Earning an appointment to one of the nation’s military academies is no simple task, and two of the seven local students to achieve the feat this year are products of Turlock High School.
Senior Hannah Nunes and Class of 2019 graduate Jacob Dirkse received appointments to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and the United States Military Academy at West Point, respectively, after being nominated by Rep. Josh Harder. Other students in Harder’s district who earned appointments come from Modesto and Tracy schools.
“Congratulations to all of the future military leaders who received appointments to our premier military academies,” Harder said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these students, and it was my honor to nominate them.”
Students seeking attendance at one of the military academies must be nominated by a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator or the Vice President. Nominees are selected through a rigorous application and interview process, and are chosen based on factors including academic achievement, leadership ability, physical aptitude, participation in extracurricular activities and demonstration of character.
For Nunes, her dreams of attending the Naval Academy began soon after she joined Navy Junior ROTC at THS her freshman year. She is the club’s current Commanding Officer and also serves as co-captain for the three-position air rifle team, which has gone to the National Championship all three years Nunes has been on the team.
NJROTC exposed her to prime examples of leadership at an early age, Nunes said, and she soon learned of all the opportunities a career in the Navy could provide.
“After talking to a midshipman from the Naval Academy one-on-one, I realized it was a great opportunity to get my education and be able to put that toward something where I could help people later on,” she said. “When I graduate, I want to be able to go into the work field and go something hands-on that can make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
As just one of two women in California’s 10th Congressional District to earn an appointment to the military academy of her choice, Nunes hopes to major in either English or mathematics and pursue a career in Surface Warfare.
Though she put plenty of work into getting where she is today, Nunes also credits NJROTC with helping her achieve her dreams.
“NJROTC offers opportunities you won’t find in any other class. It really will push you to be more confident. It will push you to do things you never thought you could do and it’s got a really great system of instructors who look out for you and push you to be the best you can,” Nunes said.
Dirkse, who graduated from THS last year, took a bit of a different path to his military academy of choice, West Point. Dirkse, son of Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, said he’s wanted to attend West Point since eighth grade.
“My dad went to West Point so that had a major effect on me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to serve my country but he didn’t want me to enlist, so West Point was my next best option.”
Unlike Nunes, Dirkse was never a part of NJROTC. He fielded offers from both West Point and the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs for his track and field skills, but ultimately decided to compete in shot-put, discus and javelin for the Army Black Knights.
“Everyone (at West Point) has to serve on some sort of sports team, whether it’s intramural, club sports or intercollegiate, so everyone’s journey through the academy will kind of always be the same,” Dirkse said. “But I think I’ll have a little bit more pressure on me as an intercollegiate athlete, especially competing against Navy and Air Force.”
Since graduating from THS, Dirkse has been attending Modesto Junior College as a part-time student and grey shirt on the track and field team in order to preserve his NCAA eligibility. The junior college experience has given him more time to prepare for the rigors of collegiate sports, as his track season at THS was his first.
“I’m excited to see what I can do with more time under my belt and see what can happen with track,” he said.
At West Point, Dirkse plans on majoring in Defense and Strategic Studies and hopes to join the Infantry Branch after graduation — a day which will have extra meaning for his family as he follows in his father’s footsteps.
“It’s a big honor for me because I’ll be graduating exactly 30 years after he graduated from West Point,” Dirkse said. “It’s something special we can share.”
Applications for 2021 military academy nominations will open June 1 and information will be provided on Harder’s website, www.harder.house.gov.