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Heeding a Call to Arms at Wootton

Applicants to Academies Increase

Only one thing could break the concentration of Lindsay Donnellan when she played goalie for Wootton’s field hockey team.

“It gets me in trouble a lot of times, even when I’m at practice,” she said. “I have to look at every single plane that passes overhead.”

After more than two years in the Civil Air Patrol, Donnellan hopes she will be the one flying the airplanes. She awaits word on her application to the U.S. Air Force Academy, one of several Wootton seniors who applied to armed forces academies this year.

“I want to do what I can to protect my country,” said Donnellan. “I don’t care what I do. I just want to fly.”

ONE YEAR AGO, there were no Wootton seniors applying to the armed forces academies. This year’s applicants include three female students, with Beth Bogart applying to the Merchant Marine Academy and Erin Fitzpatrick accepted at the Air Force Academy.

While playing in a soccer tournament in Arizona, Fitzpatrick was first recruited for the Air Force soccer team. "I'd never considered it, but I was kind of excited," said Fitzpatrick. "I just like the idea of it and the challenge of it."

Max Potasznik has already been accepted at West Point. He has long been interested in U.S. military history from the Civil War to the present. His military heroes are George Patten and Dwight Eisenhower. At West Point, “Everything is so structured,” said Potasznik. “Everybody fits into the same place.”

Henry Chow has applied to the Army and Navy academies.

“I didn’t think about anything outside of high school until junior year,” said Chow, who became impressed with the well-rounded cadets at both institutions. “I wanted to be a part of something like that.”

Michael Stotz has been accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy, and his sports experience was his first introduction to Annapolis. A varsity football and lacrosse player at Wootton, Stotz was impressed with the Army-Navy football game, and also went to Annapolis to see a lacrosse game.

Wootton is not isolated in its spiked interest in military academies. The Air Force Academy reports a 10 percent increase in applications this year, while applications are up 15 percent from the previous year at West Point and 14 percent at Annapolis.

WITHIN WEEKS, Lindsay Donnellan’s brother Matt will be sent to Iraq. Now 23 years old, Matt enrolled in the U.S. Army.

“He loves what he does, and he wants to get over to Iraq,” Lindsay Donnellan said. “I’m not anti-war; I’m not pro-war. What needs to be done needs to be done.”

Most parents could not imagine the possibility of sending one, never mind two, children to war.

“No parent wants their child to fight in a war,” said Lindsay’s mother Victoria Donnellan. She said she told both of her children considering the military that “you need to understand that this is real, and you might be called upon to go to war. [Then] I let it go, and I give my kids wings.”

BOGART MET the Merchant Marines Academy’s basketball coach at a tournament in Pennsylvania. A visit to the academy in Long Island made up her mind, and while only 20 percent of the academy’s graduates enlist in the military, Bogart intends to be among the 20 percent.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington also inspired Bogart.

“I wanted to be involved; I wanted to be out there protecting our country,” she said.

WITH MORE THAN two years of experience in the Civil Air Patrol, Donnellan knows much about what military training will hold in store. Now a staff sergeant, she has learned training basics such as saluting, learned about air flow and the structure of airplanes and endured two summer encampment sessions.

Describing them as “a low-key boot camp,” Donnellan was an instructor at last summer’s encampment cycle in Colorado Springs.

“That was tough. My training instructor is a sophomore at the Academy. He made us do sit-ups in the puddles,” said Donnellan on the first year. “You get so nervous standing at attention.”

Fitzpatrick enrolled in a summer program at the Naval Academy. "That gave me a little sample of what it's going to be like [at the Air Force Academy]," she said. "One night, they yelled at us, and I think that's what it's going to be like the whole summer."

In light of Donnellan’s experience, her interest in the Air Force Academy came as little surprise to those who knew her, although many were surprised that there are female fighter pilots.

“If I were to be a pilot, which I want to do, I’d have to enroll for nine years,” said Donnellan. “I just like the structure that the military has. I like that comfort and security.”

FOR BOGART, Chow, Potasznik and Stotz, however, their interest in the armed forces was a surprise to many of their peers.

“My parents were kind of shocked, and my friends don’t think it fits me. … They ask, ‘Why did you go to a college where there’s 15 percent girls and I’ll have to get up at 6 a.m.?’” said Stotz. “I don’t have any family in the military; I just found it on my own, and it all started building up.”

"Some people were surprised and acted like I was crazy, but most people were enthusiastic," said Fitzpatrick.

Potasznik’s parents were surprised with his decision, but happy with it, he said. “They’re thrilled that they don’t have to pay tuition [and] I know what I’m doing with the next nine years of my life.”

Stotz’ father, Mike Stotz Sr., has accompanied his son on a visit to Annapolis and to Ground Zero of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. While surprised at his son’s interest in the Naval Academy, he is confident in his ability to handle the rigors of the academy.

“I was honored,” said Mike Stotz Sr. “That’s a tough road, but it’s very prestigious. That’s the way I grew up, holding the Naval Academy in the highest regard. … I was not pushing it, and I was trying to make sure that he wants to do this, because that first year is hell down there.”

THE POSSIBILITY OF war with Iraq puts the commitment in particular perspective, for the students and their parents.

“I think it’s what you expect when you sign up for it initially,” said Stotz. “After Iraq, it’s going to be something else.”

“I am a little scared, but I think I’ll be ready for it,” said Bogart.

Bogart’s parents are both Navy retirees, each with more than 20 years’ service beginning during the Vietnam War. Each retired as a commander, the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the Army.

“It’s a privilege to fight for your country, and I know from experience that they don’t take foolish risks,” said Deanna Bogart, Beth’s mother. She said she also appreciates the equal pay women receive for their military service, as well as the fact that the Merchant Marines Academy accepted women two years before the other armed forces academies were ordered to.

“They were supportive, but they weren’t going to pressure me,” said Beth Bogart of her parents. “They wanted me to go on my own.”

“She’s very self-directed and grounded. If she weren’t as enthusiastic, we wouldn’t be as delighted,” said Deanna Bogart of her daughter.

“She has a lot of leadership potential, and she’s a hard worker,” said Bob Bogart. “It’s a very disciplined program.”

"MY PARENTS WERE really surprised but they were supportive,” said Chow. “In a way they want me to go, but they’re kind of fearful if we do go to war. I guess it’s every parent’s natural instinct.”

“They know it comes with the territory and with the benefits,” said Stotz. “It’s expected that in war, you have to go. … It’s the life I chose to lead, and they’re supportive of me.”

“I’ve thought about that, and some friends have asked me about it recently,” said Stotz’ father. “My life would be devastated, almost over, if I were to lose him. But you can’t go through life like that. There are risks inherent in anything you do. This is a very big one, obviously [but] I couldn’t live with myself if his dream was to be a pilot and I didn’t support him.”

Concerning war, Potasznik said, “My parents don’t want to think about it too much.”

ONE COMMON THREAD among the Wootton applicants is they all are varsity athletes. All feel that their sports experience has been a benefit to their military aspirations.

“When you’re with a group of 12 people, you have to get along,” said Bogart, a captain on the varsity basketball team. “Whoever’s on the team, that’s who you work with.” Different group leaders are determined each week at Merchant Marine training, and Bogart feels well prepared for the leadership task from her experience with Wootton basketball.

Fitzpatrick, who will play for the Air Force soccer team, says her sports experience has helped her prepare for the majority-maile environment at the academy. "I'm not really worried about that. I think I'm used to being one of the [small percentage of] girls," said Fitzpatrick. "I did track, and I always ran with the guys."

“Playing sports gives you a confidence that I don’t think anything else can give you,” agreed Chow, who plays varsity basketball. “You learn how to deal with people.”

“Two-a-days are hard, but I guess it’s going to be nothing compared to basic training,” said Potasznik, a football co-captain.

WOOTTON’S APPLICANTS are trailblazers of sorts for their school, and said their applications to the academies were new territory for their guidance counselors at school.

Bogart, Chow, Donnellan and Potasznik were all sponsored by former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (R). Stotz does not yet have a sponsor, and doesn’t need one until he enrolls.

“It’s basically like applying to another college,” said Potasznik of getting a congressional sponsorship. “You have more essays to write.”

Bogart says that future applicants should “definitely do summer seminars; figure out ways to boost your resume.”

All the applicants stressed the importance of students making their own decisions to apply. During the first six weeks of entering an armed forces academy, 10 percent will drop out, said Potasznik.

Donnellan is certain that the military route fits her, and she only applied to universities with ROTC programs. “I’m just going to keep pushing and pushing until I get in,” she said.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

First impressions and interests in the armed forces academies:

“I just like the structure that the military has. I like that comfort and security.”

— Lindsay Donnellan

“Everybody pretty much looked the same, they had the same outfit, they walked the same way and had the same manners.”

— Michael Stotz

“Both of my grandfathers were in the Army. Everything [at West Point] is so structured. Everybody fits into the same place.”

— Max Potasznik

“I didn’t think about anything outside of high school until junior year [but was impressed with how well-rounded cadets were at the academies]. I wanted to be a part of something like that.””

— Henry Chow

“I want to do what I can to protect my country. I don’t care what I do. I just want to fly.”

— Lindsay Donnellan

[Originally recruited by the Air Force Academy for soccer.] "I'd never considered it, but I was kind of excited. … I just like the idea of it and the challenge of it."

On the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington:

“I wanted to be involved. I wanted to be out there protecting our country.”

— Beth Bogart

“It didn’t really have that much effect, because I pretty much made up my mind to apply before 9-11. … That set it in stone, though.”

— Max Potasznik

On the prospect of fighting in a war:

“I don’t know what to expect. … I am a little scared, but I think I’ll be ready for it.”

— Beth Bogart

“I’m not anti-war; I’m not pro-war. What needs to be done needs to be done.”

— Lindsay Donnellan

“I think it’s what you expect when you sign up for it initially. After Iraq, it’s going to be something else.

—Michael Stotz

"It hasn't really been much of an issue. … They take enlisted people before the students [but] even if I did have to go, I'd be willing to do that."

— Erin Fitzpatrick

On her brother who serves in the U.S. Army:

“He loves what he does, and he wants to get over to Iraq,”

— Lindsay Donnellan

Parents’ reactions:

“They were supportive, but they weren’t going to pressure me. They wanted me to go on my own.”

— Beth Bogart

“They’re thrilled that they don’t have to pay tuition [and] I know what I’m doing with the next nine years of my life.”

— Max Potasznik

“My parents were really supportive but they were surprised. They weren’t sure the military would fit me.”

— Henry Chow

— "At first they weren't too happy about it because it's so far away. … Now they're happy about it."

Friends’ reactions:

“My friends don’t think it fits me. … They ask, ‘Why did you go to a college where there’s 15 percent girls and I’ll have to get up at 6 a.m.?’”

— Michael Stotz

“A lot of my friends are really surprised that there are any female fighter pilots.”

— Lindsay Donnellan

"Some people were surprised and acted like I was crazy, but most people were enthusiastic."

— Erin Fitzpatrick

On their parents concerning war:

“My parents don’t want to think about it too much.”

— Max Potasznik

“In a way they want me to go [to an academy], but they’re kind of fearful if we do go to war. I guess it’s every parent’s natural instinct.”

— Henry Chow

“They know it comes with the territory and with the benefits. … It’s expected that in war, you have to go. … It’s the life I chose to lead, and they’re supportive of me.”

— Michael Stotz

Applicants’ parents on their children in the armed forces academies:

“[Beth] has a lot of leadership potential, and she’s a hard worker. It’s a very disciplined program.”

— Bob Bogart

“[Beth is] very self-directed and grounded. If she weren’t as enthusiastic, we wouldn’t be as delighted.”

— Deanna Bogart

“I was honored. … That’s a tough road, but it’s very prestigious. That’s the way I grew up, holding the Naval Academy in the highest regard.”

— Mike Stotz Sr.

“It’s not going to be like any other college. … I was not pushing it, and I was trying to make sure that he wants to do this, because that first year is hell down there.”

— Mike Stotz Sr.

“There’s a part of me that’s terrified, but there’s also part of me that feels he is doing the right thing. … The thing that I’m proudest about is that Mikey wants to do this himself. … He has to do this for himself; not for me or for anybody else.”

— Mike Stotz Sr.

“I never thought I’d see my little girl doing this, [but] Lindsay’s a very good leader. She’s very empathetic, and she won’t push people around at all.

“She has a very good sense of self [and] she’s so tenacious.”

— Victoria Donnellan

Applicants’ parents on their children fighting in a war:

“No parent wants their child to fight in a war, but if that’s what Lindsay wants to do then I’m proud of her.”

[She said to her children] “‘You need to understand that this is real, and you might be called upon to go to war.’ [Then] I let it go, and I give my kids wings.”

— Victoria Donnellan

“I’ve thought about that, and some friends have asked me about it recently. … My life would be devastated, almost over, if I were to lose him. But you can’t go through life like that. There are risks inherent in anything you do. This is a very big one, obviously [but] I couldn’t live with myself if his dream was to be a pilot and I didn’t support him.”

— Mike Stotz Sr.

“It’s a privilege to fight for your country, and I know from experience that they don’t take foolish risks.”

— Deanna Bogart.

On sports and the military:

“Two-a-days are hard, but I guess it’s going to be nothing compared to basic training.”

— Max Potasznik

“When you’re with a group of 12 people, you have to get along. … Whoever’s on the team, that’s who you work with.”

— Beth Bogart

“Playing sports gives you a confidence that I don’t think anything else can give you. … You learn how to deal with people.”

— Henry Chow

On being a woman in the military:

“When I first went [to Civil Air Patrol], there were about three girls there.”

“There’s one cadet I remember who was a big troublemaker. He didn’t like [taking orders from a woman]. He’d bring the other kids down with him.”

— Lindsay Donnellan

“Women and men get paid the same for being the same rank.”

— Deanna Bogart

"I'm not really worried about that. I think I'm used to being one of the [small percentage of] girls. … I did track, and I always ran with the guys."

— Erin Fitzpatrick

What other potential applicants should consider:

“Don’t let anyone force you into it. Don’t take it lightly. … If it’s not the life for them, and they still go, it’s not going to be a good experience.”

— Michael Stotz

“Definitely do summer seminars; figure out ways to boost your resume.”

— Beth Bogart