Two Vernon Parish students “aim for the stars” with service academy appointments
LEESVILLE, La. (KALB) - Central Louisiana appointments to the nation’s prestigious military service academies have not slowed down this year. Two students from Leesville have now joined that list, alongside Nell White of Pineville and Arthur Lavalais of Peabody High School, having received nominations from Rep. Mike Johnson (R-4th Congressional District).
“The U.S. military academies take the very best of our students, and they develop the next generation of leaders,” said Johnson. “So, it’s very gratifying to know that so many of them will be coming out of Central and South Louisiana. We know what we are made of here, and it is gratifying when the whole country gets to see that.”
Dillon McRae, a graduate of Leesville High School, will join the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she plans on majoring in Astronautical Engineering. McRae hopes to one day join the Air Force’s work in space, striving for a place within the competitive Space Force program.
“I like to say that my job within intel, and especially with satellites, is to keep America’s sky safe, higher up than we even thought possible when the Air Force was founded,” said McRae. “Also, within intel, it is a way to protect those soldiers that are on the ground, protect those airmen who are in the flights [...] it prevents [the] loss of American life, and also prevents those attacks before they even happen.”
It was not the first career she considered, but she soon fell in love with the Air Force’s mission and ability to do something outside of herself, while helping others see how they can also serve.
“I’m very, I guess, not what you think of when you think military academy,” explained McRae. “I really hope to change the view that the military has to be super, or people in the military, have to be super stoic, and they have to be just so, and super uniform, because that is not me.”
McRae participated in numerous extra-curricular activities in school, including theatre, photography for the yearbook, track and field and tennis, as well as student government as the class president. She credits her high school’s diverse programs and the staff for helping her in the process of her appointment.
Meanwhile, Terrence Carter will be walking the campus of West Point to become a service officer. He graduated from Pickering High School in 2021 but just finished 10 months at the West Point Preparatory Academy.
Carter said his volunteer time at the Veterans Place in downtown Leesville inspired him to pursue a career in military service.
“I met a retired colonel that pulled up in a wheelchair, and he talked about his experiences with West Point, as he was a grad of 1972, and by listening to his experiences, I found a new love for a place I had never even thought about in the beginning,” explained Carter. “Because, whenever I talk to older gentlemen or older ladies, I look through their eyes, and you can see their eyes light up as they talk about or reminisce about their memories. That’s what attracted me to West Point.”
At Pickering, Carter was a high-achieving track and field athlete. He received offers to Division 1 and 2 schools, like Texas A&M and LSU, where he could have participated in ROTC programs and enlisted after finishing his degree. Ultimately, Carter wanted more.
“What my dad told me to do is start at the top instead of starting at the bottom, so I might as well aim for the stars and shoot for West Point,” said Carter.
Both McRae and Carter will leave their academies as commissioned officers ready to serve how they know best.
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