Vikas Bakshi first started thinking about a career in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. However, it was the Washington sniper murders that really cemented his desire.
"As silly as it sounds, I wanted to get the bad guys," said Bakshi, 20.
At the time, Bakshi was a student at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington. He had lived in Great Falls his whole life, and his parents were less than enthusiastic when he told them about his ambition to pursue a career in the military.
"They were really concerned at first," said Bakshi. "They didn't want me to do it."
After a visit to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Bakshi's parents became a little more accepting of the idea. Bakshi recently finished his second year at West Point, and has no regrets about his chosen path.
LAST WEEK he returned home to Great Falls and spent the week visiting local schools in an effort to generate student interest in West Point. While home he visited Bishop O'Connell, Marshall High School and Herndon High School. As he was also required to visit his middle school, he dropped in at St. Joseph's Middle School.
"The good thing about the middle school is that to seventh and eighth graders its really cool, so they get really excited and really listen to what you have to say," said Bakshi.
He also received a warm welcome at Bishop O'Connell as it was his alma mater.
"It was my high school so it went really well because a lot of people knew me from various sports teams and classes," said Bakshi.
Herndon High School was not as successful as most of the students were deeply entrenched in Standards Of Learning (SOL) tests. However, Bakshi visited with a representative from the career center and updated her files on West Point.
Bakshi wanted to visit Langley High School but was unable to get a hold of anyone at the school. Although no students in this year's graduating class at Langley will be attending West Point, there are students that will be heading to the U.S. Naval Academy and to the Virginia Military Institute.
"We have a female student at West Point right now," said Betty Schneider, the College and Career Specialist at Langley High School. "She graduated in '04 but started at West Point a year later because sometimes before you go into the military you do an academy for a year. She's actually very, very successful there and has won all kinds of awards."
According to Schneider, all of the military academies visit Langley during the school year.
"The kids come and talk to them, and we have student cadets that come... they come and try to recruit in the lunch room and some kids do it and some kids don't, but the opportunity is there for them," said Schneider.
Schneider, who has worked in the Langley College and Career Center for three years, said she has not noticed any downward trend in interest in military academies.
"It's been equal the years that I've been here," she said. "We have a lot of families that come from military academies, so for many students this is the logical next step."
IN ORDER to come home and spread the word about West Point, Bakshi had to apply for the program by filling out an application and submitting his grade point average.
"If I were at school this week, I'd just be doing drills, so it's a chance to come home," he said.
This is not a new program, but Bakshi said that West Point is anxious to recruit more students as the school has been having trouble keeping people past their five-year commitment.
"You have a minimum of five years of service after your graduate, but I'm going to do 20 years because when you do that you get a full pension," said Bakshi.
Within six months to a year of graduating, Bakshi will be a platoon leader in charge of 25-30 men and millions of dollars of equipment. Bakshi has chosen to study armored weapons, which means that he will be in charge of several vehicles valued at around $15 million each after he graduates. However, this sort of responsibility does not daunt him.
"I think it's pretty exciting," said Bakshi. "While all of my friends are looking for a job after graduation, I'll already know what I'm doing, and during the summers, while they are all working, I am at Fort Meyer driving tanks and training."
Bakshi is also accepting of the fact that deployment to Iraq looms ahead with great certainty.
"It's almost without question that I'll go there," he said. "Especially with combat armor. You can bet you'll be there in a few years."
The only time that this prospect strikes a chord of fear is when he and the other cadets are reminded of the real possibility of death that Iraq holds for U.S. soldiers.
"All 4,000 cadets eat in the mess hall, and all 4,000 of us are in and out of there in 10 minutes, but sometimes they tell us to have a moment of silence for so-and-so, graduate of the class of 2001, and when that happens you get a little nervous because you think, wow, that wasn't that long ago," said Bakshi. "But it's something that you talk about daily in class."