dq'dThere is nothing more heart sinking than to go to my son’s Academy application portal and read these words: “Medically disqualified.”

When he was 6 months old, my son had an allergic reaction to a milk-based formula. He ended up in the emergency room, swelled up with hives but thankfully breathing clearly. Ever since then, he has steered clear of dairy products. On those occasions when he does encounter dairy in something he eats, he knows it right away, usually experiencing an itching sensation in his mouth which can be stopped by drinking water. He has had a few instances when he eats something that has a greater presence of dairy, and that produces a very uncomfortable heartburn sensation. That is controlled with a dose of an antihistamine like Benadryl. And there are those times when small amounts of dairy don’t bother him. We don’t know why.

He’s also allergic to peanuts.

And—this is new within the last year—seafood.

Apparently, the DODMERB doesn’t think that’s an acceptable quality in a candidate.

We’re told it’s not over yet. If the Academy deems him a strong enough candidate, they will apply for a waiver for him. For now, we’re in a wait-and-see stage.

Meanwhile, he has his Congressional nominating committee interviews in the next couple of weeks, and he still has to do his fitness assessment. So he’s plugging ahead, albeit with the feeling that he’s not going to get in.

So what do you tell a young man who has wanted to be a military pilot for the greater part of his life? He has lived ROTC for the past 3+ years. God knew when He made him that he would have these allergies. He also knew this would be a disqualifying attribute. We don’t yet know if it will keep him out of the military.

I asked my son the other day what he wanted to do. He said he didn’t know. It makes my heart sad.

I know that God’s plans are for our good and His glory. But that doesn’t make the process of finding that good any less hard.

God is in control. My son will keep up the application because he definitely won’t get in if he doesn’t apply. And he’ll apply to the other colleges of his choice with the hopes of joining their ROTC program. But if he goes on, after 2 years he will have to go through the medical evaluation process again.

He’s tired. Tired of filling out applications. Tired of trying to get into shape. Tired of doing the work without the assurance that it will pay off.

I get it. I really do. But that’s kind of like life. You just keep doing what you know you’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

Hang in there, Son. You’re not disqualified in our eyes—or God’s. He has a plan for you.


The Benefits of a Good Guidance Counselor

counselorMy senior is about to meet his 5th guidance counselor in 4 years of high school. Actually, only 3 because he’s just starting his 4th year. I think that’s a shame. I remember my guidance counselor from high school, Mr. Bianchi. He was this short little man with glasses and a mustache. By the time I graduated, he knew me well.

Justin is not going to have that advantage.

In light of that, here are 3 things I think are important in a good guidance counselor:

1. Expertise

The counselor Justin will have this year is brand new to the school. I know nothing about her but her name. None of the counselors I’ve talked to so far are familiar with service academy application procedures. I’m having to tell them what little I know in the hopes that it’s the right thing.

It’s been pretty frustrating.

They’ve all been very nice and accommodating, but what I want is expertise. We have a friend who is the head of guidance at a big Christian school in our area. She has helped a large number of her students apply for service academies. She has been my go-to person when I have specific questions, but she can’t help us beyond giving advice since she doesn’t have access to Justin’s file. She has volunteered to do a mock interview with him before he has to do the real thing with the nomination committees. We’re very grateful for that.

Her school is one of privilege. Our school is a Title-1 school, meaning we’re poor. I think Justin is the first one to ever even apply to an academy. What I want is for them to assure me that they will ask around and find someone who does know something to help them. I want them to be proactive. I think I’m delusional to think that will happen.

2. Availability

I think it’s important that a counselor is available, or readily returns calls or emails, especially for their senior students. I understand summer breaks, I really do, but at the end of last year, and over the summer, I have communicated with 3 different counselors to try to get the information Justin needs for his Air Force Academy application. When 1 would start to help us, she would then leave on vacation and be unavailable. I had to go through the principal and assistant principal to try to find someone in guidance who could help us. Now, he’s got a brand new counselor who just started this week. I haven’t been able to have any contact with her at all. I left a message this morning on her direct line. I left a message yesterday on the general guidance line. I so understand that 3,000+ students are about to descend upon them, but communication is key.

3. Personal interest

I understand the first change in counselors Justin experienced because our high school has a separate freshman campus with 2 guidance counselors for the 500+ students there. But to have so much turnover from sophomore to senior years is concerning to me. Beyond that, I just want to know that his guidance counselor is positioning him to have the best opportunity to do what he wants to do. How can she do that if she doesn’t even know who he is? We still have college applications ahead of us, as a plan B if he doesn’t get the Academy nomination or appointment. I’m so much more depending on friends than I am the school.

So, hopefully this week, as schedules come out and I go on campus to meet Justin’s teachers—which actually isn’t really necessary since he’s only taking 2 classes on campus, both from instructors I already know—I will also meet his new counselor. Maybe I’m wrong about her. Maybe she comes from another school in which she had lots of opportunities to help with service academy applications. I sincerely hope that is the case.

What have you found most helpful about your guidance counselors? I’d love to hear your stories.


image from

That Senior Year Schedule

Jusitn's beach dayIt may be summer, but school creeps into our everyday lives around here. In Orange County, Fla., our students are required to complete an online class in order to graduate. All the classes my senior needs to take are tough enough that he doesn’t want to do them online, so he opted for something that might be a little fun: creative photography. He’s got an artistic bent that we figured would be nurtured by something like this. So far, school though it is, he seems to be liking the hands-on aspect of the class.

But we’re still having a bit of a hard time figuring out what other classes he should be taking next year. The Air Force Academy wants him to keep up a rigorous schedule of classes, but he really only needs 1 more English class to graduate.

AP vs. dual enrollment is the question of the day. He absolutely does not want to take AP Lit., so that means he needs to take a dual enrollment comp. class. He passed the AP English test, so he is exempt from comp 1, but he has to take his test results to the college campus to prove that he passed it so that he can enroll in comp. 2 instead.

Then there’s the foreign language issue. He’s taken his 2-year graduation requirement, but does the Academy want him to take a 3rd year? If so, the only period he can take it at his high school is 1st, making scheduling dual enrollment classes difficult since they’re not offering but 1 class at his high school meaning he has to leave his high school campus to go to the college campus.

I don’t remember having to go through all this in high school.

So, a call to his Academy counselor is in order to find out whether he recommends the 3rd year of foreign language. If so, Justin will try to squeeze in the 2 dual enrollment classes between 1st and 5th period, when he has to be back for his AP Physics class.

Good thing he drives.sURVIVAL gUIDE

Good thing the college isn’t very far away.

Gone are the days of an easy senior-year schedule. AP Physics, Aerospace Science 4, dual enrollment pre calculus then calculus, dual enrollment comp 2, possibly French 3. Makes my brain hurt just to think about it.

Work. Academy application. Online class. phew. I almost feel sorry for the poor guy.

Oh, for those lazy, hazy days of summer.

8 Helpful Acronyms to Know in the Academy Application Process

USAFAsealIn any organization, there are acronyms that the people involved have to learn. And there are acronyms in general life that everyone is expected to know, like NAACP, AARP, NSA, CIA, FBI. There are even words that have come into general usage that started out as acronyms: RADAR, SCUBA and the like. Well, in this process of United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) application, these acronyms can be confusing and aren’t even necessarily intuitive. So here are 8 helpful acronyms I’ve learned in our process so far.

ALO—Academy Liaison Officer. This is an important person in the application process. He or she is your ticket to information about your application and the process in general. Once you are a candidate, you have to have an interview with your ALO in order to pass your drug and alcohol certification. And the ALO only wants to talk to the applicant. They want to know that your applicant is serious enough to talk to their ALO on their own.

MOC—Member of Congress. Many people in America probably don’t even know who their Members of Congress are. They are your senators and the Congressman (or woman) representing your district. They are the all-important people in the application process. If you do not receive a nomination from one of them, then you have to depend on the president, vice president or a military-affiliated nomination, which are harder to come by. Each MOC has a committee that reviews applicant files and interviews viable candidates. If you do not receive a nomination, you cannot receive an appointment. It’s a lengthy and complicated process which, I think, serves to weed out those who aren’t truly motivated to attend a service academy.

LOA—Letter Of Assurance. This is a really cool thing that an exceptional candidate can get if they are desired by the Academy and meet all the qualifications. If you do not have a nomination, you are a “pre candidate” and can receive an LOA saying that as soon as you get that nomination, you will get an appointment. The Academy will send this LOA to the MOCs, which could help them make the decision in your favor during the nomination process.

DD, DS, DH, DW—Dear Daughter, Dear Son, Dear Husband or Dear Wife. This is kind of a funny one that I came across on the military service academy forum that I frequent. People never use names. They will talk about their DS just getting his acceptance, or their DD in the application process.

DODMERB—Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board. This is an all-important body that will decide, after they review your official medical exam, whether you will qualify medically or be disqualified. Everyone has to go through it, and it is rigorous.

CFA—Candidate Fitness Assessment. Another all-important step that every candidate must go through. It is pass/fail, all or nothing. It has to be administered by specific people in a very specific manner. If you fail the CFA, you cannot get an appointment.

EAP—Early Access Program. If you initiated your application between March 1 and July 1, you are eligible for the EAP, which means that you can hear in January whether you will receive an appointment or not. We just heard this morning that our DS has qualified for this program. Yay!

TWE—Thin White Envelope. This is what nobody wants to receive from the Academy. If you get the TWE, it means that you will not be receiving an appointment to the Academy at this time. It means that there is only one sheet of paper in that envelope, rather than a packet of information about what you do now that you are an official appointee. I think that every time I go to the mailbox between whenever DS’ app is mailed and January 31st, my heart will be beating just a little bit faster.

I hope that helps educate you on a few things that you might encounter along the way.

Does anyone have any others they’d like to share?

picture of Academy seal via

Off We Go Into Service Academy Application

IMG_2911My son is in the process of applying to the United States Air Force Academy. I will spend much of my time on this blog talking about that process as I know that I appreciate every little bit of help I can get. There are a ton of forums out there, and everyone has their opinions, so sometimes weeding out what’s helpful is a long process. But here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

1. Being smart is important, but it’s not everything.

And standardized tests are a poor indicator of how truly smart someone is. My son has done very well in school. He’s 8th in his class of 733. He has a weighted GPA of more than 4.7 and is taking honors, AP and dual enrollment classes. But he’s not shown himself to excel on standardized tests. Unfortunately, the Academy has standards and if you do not meet those standards, you are disqualified. So far, DS (military academy speak for “dear son,” which, along with DD, is how all posters on military forums refer to their children) is considered competitive by the Academy.

2. Being athletic is important, but it’s not everything (do you sense a pattern here?)

Ever since DS decided he wanted to apply to the Academy, we’ve been talking about his participation in a team sport. He played Little League Baseball for many years, but hasn’t since before middle school. He earned his blue belt in Tae Kwon Do instead. Once he reached high school, he got deeply involved with his AFJROTC unit, participated in the drill team and commanded the armed drill team, which knocked him out of sports because the drill teams practice every day. Each Academy candidate has to pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA), which includes several components. If you fail even one component, you fail the whole CFA. If you fail the CFA, you’re out. So, being physically fit is necessary (obviously, since we’re talking about military service here), but that can be accomplished in ways other than participating in team sports.

Unfortunately, the Academy ranks their candidates by said participation. I did have one forum poster tell me that DS needs to be doing what he has a passion for. If JROTC is it, then that’s what he needs to do. The Academy is looking for opportunities for leadership. My DS has that within his JROTC unit by being named the Vice Wing Commander of his unit next year. His unit is more than 500 strong. That’s leadership. I hope the Academy sees it that way.

3. The Nomination from a member of Congress is everything (it really is).

No nomination, no appointment, no matter how great you are. So right now, DS has been collecting letters of recommendation to send to our senators (2) and congressman (1) and the Vice President of the United States (a long shot, but they say to apply everywhere you qualify) to send in with his application for nomination. A nomination committee will review his application and either call him for an interview, or disqualify him. If he gets the nomination, he still has to pass the CFA and his medical evaluation. If he does all that, he still needs to receive an appointment from the Academy. It’s a long, long process.

4. There is seemingly no end to the details that have to be covered.

DS has taken both the SAT and the ACT twice; now those scores have to be sent to our MOCs (Members of Congress). Essays have to be written. That’s the tough part because your essay really needs to stand out. Every list the MOCs have needs to be checked and rechecked to make sure everything that is required is enclosed. If not, your application will be turned down flat. Letters of recommendation, along with an academic recommendation from his principal, have to be sealed and then signed across the seal so the committee knows it hasn’t been tampered with. They need a photo with his name on the back. They need a checklist of items in the file. It’s enough to make an administratively minded person like myself pull out my hair. My 17-year-old son is barely surviving.

5. Discouragement is always close at hand.

You have to be on a sports team. Your ACT score is just adequate. You don’t stand out. How discouraging is that to hear for a kid entering his senior year, working a part-time job, being 2nd in command of a huge JROTC unit, volunteering with the middle school youth at his church? It’s summer and I can’t seem to motivate him to get up early to go run, to practice for the CFA, to study harder for the ACT. Especially when I’m trying to back off and let him have more control of his life. I’m determined not to nag.

After the last SAT scores came out he said to me, “I’m not going to make it.” That made me sad because I feel that he’s losing hope. We don’t know what the candidate pool looks like this year. All we know is that he can only do his best and the rest is up to God. Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do. That’s the Air Force motto. Those are intangibles. He has control over his academics and his physical fitness. He can study more for the standardized tests. But his integrity, his character, who he is when no one’s looking, are what will stand out in the end.

Hopefully, the MOCs will notice.