As freshmen across the country prepare for orientation week at their college destination, they are most likely looking forward to goofy games, campus tours, and meet-and-greets. A few, however, are preparing for something more grueling.

On June 27 Ashley Kim, a graduate of Texas Military Institute – The Episcopal School of Texas reported to the United States Military Academy (West Point) to begin her military career with Cadet Basic Training. Before she left she admitted that this probably made her more nervous than anything else waiting for her in New York.

“I have been preparing myself physically and mentally for the last few months,” Kim said.

When I interviewed Austin Stramoski, he was sitting in front of the Washington Monument, in the nation’s capital. It was imperative that we find a time to talk that day, because the next day he would be giving up his cell phone to enter “Plebe Summer” at the United States Naval Academy.

Kim and Stramoski are two of around 4,300 high school graduates who have committed to service academies classes of 2020, including West Point, the Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

U.S. Rep Will Hurd (R-23) recently celebrated service academy-bound graduates at a banquet in their honor (see a full list of graduates at the end of this story). Hurd is a former CIA operations officer and is now chair of the Information Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as vice-chair of the Border and Maritime Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee. With these credentials, he places a high value on the continued excellence of the military.

Austin Stromoski (second from right) honored by Rep. Will Hurd (center).  Courtesy photo.
Austin Stramoski (second from right) honored by Rep. Will Hurd (center). Courtesy photo.

“These young people are more than just military academy appointees – they are our future military leaders. It is a national security priority to send our very best and brightest to be trained to lead the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines,” Hurd said.

Students arrive at the decision to pursue military education through diverse channels. For some, it is a family legacy, and a culture into which they were born.

Stramoski will be the third generation in his family to pursue a Navy career.

“I have always had an aspiration to follow my family’s footsteps to serve my country to the best of my ability in the United States Navy,” Stramoski said.

The San Antonio native graduated from Southwest High School in May, and will be the first alum of the school to attend the Naval Academy. He was ranked 14th in his class of 783, with a robust resume of extracurriculars. All of this helped him gain acceptance to the competitive institution, where the acceptance rate is between 7-8%. Most Naval Academy graduates are commissioned as ensigns.

“While studying all of my options to become a Navy Officer, I realized the Naval Academy offered the best opportunity for me to fulfill each of my personal goals,” Stramoski said.

Kim, who spent half of her childhood in Korea, was first introduced to military service through the JROTC program at Texas Military Institute.

“I loved every aspect of it, and the program became a huge part of my high school career. I became really interested in the military life through the JROTC, so when I heard about West Point, I knew I wanted to attend,” Kim said.

Ashley Kim, West Point Class of 2020. Courtesy Photo
Ashley Kim, West Point Class of 2020. Courtesy Photo

She appreciates the culture of mutual respect in Army traditions, and hopes to cultivate that. As a woman, Kim will be in the minority at West Point, which is about 15% female. Recent changes allow expanded roles for female, homosexual, and now transgender service members. Kim and Stramoski both value mutual respect and peer-to-peer camaraderie.

“Followers follow if they respect the leader, and the leaders gets results when they respect their subordinates,” Kim said.

While it was a family legacy that led Stramoski to apply to the Naval Academy, he is well aware that the culture and challenges he will face belong to a new generation.

“There’s a big difference between old Navy and new Navy,” Stramoski said.

The biggest changes come in the form of external threats the military now faces. Stramoski and I spoke in the wake of the bombing at the Istanbul airport.

“It shows that there are enemies who are willing to take themselves out to kill as many people as they can in one room,” Stramoski said.

This kind of unruly warfare will challenge the military to weigh the practical and moral imperatives of defending the United States and its interests. These are heavy thoughts on the 18-year-old’s mind as he looks around the Washington Mall.

Stramoski looks at the  growing power of China as reason for the U.S. military to maintain the upper hand in cybersecurity and weapons technology. There are more roles in the military branches for tech-minded students, engineers, and researchers. Stramoski has committed nine years to the Navy, but given the many avenues of service, he sees a long term career ahead of him.

“There have been countless breakthrough’s developed within The Naval Research Laboratory. I want our Navy to remain the worlds strongest and I want to contribute whatever I can to develop future technology that keeps our country safe,” he said.

Kim also plans to pursue a long term military career, using her other interests as well.

“After graduating from West Point, I want to serve in the Army as long as possible. I do not know which branch I want to go into yet. I am currently leaning towards logistics or medic,” said Kim.

The 11 graduates honored at the Service Academy Nomination Panel banquet in May:

  • Olivia Agee – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: John Paul Stevens – Academy: US Military Academy
  • LeSean Brown – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: TMI – Academy: US Air ForceAcademy
  • Frank Bradley – Hometown: Eldorado – High School: McLean High – Academy: US NavalAcademy
  • Cedric Davis – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: Smithson Valley High – Academy:  US Military Academy
  • Ashley Kim – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: TMI – Academy: US Military Academy
  • Austin Stramoski – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: Southwest High – Academy: US Naval Academy
  • Adam Forbes – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: John Jay High – Academy: US Air Force Academy
  • Paola Garcia – Hometown: Eagle Pass – High School:  CC Winn High – Academy: US Marine Merchants Academy
  • Ashley Wright – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: Texas Connections Academy –Academy:  US Air Force Academy
  • Zachary Millard – Hometown: Val Verde County – High School: Huntington High – Academy: US Military Academy
  • Daniel Rosenfeld – Hometown: San Antonio – High School: Antonian Prep – Academy: US Air Force Academy

*Top Image: Members of US Air Force Academy salute the American Flag during the National Anthem.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.