An Experience Unlike Any Other: (Above) Ryan Collier’s Admissions Liaison Officer presents Collier with his appointment to the Air Force Academy.
The Conejo Valley has the honor of sending two 2021 high school graduates to esteemed military academies. Ryan Collier, a Newbury Park High School 2021 graduate, will attend the Air Force Academy, and Joseph deMartino, a 2021 Westlake High School grad, will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. Both are excited to set foot on their respective academies, one as a cadet and the other as a plebe.
“I looked around and was really impressed by the pride and strength in the eyes of the cadets,” says Collier, who visited the Air Force Academy during his sophomore year. “It was very clear that they were disciplined, young people. … They had a purpose, and I wanted to be like one of them.”
Collier’s father attended the Air Force Academy, was commissioned by the Navy and flew as a naval aviator. Ryan grew up in a number of different states as his dad was transferred to different naval bases. Like his father, the cadet candidate (which means he has accepted an appointment to the Air Force Academy but has not yet arrived there) plans to become a pilot.
The United States Air Force Academy is known “for producing very high caliber young men and women,” he explains. “I want to challenge myself. I want to hold myself to a higher standard. I want to be surrounded by people who exceed the standards that they set for themselves.”
For deMartino, whose father served in the Marines for eight years and whose uncle was an Air Force lieutenant colonel for twenty years, he has had his eye on the academies since grade school.
“I’ve always been interested in any kind of military service [because of the] disciplined lifestyle and the structure,” he told the Guardian. “I applied to all the academies and knew I wanted to serve one way or the other.”
DeMartino intends to pursue an engineering major.
In June, the Conejo Valley graduates will head off to their academies for what is known as “Beast.” In the months before the academic school year, cadets and plebes learn some of what it takes to be in the military — including functioning at a high level of physical fitness, performing drills and memorization, marching, surmounting obstacle courses, and taking orders.
“It’s definitely going to push me to my limits in just two months of basic training,” deMartino says.
“What they really are trying to do during that Beast is teach you how to follow before you can be a leader because all officers are leaders,” Collier tells the Guardian.
Once they complete Beast, the academic year begins. The vigorous schedule includes morning physical training and afternoon sports, in which all cadets/plebes are required to participate.
“Every cadet is an athlete,” Collier explains. “I’m thinking about maybe volleyball or wrestling or boxing. … It’s going to be a lot of fun because I really enjoy sports.”
Collier says the Air Force Academy is one of the only places that allows anyone to skydive for the first time alone. Air Force Academy freshmen are given the opportunity to skydive and fly a glider (a plane without an engine). Collier predicts the biggest challenge of the academy to be balancing academics and other pursuits.
After graduating from these leadership laboratories (as the academies are often called), both the cadet and the plebe plan to continue in the military. While Collier hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps by attending flight school, deMartino wants to make his way up in the ranks.
“I want to stay in the military as long as possible,” he says. “I have a pretty good feeling that I will enjoy it and be in there for a long time.”
DeMartino counsels students considering the academies to do a lot of research before applying.
“You’re obviously making a big commitment, not just during college, but after,” he says. “You want to make sure you want to be there.”
He recommends staying ahead of application deadlines, focusing on STEM classes in high school, maintaining high grades, and staying active in the community.
“Having extra-curriculars is huge,” the plebe adds. “I played a lot of lacrosse and took on leadership roles, and I also volunteered with my local community church and had a leadership role there.”
“Make sure you’re a well-rounded person,” says Collier, who also advises applicants to apply to each academy, score high on the SAT, and write compelling essays.
“Really explain why you want to deeply in your soul attend,” he adds. “I really enjoy being in the air. … It’s really magical. … If I can do that and get paid money, that sounds like a perfect deal.”