By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
When confronted with the question “what will your next four years of college be like?” Julie Alexander calmly answered, “Hell. Hell without air.”
That’s not the response you’d expect from a high school senior about to enter college, but Julie isn’t going to a typical college.
She has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, and she’ll be one of only 1,600 students in the country accepted this year. The appointment is a huge accomplishment. The competition was stiff ó more than 9,000 high school seniors applied.
Even though she knows it will be hard work, Julie, like most other incoming college freshmen, is thoroughly excited about what lies ahead.
When she started the JROTC program at East Rowan High School as a freshman, Julie wasn’t set on a military career.
“I really started thinking about it my junior year,” she said.
The JROTC program at East is run by the U.S. Army, so Julie investigated West Point first when she decided she wanted to try for a military academy appointment.
“It just didn’t seem like the right fit,” she said.
Somewhere along the way the Air Force Academy came up in a conversation and “the more I researched it, the more I liked it.”
Also during her junior year, Julie said she felt like she needed to choose between her active involvement in karate and JROTC.
She spent eight years in karate and earned her first degree black belt.
She made JROTC her first priority and “in the end, I think it was the correct decision,” Julie said.
Julie has spent the last four years in an Army JROTC program, but the Air Force appealed to her because “I love ‘Stargate’,” she joked.
“That’s not really the concrete reason. When I researched it as a female … actually the Air Force has the most opportunities for women,” Julie said.
Last year’s graduating class at the Air Force Academy was about 15 percent female, she said.
She also likes the organization of the Air Force program better. She said she thinks there will be more room for individualism and “being able to fly is always good.”
“She’s hoping there’s really a ‘Stargate’ out there,” her father, Wayne Alexander, said jokingly.
As for the next four years, “it’s going to be interesting. It’s probably going to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
“I think it’s worth it, ultimately.”
She found out about her admission on May 15.
“I told Dad that if he heard anything to just call me at school.”
Julie was called to the office and heard her dad’s voice on the other end of the line.
“He told me that Congressman Coble’s office and Senator Burr’s office both called” with the news of the acceptance.
“I think at that moment I started screaming and jumping up and down. I was so happy. It was crazy,” she said.
Julie received nominations to the academy from Congressman Howard Coble and Senator Richard Burr.
At least one nomination is required for applicants ó Julie had three.
While she’s at the Air Force Academy, the military will pay for full tuition, room and board, clothes, computer, supplies and the list goes on.
Julie will also get a monthly salary ó not much at first, about $100, she said.
The four-year education is valued at more than $380,000 after all the costs of training are included.
She’s planning to study humanities and is leaning toward a career in either public affairs or intelligence in the Air Force. In addition to her bachelor’s degree, Julie will receive a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
The one-year application process was “exhausting,” according to Julie.
While she was filling out mountains of forms for the academy and preparing for physical tests related to the application process, she was also applying to civilian colleges.
The chances of admission to the Air Force Academy were slim and she needed another plan.
She was accepted to North Carolina State University and received a full tuition ROTC scholarship.
Julie is also a talented artist. She likes to do sketches and work with computer-generated art.
When she made going to the academy her main venture, her father and mother, Deborah Alexander, were supportive but surprised.
“It kind of surprised us that she put that above her art,” Wayne said.
But Julie isn’t planning to give up her art interest when she gets to the academy, either.
She talked about the art studios on the academy campus and the variety of art supplies available. In the humanities major, Julie will be able to take some art classes and she said she hopes to have the opportunity to try different types of art.
Since art supplies are so expensive, her opportunities through public school have been limited.
During a visit to the academy earlier this year, Julie said she saw the art studios and thought, “How is this possible? It’s too good to be true.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Julie said.
She will travel to Colorado on June 26 and enter cadet basic training just a few days later.
The intense physical training will last about six weeks before classes start.
When she does start the school year, the large academic courseload will be paired with training and required extra activities ó mostly sports related.
“The thing about the academy is that they make sure you have more work than you have time,” she said.
The approach is created so cadets feel pressure just like they would in the field, according to Julie.
She’s not worried.
Her whole high school career has prepared her for mountains of work and little time.
She’s balanced karate, JROTC, art, memberships in countless clubs and academics.
Julie said she never thought of all her activities as one big thing to balance but several separate priorities.
The only part of the academy that she’s worried about is the constant physical fitness tests. She’s ready, but the academy’s high elevation will make training even harder.
Even with the challenges ahead, Julie has never wavered in her decision and is constantly motivated toward her goal.
The feeling she gets about her career choice, “I don’t know if I can really voice that.”
Fighting for integrity, loyalty and honor … only good positive things can come from trying to live up to those principals, she said.
“I feel the need to go out and serve my country,” Julie said.
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post