April 22, 2021
Indiana Sen. Todd Young brought a special perspective to final day of Culver Academies’ week dedicated to the United States service academies on April 16. Young graduated from the Naval Academy in 1995, served five years in the Marine Corps, then worked as a business consultant before returning to Indiana. He earned his law degree and set up practice in Paoli, Ind., before running for office. He became a three-term congressman for Indiana's ninth district, and was elected to the senate in 2016.
The Military Week was offered to give students – especially juniors and second classmen – a special insight into the service academies. Sessions were conducted through the week with Navy Blue & Gold Officer Kirk Daniels, Air Force Admission Liaison Rich Krupp, and West Point Admission Field Force Representative Chad Gibson.
Young’s viewpoint comes from having been through the service academy application and nomination process, attending and graduating from one, and now nominating students who want to the same. “But,” he said, “I’m not here to recruit you. I’m here to give you my perspective.”
He told the students the service academies are designed to shape those who attend morally, mentally, physically, “and some say, emotionally.” This serves to train people for positions of public leadership. This includes taking them outside of their comfort zone. It may be totally unfamiliar to you, he said, and it may not always be a lot fun.
With Culver’s intentional instruction on leadership and service, Young said, “You have a running start, frankly, on the rest of the young people in this country and around the world.”
That running start may not equate into acceptance into a service academy, though. Getting accepted at a service academy can be “a little bit of a lottery,” Young said. There are a lot of high school valedictorians, salutatorians, and people with perfect AP scores who are not admitted.
In his case, he wanted to play soccer at the Naval Academy but could never get the attention of the coach until he personally visited Annapolis and met with him. His grades weren’t quite strong enough for admission into the Naval Academy. And the soccer coach wasn’t as impressed as Young hoped he might be. “I was on the bubble.”
“I may not have been his first choice, or his second choice, or even his 10th choice,” Young explained, but when one of the soccer recruits decided not to attend the Naval Academy Prep School, his perseverance paid off and he was offered the opportunity. What he learned from that experience was that “there is just a lot of talent out there. It’s humbling.”
When he transitioned from the prep school to the Naval Academy, he discovered the academy was primarily engineering school – a lot of math and science, which wasn’t his strong suit. One of his classes was Weapons Systems Engineering. “It’s rocket science,” Young said, but with enough work he discovered that “rocket science is not rocket science.”
All the service academies are “more buttoned-down” than Culver, he said. He admitted that he doesn’t know that much about the Merchant Marine Academy but a colleague, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, is a graduate “and he was an astronaut.”
The curriculum at all the academies is structured to challenge you mentally. And that extends to physical challenges, too. If you don’t play a varsity sport, you will participate in intramurals, he explained. Studying a difficult engineering discipline until early in the morning and then having a ball game or track meet that afternoon is not unusual. “You just need to deal with it,” Young said. “This is the life of someone attending a service academy.”
And, after a period of time, you learn to embrace that, he added.
“There’s a certain intensity to it all. It’s thriving if you’re making it through. You’ve got too much to do. You’re failing in certain areas. You’re keeping an endless number of balls in the air. And you’re gaining self-confidence as you do all this. You’re thinking ‘I can do this. I may not even do everything exceptionally well, but I can do this.’”
This is when you learn certain things about yourself, Young explained. You are learning what you are good at. You are learning that you can master disciplines that you weren’t exposed to previously. And you are learning empathy for others’ weaknesses and how to compensate as a member of a team for their weaknesses.
Plus you are surrounded by exceptional leaders who have gone through these very same experiences. Some are senior classmen. Some are your instructors and officers on the field. And you will learn from their leadership models.
And, Young emphasized, everyone who goes this path – whether they graduate or not – will “emerge a stronger person in every dimension: morally, mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s an experiential education.”
He understands that he would have had more fun if he went to state or private college. “I certainly would have enjoyed my college experience, in many respects, more.”
Becoming a leader
“But if you want to be a leader, if you want to continue to hone your leadership experience, if you want to serve in a public capacity,” attending one of the service academies is something to consider. But service is not just confined to those attending a service academy.
“You have an obligation,” he told the students. “Here you are at an incredible school with opportunities that .001% of the world population have – and at a very trying time in our nation’s history and the history of the world.”
Things are changing “how we work, live, play and pray” and change can be difficult. It needs to be managed. These are the challenges facing everyone. “We need good leaders who have a moral compass and who are equipped to deal with the challenges of serving others, so they might realize their dreams of a more fulfilling life.”
He told the students to use their talents and “figure out how you can make a difference in your neighborhood, your state, in your country, or around the world.”