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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Zac Stiles was only a student attending Mount Washington Middle when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 2001, but the tragedy had a major impact on him.
Seeing the events of Sept. 11 unfold on television, Stiles gained a profound sense of patriotism and with that a desire to serve his country in the United States armed forces.
“I felt there was a call there for me,” Stiles said.
He made up his mind to join the military and soon after that he became determined to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the country.
When he was in the eighth grade he wrote a letter to West Point telling them he would one day attend the prestigious school.
Little did they know he was right.
On Jan. 24, 2010, following a rigorous application process and attending West Point’s Summer Leader’s Seminar last summer, Stiles received a letter stating that he had been accepted.
He was elated.
“I sank down in the chair and thought, after years of hard work, I did it,” said Stiles. “I thought, dreams do come true. If you work hard enough anything‘s possible.”
West Point accepts only 16 percent of the tens of thousands of students who apply for admission every year, and the school was ranked first in the Forbes 2010 list of America’s Best Colleges.
“It feels great to know that I have the opportunity to go to the best college in the country,” Stiles said. “To know that I will better myself, and build on every essential building block needed to succeed in the real world.”
Stiles’ goal is to graduate from West Point and become an infantry officer in the US Army Rangers.
“I’ve always felt the need to give back to my country,” Stiles said. “It’s given me everything.”
Stiles’ also attributed his desire for military service to his daring spirit, explaining that he’s always sought a life of adventure and he felt a military career would provide that for him.
One of Stile’s greatest inspirations has been his grandfather, Robert Stiles Sr., whom he called, “very patriotic and very heroic in combat,” for his service in the Vietnam and Korean Wars.
Stiles credited his parents, particularly his father, Joseph Stiles, for his admission to West Point.
“He’s kept me on the right path the whole time,” Stiles said. “If I ever diverted he would’ve shoved a foot up my butt. He helped me to always remember that West Point was the number one goal.”
Stiles also credited his teachers at Bullitt East, adding that he felt the Bullitt County Public Schools system had prepared him for the top-ranked college.
Stiles graduates from Bullitt East with a 4.1 grade point average. In his years at BEHS he‘s been involved in the National Honor Society, United For East and Beta clubs, student government, the principal’s advisory council, and track. He’s also worked part time at Papa John’s.
Stiles said it was difficult balancing everything at times, but if he wasn’t busy he would’ve been bored.
Stiles said he planned to earn his bachelor’s degree in military science, possibly biology or ancient history.
He said he had no idea what to expect when he moves to West Point in late June, but he was looking forward to the experience and ready to leave the nest.
“I am ready,“ Stiles said. “I’m just ready to begin a new chapter in my life.”
Stiles added that he would dearly miss his home, his family and friends.
Once at the Military Academy, Stiles will not be allowed any personal items, and the only thing he can take with him to West Point, N.Y. is a tooth brush.
He said he was least looking forward to having to keep his mouth shut during the basic military training he will endure over the summer.
“I’m a pretty opinionated person,” Stiles said. “They don’t take kindly to that.”
However, he said he was very much looking forward to bonding with his fellow cadets.
Though he couldn’t say exactly how, Stiles felt the entire West Point experience would completely change him.
“I think it will be a humbling experience,” Stiles said.