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Prime Recruiting Ground For Academies

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen

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Mr. Speaker, every year, more high school seniors from the 11th Congressional District trade in varsity jackets for Navy peacoats, Air Force flight suits, and Army brass buckles than any other district in the county. But this is nothing new--our area has repeatedly sent an above-average proportion of its sons and daughters to the Nation's military academies for decades.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The educational excellence of our area is well known and has long been a magnet for families looking for the best environment in which to raise their children. Our graduates are skilled not only in mathematics, science, and social studies, but also have solid backgrounds in sports, debate teams, and other extracurricular activities. This diverse upbringing makes military academy recruiters sit up and take note--indeed, many recruiters know our towns and schools by name.

Since the 1830's, Members of Congress have enjoyed meeting, talking with, and nominating these superb young people to our military academies. But how did this process evolve?

In 1843, when West Point was the sole academy, Congress ratified the nominating process and became directly involved in the makeup of our military's leadership. This was not an act of an imperial Congress bent on controlling every aspect of the Government. Rather, the procedure still used today was, and is, one further check and balance in our democracy. It was originally designed to weaken and divide political coloration in the officer corps, provide geographical balance to our armed services, and to make the officer corps more resilient to unfettered nepotism that handicapped European armies.

In 1854, Representative Gerritt Smith of New York added a new component to the academy nomination process--the academy review board. This was the first time a Member of Congress appointed prominent citizens from his district to screen applicants and assist with the serious duty of nominating candidates for academy admission. Today, I am honored to continue this wise tradition in my service to the 11th Congressional District.

The Academy Review Board is composed of nine local citizens who have shown exemplary service to New Jersey, to their communities, and to the continued excellence of education in our area--many are veterans. Though from diverse backgrounds and professions, they all share a common dedication to seeing that the best qualified and motivated graduates attend our academies. And, as is true for most volunteer panels, their service goes largely unnoticed.

I would like to take a moment to recognize these men and women and to thank them publicly for participating in this important panel. Being on the board requires hard work and an objective mind. Members have the responsibility of interviewing upwards of 50 outstanding high school seniors every year in the academy review process.

The nomination process follows a general timetable. High school seniors mail personal information directly to the Military Academy, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Merchant Marine Academy once they become interested in attending. Information includes academic achievement, college entry test scores, and other activities. At this time, they also inform their Representative of their desire to be nominated.

The academies then assess the applicants, rank them based on the data supplied, and return the files to my office with their notations. In mid-December, our Academy Review Board interviews all of the applicants over the course of 2 days. They assess a student's qualifications and analyze character, desire to serve, and other talents that may be hidden on paper.

Last year, the board interviewed over 30 applicants. Nominations included 10 to the Naval Academy, 7 to the Military Academy, 4 to the Air Force Academy, and 5 to the Merchant Marine Academy--the Coast Guard Academy does not use the Congressional nomination process. The Board then forwards their recommendations to the academies by January 31, where recruiters review files and notify applicants and my office of their final decisions on admission.

It is both reassuring and rewarding to know that many of our military officers hail from our hometowns or close by. When we consider the role of these officers in peace or war, we can rest easier knowing that the best and brightest are in command. Wherever they are sent, be that Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti or the Persian Gulf, many of these officers have academy training.

And while a few people may question the motivations and ambitions of some young people, the academy review process shows that the large majority of our graduates are just as highly motivated as the guidance from loving parents, dedicated teachers and schools, and from trusted clergy and rabbis. Indeed, every time I visit a school, speak at a college, or meet a young academy nominee, I am constantly reminded that we as a nation are blessed with fine young men and women. Their willingness and desire to serve their country is perhaps the most persuasive evidence of all.

Christopher Hill, Pompton Plains, Peqannock H.S.; Tin T. Nguyen, Denville, Morris Knolls H.S.; Michael Raphel, Jr., Bridgewater, Bridgewater-Raritan; and Alexander T. Wong, Montville, Montville H.S.