day, on July 2.
Cadet training, to hone their bodies, minds and spirits for the standards expected at West Point, will last for seven weeks throughout the summer.
Classes start in late August.
The commitment to West Point lasts for 11 years, with four years for schooling, five years of active duty and another two years of reserve duty.
It’s possible that this will be the last time he lives in Greenwood for a long time, Montgomery said.
“I’m excited, but nervous too. I’ve experienced all of the emotions going into it,” he said. “I’m happy to get this started, but sad to be leaving all of my friends and family behind.”
Since as long as he could remember, Chapman Johnson wanted to be in the military.
He would dress up in camouflaged Army gear and play in the creek behind his house. When he started learning to play the trumpet, the first songs he looked up were the military marches and reveille.
“It’s always been something that’s been within me. It’s deeply ingrained with me,” he said. “I didn’t realize it until I started to look that this was 100 percent who I am.”
The Center Grove senior will have the chance to achieve his goal starting this fall. Johnson will attend the U.S. Military Academy, starting in the preparatory school before moving to the full academy.
The chance to get a world-class education and serve his country will be the fulfillment of years of hard work.
“It was God’s plan coming together. There were so many things along the way that could have sidetracked me, but I kept saying that if God wanted this to happen, it was going to happen,” he said.
Both of Johnson’s grandfathers were in the U.S. Navy, and he will be carrying on their military tradition.
His parents, Jeff and Shelly Johnson, were apprehensive about the decision at first. But he reiterated how much it meant to him to serve, and they understood that he was passionate about going to West Point.
“We’ve always had family friends who have said I’d end up going to a military academy,” Johnson said. “So when I told them I was applying, and been accepted, they kept saying, ‘I told you so.’”
Getting into West Point is a complex process that includes an application just to officially apply to the school.
Johnson had to list his participation in football and wrestling, as well as his SAT and ACT scores in order to be considered for the school.
Passing through that initial stage, he then had to submit to a Department of Defense physical exam. Johnson also had to do as many pushups, pullups and other exercises as possible in a fitness evaluation.
Essays, interviews with a local representative of the West Point Parents Club and a nomination from Rep. Todd Young gave a well-rounded look at Johnson’s character.
“It was a trying few months, and extremely stressful. But it was definitely worth it,” he said.
Having gone through four years at Center Grove High School, Johnson feels prepared both academically and in character. Playing tight end for the football team, and wrestling in the 182-pound class taught him discipline and time management.
“If you want to succeed and you want to try to top what you can do, you can do it. There are always resources where you can push yourself,” he said.
Johnson will complete a year at the academy’s prep school to ensure he’s ready for the academic and physical rigors of West Point.
But he’s already preparing to report July 21. He has laid out a schedule of running in boots, working out and studying over the summer to make certain that he’s not caught off guard.
“It’s a great opportunity to go through. It prepares you for the academy so much more, and it’s right there on the base,” he said.
Everyone who attends West Point leaves with an engineering degree. Johnson would like to also work with an emphasis on political science.
His first commitment will be to serve for as long as possible, paying homage to men and women who have fought before him.
“I’m not going to be one of those guys who goes for five years and jumps right out,” he said. “I owe more to my country and more to the people who got me there, so I’m going to stay in the Army for as long as I am useful, to continue to make a lasting impact.”
High in the mountains of Colorado, the next generation of precision pilots are forged for military service.
They go through rigorous classes on aeronautics and military strategy. Physical training and combat skills will prepare them for battle.
This fall, John Dever will join that elite class. The Center Grove senior has been accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy. He intends to be a pilot, and going through the training in the Air Force is the best way to do that, he said.
From the moment he set foot on the campus of the academy, he knew it was the right choice for him.
“I’m a little anxious. It’s going to be a whole new thing to be all by myself out there, but at the same time, it’s something I really want to do,” he said.
On an overnight visit to the academy, Dever solidified his decision to enter the Air Force.
Shadowing a cadet for a day, he attended classes he would have to take. He met with officials in the admissions department and spoke with professors about what would be expected of him.
Dever came away knowing that though it would be hard work, the academy was the best place to achieve his goal of flying.
“I loved it out there. The campus is beautiful, and the professors knew spot-on what they were doing. It looked like a great place to go to college,” he said.
Entering the Air Force has been a goal of Dever’s since he was in fifth grade. He recalled one day watching the history channel with his father, Michael Dever, when a program about jets came on.
He was enthralled and points to that moment as when his desire to fly started forming.
Dever will be blazing a new trail in his family’s military tradition. His grandfather served in the U.S. Navy, and a pair of cousins recently served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
“My family has been very supportive. They’ve backed me 100 percent of the time. I think they’re really excited for me,” he said.
Getting into the academy required Dever to go through an extensive physical examination, proving that he was fit enough for the training that comes with military service.
He interviewed with multiple representatives from the Air Force, reiterating his desire to serve and his commitment to this decision.
In the early spring, he learned he had been accepted into the academy.
With just a month between graduation at Center Grove and the date he has to report to Colorado Springs, Colorado, Dever is already preparing for entrance into the academy.
He needs to be at the Air Force by June 26 and will arrive two days early to acclimate to the altitude of the mountain base.
Basic cadet training will last six weeks over the summer. It will include exhausting physical tests of stamina, pinpoint time-management skills and the ability to learn formations and orders quickly.
Though he’s never gone through anything as intense as what faces him, Dever feels that his experience at Center Grove has at least given him a foundation to succeed.
Dever played football for four years, playing defensive end and starting his senior year. He was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as well.
“Center Grove has set me up academically to succeed at the service academy,” he said. “Football has taught me service and discipline and teamwork, and all of those qualities will serve me well out there.”