LTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.
Leadership and Your U.S. Service Academy Application
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
-- General Douglas MacArthur
Perhaps you are the Senior Patrol Leader of your Scout troop, the Captain of your volleyball team, or the Vice President of the Key Club at school. Better yet, you may serve in all three roles. Point is that leadership experiences, and your engagements across your high school career, are a key component of your application to any of the U.S. service academies (i.e., the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy). To be a successful applicant you will have a strong record of accomplishments across all three areas -- academics, athletics and activities -- along with serving in leadership roles in each of the respective areas.
In simple terms, leadership is the "ability of an individual to influence and guide followers or other members of an organization." Each of the academies look for these experiences, which are often revealed in your application, in your essays and during your interviews for both the nomination and the appointment itself. Practically, there are often ample opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills, both formally and informally, in each area that I noted, especially if you participate in a range of different school classes, sports and social activities. The secret is to be open to and ready for opportunities to lead.
What do these opportunities look like? In the classroom, it may mean taking on 'informal' roles, such as organizing a study group or working with others to accomplish a class project. You might notice that a teacher's classroom needs additional boxes of tissues, cleaning wipes, or similar items. Organize efforts to collect these items with your classmates and now you have the makings of a good example of leadership that you may use with your application or your interview. By the way, that particular teacher may volunteer to write a letter of recommendation for your nomination.
In sports, leadership opportunities occur on the practice field, in the locker room and during competitions. Support your teammates by providing informal leadership and setting the example. Arrive early for each team practice and leave after you help collect all of the equipment and store it properly. Approach your coach and see what he or she might suggest for ways to improve team cohesiveness, to add new members, or identify other ways to contribute to the health of the team.
School clubs, Scouting, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets, community service groups and many other organizations provide some great chances to lead. Find some groups or clubs that you enjoy working with and become an active member. With time, you will find opportunities to volunteer to lead a project, manage a fundraiser or run for a formal leadership position, such as the club treasurer or the vice-president. Action and involvement are important. Work to improve your organization and help them achieve their goals. The results will be satisfying, fun and a valuable addition to your resumé!
The last point that I will make focuses on the 'integrity of intent' as reflected in the opening quotation from General MacArthur. Your genuine interest, efforts and engagement will provided the ideal opportunies to lead and improve the groups you join and support. Kitschy, last minute projects to fatten your resume will likely land flat if your intent is not authentic, especially during your interviews. Long term participation and incremental experiences as an active member of a group, team or club will demonstrate the 'equality of your actions' and confirm that 'integrity of your intent.'
Successful candidates for the U.S. service academies are leaders. They work with others to promote reaching successful ends. Your planning to pursue an appointment to USAFA, USNA or other service academy must include leadership roles in the classroom, on the athletic field and in your social activities and clubs. The 'equality of your actions and the integrity of your intent' will provide a path to being an effective leader!
[ I would welcome a chance to discuss your goals and aspirations with you. I offer tailored coaching services to prepare you for the entire application process for all of the US service academies and the different ROTC scholarships. Contact me at email@example.com and/or 503.515.7406 ]