West senior heads to U.S. military academy in June
By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief
James Miller’s childhood dream of attending West Point is at long last becoming a reality.
Miller, a senior at West Bend West High School, received his appointment to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point last month. He will be reporting to the academy June 29, thus fulfilling his aspiration of nearly seven years.
“I knew that I wanted to go to West Point since about sixth and seventh grade, and I’ve been working at it ever since,” Miller said. “So just to be appointed, it’s huge. I couldn’t really describe it. It was almost surreal, I didn’t really believe it was going on at first.”
While attending West Point, Miller hopes to pursue majors in political science and international relations. He thinks that an education in those areas will prove useful as he considers a career in military intelligence.
Upon graduation from West Point, Miller will be commissioned for five years as a paid second lieutenant in the Army. As West Point is free of tuition costs and living expenses, cadets must give back by serving at least eight years through a combination of Active Duty and Reserve Component Service. Once the first five years as a second lieutenant are complete, cadets have the freedom to choose which route they would like to take within the military.
Miller plans to remain in service as long as he can.
“I’ve always wanted to serve,” Miller said. “I can’t really explain why, it’s been something that’s just kind of resonated in the background.”
When asked about the role models who may have contributed to his interest in the military, Miller explained that his grandfather, who was a pastor, impressed upon him a desire to improve himself and his country for the benefit of others. His grandfather’s idea of servitude, coupled with the patriotism that Miller believes is fostered in many American youths, prompted him to idealize military service as a child.
Now a young man on the cusp of completing high school, Miller has recognized his own definition of patriotism, one that has driven him toward a plan of lifelong service to others: to fight for the ideals that will make the United States a better place.
“For America, that’s kind of instilled in the Declaration of Independence,” Miller said. “Just the idea that all of our rights are equal among all races, genders, sexual orientations—I think that those equal rights just go hand-in-hand with patriotism. I think that advocating for everybody’s equal rights is what patriotism means for me, and making sure that everybody has a fair shot in America. I think that’s important to fight for, to fight for the freedom that we have.”
Miller also emphasized the importance of demonstrating “service before self” in the military, as he believes some people mistakenly assume that many soldiers use the Army as an outlet for violence. He thinks that gaining a leadership position through his education at West Point can help him try to address that stereotype.
“I think that there are areas that could use changing, and I think that in order to change what’s going on, you need to be a part of it,” Miller said.
West English teacher Kristen Becker, who has known Miller since the start of his ninth grade year, hugged him when he told her of his acceptance to West Point.
“He was so excited, and so just knowing that this has been his dream since he was young—I wrote a letter of recommendation for him, so I knew this was his plan, this is what he was hoping for,” Becker said. “I was just so excited because you could see on his face, just this is his dream come true.”
West principal Ralph Schlass also wrote letters of recommendation for Miller, so he was thrilled when he heard that Miller was appointed.
“I knew this had been his goal and dream for some time,” Schlass said. “When he told me, I teared up because I want to see all our students’ dreams become reality. He is among the nation’s best and he will serve our country with the highest honor and dignity.”
The Road to West Point
Miller was busy blowing snow when he suddenly received a phone call from Sen. Ron Johnson, who congratulated him for his appointment.
Johnson was one of two U.S. Congressmen from Wisconsin to nominate Miller for his appointment, the other being Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. West Point requires aspiring cadets to be endorsed by at least one member of Congress in order to be admitted, so Miller thinks his second nomination helped increase his odds of acceptance.
Each Congressional nomination required copious amounts of work, Miller explained, as the process was similar to that of applying for colleges. In addition to submitting test scores, transcripts and other personal information, Miller had to write several essays for each of his three representatives, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
“All of them want to know what you’re like as a person, like really deeply and in depth,” Miller said. “I just had to tell them basically what West Point wanted to hear. To get their endorsement, you have to be able to show that you’re ready to go there, so I had to tell them about my academics, my athletics and my leadership potential.”
Miller learned at a young age that if he wanted to go to a prestigious military academy, he would have to excel in those three areas.
“Going back to sixth and seventh grade, I knew that I was going to have to get in shape, I knew that I was going to have to start taking leadership positions in the clubs and activities that I’m in and I knew that I was going to have to keep my grades up,” Miller said.
“Advocating for everybody’s equal rights is what patriotism means for me, and making sure that everybody has a fair shot in America.”
– James Miller, West senior
Throughout his high school career, Miller has maintained a high GPA while taking rigorous honors and advanced placement classes. He has consistently participated in cross country and track while also taking on leadership roles in academic clubs at WBHS. He is the president of SkillsUSA and the vice president of National Honor Society. Miller is also the student reporter for the West Bend School Board.
“His achievements are the result of his high intelligence, involvement, leadership, motivation and work ethic,” Schlass said when asked about his thoughts on Miller’s success at WBHS. “He has left an indelible footprint at West (High School).”
Outside of school, Miller is a second lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, which is the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. It is an organization that allows civilians to get involved in aviation, military lifestyle, cadet programs and emergency services. Civil Air Patrol also conducts approximately 90 percent of the inland search and rescue missions in the United States.
Miller joined the Civil Air Patrol in 2015, soon after he developed an interest in West Point. He now spends every Monday night in Milwaukee leading his squadron.
“That’s had a huge influence on my leadership style, my character and just everything that goes along with my acceptance to West Point,” Miller said.
Miller thinks that his participation in Civil Air Patrol has helped prepare him mentally for the transition to West Point’s military lifestyle and environment. While he has already developed basic military skills ahead of his arrival to the academy, he knows that his fellow cadets will learn those same skills in the first few days. His edge, he suspects, is that his experiences in the Civil Air Patrol have given him “a stronger sense of self.”
“That mental strength and resilience is, I think, much more important than just basic knowledge,” Miller said. “I’d like to say I’m prepared (for the military lifestyle at West Point), but I don’t think you know until you get there. I know that West Point is going to be the most challenging experience of my life.”
(Top image: West senior James Miller stands at attention during the Wisconsin Cadet Academy’s opening formation in the summer of 2018. According to Miller, the Wisconsin Cadet Academy is the Civil Air Patrol’s most challenging school in Wisconsin for commissioned and noncommissioned cadet officers. Photo courtesy of Miller.)