Two Whatcom County teens headed to West Point

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 18, 2014 

Track and field at Army could be a little stronger soon, thanks to the addition of two Whatcom County athletes.

Both Shelby Jacob from Lynden High and Hunter Hanlon from Squalicum High have accepted offers from the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Jacob, who had a 3.87 GPA, earned second place in the javelin throw at the recent state finals. Hanlon, a hurdler and high-jumper with a 3.9 GPA, was second in the 110-meter hurdles.

Both were solid students with broad interests, but they took different paths to West Point, where students must be nominated by their local member of Congress and present themselves before an interview panel. Hanlon was supported by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; Jacob by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina.

"I didn't really have a huge desire, but if they wouldn't have kept calling, I probably would've gone to Northwestern College," a private Christian school in Iowa where her parents met, Jacob said. "It felt pretty good to be scouted out."

Now she is as "gung-ho" as her parents are.

Hanlon, on the other hand, chose Army and pursued a congressional appointment only after visiting Stanford, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia - schools with renowned undergraduate programs.

"When I was younger I thought about the military, but my mom said, 'You have to go to college,' " Hanlon said. "This is the best of both worlds."

As for track, "I'm hoping to walk on this summer," Hanlon said.

But first, they'll join their freshman class in early July for basic training called "Beast," weeks before they start their academic year as gray-uniformed "plebes," subject to the glowering scrutiny of upperclassmen in the Hudson River Valley town about two hours' drive from New York City.

Beast is a grueling introduction into the military culture of duty and discipline, one that will define at least the next nine years of their lives.

They're up at 5 a.m., with 90 minutes of exercise before breakfast, then classes and training on a strictly regimented schedule until a bugler sounds "Taps" at 10 p.m. They bring almost nothing with them for Beast - no computers or cellphones; not even clothes or toiletries. The Army provides everything.

"They say, 'Come with your boots broken in and your body halfway in machine mode," Hanlon said.

Jacob said she thinks it will be "10 times worse than freshman year in high school. You keep your head down and do what you're told. It's soldier before student," she said.

But that fazes neither Hanlon nor Jacob, who said she loves doodling, played flute in band since middle school and is in the National Honor Society. She volunteered with her friend's senior culminating project - a food drive for low-income people - and is active in youth groups at her church, Faith Community.

At Lynden High, she took college-prep courses such as pre-calculus, government and economics.

"I couldn't really take slacker courses if I was going to get into a good college," she said.

Still, she felt she hadn't done well on her interview, and phoned one of the panel members to ask how she could improve her skills.

"I think that made a good impression," she said.

For Hanlon, the allure of West Point was honor, a desire to serve his community and the opportunity to be part of something bigger than himself - the "legacy of the Long Gray Line" of West Point alumni.

"The structure of West Point is really a draw, plus the camaraderie that goes with West Point," he said.

An Eagle Scout, Hanlon has been active in a mentoring program for freshmen, a Rotary group and the Future Business Leaders of America. His senior year, he took mostly advanced placement and honors classes.

"I hand-delivered my application so I could meet someone on the board" and possibly gain an edge over his competitors for the interview panel, Hanlon said.

After four years of college, Jacob and Hanlon will graduate with a commission as a second lieutenant and owe the Army five years of service.

Hanlon said he hopes to major in history and study French or other languages. Ultimately, he's set his sights on military intelligence. He's not from a military family, but he had a grandfather who was drafted and served in the Cold War era of the 1960s, never in combat.

Jacob, whose grandfather was an Army medic in World War II, said it would be "exciting" to have a career in the armed forces.

"I have a special interest in health care and physical therapy," she said.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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