Image Credits: Courtesy of Lucy Kate Harrill
In an age when females are actually now the majority at many schools, young women still find themselves underrepresented in the ranks of cadet and midshipmen at our United States military service academies. Before I begin, I must preface with the fact that women have made enormous strides in education, from when just a little over 150 years ago, women weren’t even admitted to most institutions. Just a few decades ago, jokes were made about women getting their Mrs. Degrees, collecting a diploma, but never actually utilizing their degree in a workplace.
The percentage of women admitted to and attending U.S. military service academies is growing larger each year. Finding a well-accomplished female officer at a high rank is no longer rare. Still though, many young women do not know much about the phenomenal offerings of military service academies: not only do you get an entirely free education, but you have a guaranteed job after graduation.
First, a little about the nation’s five military service academies:
Army: United States Military Academy, West Point, NY
Navy: United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
Air Force: United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), Colorado Springs, CO
Coast Guard: United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA), New London, CT
Merchant Marines: United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), Kings Point, NY
Army, Navy, USAFA, and USMMA all require a nomination from a member of Congress, the Vice President, or the President to attend. USCGA does not require a nomination. USMMA graduates must either sail on a United States flagged commercial vessel, or they can commission into any of the five branches of the military; among other options.
I interviewed female cadets and midshipmen from our military service academies to find out their experiences and why more future female leaders should attend these historic institutions.
“Growing up, I spent every weekend with my grandfather and great grandfather, both of whom were in the Air Force. Those two men are my heroes. They taught me early on in life the values of duty, honor and country. Years later, looking at schools to attend, nothing felt right. Something was missing until I attended the West Point Summer Leadership Experience, a week long summer program that allows juniors in high school to be cadets for the week. I’ve always said you never understand why someone would choose a service academy until you experience a service academy: the people.” – Lucy Kate, United States Military Academy at West Point
Sometimes, cadets and midshipmen attend one of the preparatory academies before being fully appointed to their service academy. West Point, Navy, and the Air Force Academy each have a prep school.
“NAPS is the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island. I was given an appointment to NAPS, and I honestly was not happy at first. Like all people, I wanted to go direct, but it was truly the best decision that was made for me. I formed some close bonds with people and met a few of my best friends there. It was an experience I value the most, and it prepared me for Plebe Summer and the academy. In its own way it was separate from the academy; the overall environment at NAPS is a little different. I especially enjoyed that everyone was at the same level, we were all Midshipman Candidates hoping to make it to the big academy.” – Alexandria, United States Naval Academy ’23
“While Navy, Army, and Air Force are the most well-known service academies, there are two additional service academies: The U.S. Coast Guard Academy and The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Anya shares, “I discovered the opportunities USMMA presented that no other school in the country could offer, such as commissioning into any branch or working as a merchant marine officer, and the versatility of my future post-graduation was very appealing to me.” -Anya, USMMA ’21
“The thing about service academies is that you squeeze academics and military trainings into four years. It is a delicate balance in time management. “Four degree, or freshman, year is usually the most stressful year for cadets. You’re adjusting to this brand new military lifestyle, having newer restrictions put on your life, and on top of all that, you’re still going to classes from 7 am to 4 pm. There may be some physical training after 4 pm, then you go to dinner, and finally head back to your room to start your homework. Throughout all the business though, you’re forming close knit relationships with so many people. Your three degree, or sophomore, year is tremendously better, because now you aren’t at the bottom of the totem pole, many restrictions are lifted, and you have the chance to lead the new freshmen. By two degree, or junior, year you’re placed in more leadership roles and have to step up in order to lead your squadron (a squadron is roughly 100 cadets with 25 from each class year). When firstie year hits, you’re expected to make decisions that affect the lives of the underclassmen. Everyone looks to you to set the example of what “right” looks like and you can either take advantage of this opportunity to learn some leadership skills, or coast until graduation hits.” – Taylor, US Air Force Academy
“My best friends in the world are friends from West Point. My team captain, and teammates, my roommates, and classmates are phenomenal humans who inspire me daily. Our friendships are the strongest and most supportive. We can go months with out speaking and then pick up like we never lost touch. Time at a service academy is limited. We count down daily to leave. After graduation or medical boards, we all go in different directions but our friendship remains so strong. I would do it all again to live next to those female bosses. I’ve got their backs and they’ve got mine.” – Lucy Kate, West Point
“I have attended USMMA for 3 years and am just beginning my senior year. I have had 309 days at sea where I worked in both commercial and Active Duty environments. And I participated in the Global War on Terrorism in the Middle East while aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller. On the Maersk Idaho, I got the opportunity to roam freely through the streets of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, where I experienced a beautiful and old culture which allowed me to explore my connections with the past. Finally, on my absolute favorite vessel, the M/T Evergreen State, I discovered my passion for shipping and my deep-rooted love for adventure on the ocean. In the classroom I serve as a section leader who bridges the gap between professor and student. I have been fortunate to work with world-class mariners and professors.” – Anya, USMMA ’21
“Female friendships at the academy are fairly easy to make because the girls really stick together and gravitate towards each other. I consider myself close with the females in my company and we all get along pretty well. Since there are still a very low percentage of females, as compared to males, there is a big presence of girls supporting girls.” -Alexandria, Navy
“I 100% feel equipped and empowered to lead as a female. And when I don’t or fail, I know how to recover and I think that is the most important thing a service academy teaches. Educate, train, fail, learn, repeat. Being at West Point taught me how to be confident in who I am, how I want to be lead, how I want to lead.” – Lucy Kate, West Point
“I truly believe the key to being a successful leader, either man or woman, is to raise up everyone who you are leading. Let them all become better than you are. Have a desire to make each and every one of them better. Even if there is a stigma about “bossy” women, if you lead from a perspective of shaping each man and woman you are leading into their best selves, then they will always give you respect.” -Anya, USMMA ’21
“Young women should definitely consider attending a service academy because it is such an empowering and self-discovery journey. The opportunities you will be provided with during your time at the academy, and after, make the difficult journey worth it. I also hope that the percentages will eventually shift and that more women become interested in the academy.” – Alexandria, Navy
“I think we need more women in the military, because we can change the culture of a career field that has been male dominated for so long! A female’s motherly instincts are critical to approaching problems from different angles and just caring more about a person than the mission. You don’t have to know a whole lot about the military to join either. They teach you everything. By attending a service academy, you are receiving a “free” top notch education, a very stable job with a nice paycheck upon graduation, and so many friends who are the only ones to ever relate to what you went through for four years of your life.” – Taylor, USAFA
“It comes down to what kind of woman you want to be. If you want to be powerful, smart, confident, a leader and servant to the greatest country the world has ever known, then I highly recommend a service academy. Go Army, Beat Navy!” – Lucy Kate, West Point
“Going to a service academy will turn you from a girl to a highly respectable woman in a heartbeat if you take it seriously. Kings Point has permitted me to travel the world, while getting paid. To develop my skills and my power to be the best I can be. Every woman deserves to be empowered.” -Anya, USMMA ’21