By U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt,
Ohio’s Second Congressional District
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I have the honor of nominating young people to serve in our nation’s military academies.
The high school boys and girls who are selected by the academies are among the best and brightest in our nation, and I take very seriously the process of who gets nominated.
I think I’ve made some good choices since I became the first woman elected to represent Southern Ohio in Congress in 2005.
A high standard was set for me by Thomas Hamer of Brown County, who represented Southern Ohio in Congress from 1833 to 1839. Hamer later was elected to Congress again, but he died in 1846 before taking office – while serving as a brigadier general in the Mexican-American War. The Brown County village of Hamersville was named for him.
Congressman Hamer nominated to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point a Clermont County native who grew up in Brown County and would become the greatest military hero Ohio has known.
His name was Ulysses Grant. As a general in the Army, Grant led the North to victory in the Civil War – thus preserving our Union and ensuring that the United States would continue on the path to becoming the greatest nation in the world.
Grant was later elected president. Many of our nation’s leaders were graduates of military academies.
In April, I hosted an information night in the Brown County village of Ripley for high school students interested in seeking my nomination to: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. (Members of Congress don’t nominate candidates to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., but a representative of that branch also participated in the information night I hosted).
There’s no guarantee that more than one nominee will be accepted by each academy. I’ll make the nominations this month, and the candidates will hear back from the academies by spring.
The competition is great. About 20 to 40 young people submit applications to me each year for consideration. Nearly 30 boys and girls applied this year. That’s far more than the typical seven or eight who apply in some other congressional districts, I’ve been told.
I attribute that to the outstanding high schools throughout Ohio’s Second Congressional District, which encompasses all of Clermont, Brown, Adams, and Pike counties, as well as parts of Hamilton, Warren, and Scioto counties.
In recent years, I’ve been fortunate to have the help of several military veterans and active-duty officers, who agreed to serve on a panel that recommends to me who should be nominated.
These panelists – many graduates of service academies themselves – look for individuals who are well-rounded academically, physically, and socially. The ideal candidate will have demonstrated leadership qualities, community service, athleticism, scholarship, and a strong desire to serve in the military as an officer.
Those selected commit to serving in the military for at least five years after graduation. The monetary value of such a college education is enormous, but the life lessons are greater.
Last week, a former Army Ranger sat in the conference room of my Cincinnati office and chatted with a high school student who was seeking my nomination to become a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The former Ranger, one of several veterans on the screening panel, removed his West Point class ring, handed it to the student, and urged him to try it on. The young man appeared awestruck.
It’s not easy to earn such a ring, the young man was told. Joining the military requires a big commitment – and sometimes great sacrifice. The Iraq War veteran pointed to a killed-in-action bracelet he had on one wrist, which is typically worn to recognize friends who died in combat.
The panel asked each applicant questions about their views on leadership, teamwork, ethics, and overcoming adversity.
The former Ranger was interested in hearing how the applicants might draw on past personal difficulties to help themselves or others become successful. Being a leader, the veteran explained, entails both learning from your mistakes and helping others avoid mistakes.
One young man talked about how he had overcome learning disabilities and a lack of self-confidence. Now, he is a varsity athlete who does well in school.
“When I was little, there were a few years where I just didn’t get help,” the young man said. “I was passed over.” But he met an inspiring teacher who told him there was nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it.
“The one thing I have learned through everything is that, really, it’s not just about you,” the young man said. “Whenever you are succeeding at something, there’s almost always someone who is not – someone who needs help, someone who needs that (successful) person to reach a hand back on the ladder and haul them up the next step.
“In the military and at the academy, it’s all about your unit – it’s your friends, it’s your comrades, it’s the men and women next to you,” the young man said. “The biggest thing the adversity (I faced) would help me do is ensure that whether it’s me who’s falling behind – which could be the case, though I’ve learned how to tough it out – or whether it’s someone else who needs the help, I’ve learned how to stop, look back, and make sure we’re not leaving anybody behind. That no one’s forgotten.
The panel was impressed by the answer. I’m not surprised. That sounds like a leader to me.