MILITARY MATTERS: West Point Academy Will Soon Welcome a Few Students From the Chattahoochee Valley

Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - We’re used to seeing college signings for sports, but what about for joining the military?

On the heels of recent high school graduations, as many students head off to college, a handful from our area are getting their start in the military at West Point Academy, after a rigorous admissions process. One week away from when they report, they talked to us about why they chose this path.

“My father was a Marine and my mother was a Navy nurse,” James McLaughlin said, after being accepted to the US Military Academy at West Point.

Also going, Abi Garner said this about future goals: “I want to hopefully get into the Med Corps and do something medical.”

“It’s really surreal because I spent so much of my life fighting to get in,” said Thayer Jones, about finally getting the opportunity at West Point.

Four recent high school graduates in the Chattahoochee Valley were selected and have chosen to attend the prestigious U.S. Military Academy near New York City, which only accepts 1 out of every 10 applicants.

Ben Oliver is trading his football helmet for camouflage. He says playing football and tennis at Pacelli in Columbus is good prep for the physical demands he’ll have at West Point. It’s an opportunity that he says more young athletes would try for, if there was more exposure to it.

“It’s definitely important to celebrate it. It’s a path that I think a lot of people don’t know exists. I didn’t know about it until my junior year,” Oliver said.

Thayer Jones got his degree from Columbus High School two years ago, didn’t get into West Point the first time. He’s been in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, but is now following in the footsteps of his dad and brother, who’s still in the Army. Thayer will now be the 4th generation in his family to attend West Point.

“I was definitely inspired especially growing up during the Global War on Terror. I remember my father’s deployments and those families and having that community behind you,” Jones told us.

“It’s going to be different; definitely going to have to juggle a lot more than the average Division I runner, but I think it’s definitely something I look forward to, and something that’ll challenge me to be a better runner and person,” Garner added.

Abi Garner will be a member of the cross country and track teams at West Point. Running competitively since she was in 7th grade, the Central High graduate from East Alabama has a lot of relatives that have served their country, all men, but she’ll be the first woman in her family to join the military.

Sports are also big for another future cadet James McLaughlin, who played soccer at Harris County High School. He’s had family members that fought in World Wars I and II. Now, he’s thrilled and nervous to put on a new uniform.

“It’s going to be constantly challenging me, and a big opportunity for personal growth, but also going into the military, having leadership, alongside a team of other people,” McLaughlin said.

“Legacy and family history, it’s always been important to me, wanting to carry that on,” Jones also said.

He wants to be an Army infantry officer. Some of these other students may also make a career out of it, after the required 5 years of active duty.