Grace Echevarria was only 4 when she became the unintended target of stress-free gentle persuasion.

She was sitting quietly at the dinner table listening in as two female cadets regaled her older sister Rachel with stories of West Point and all its opportunities.

“That was really the start of it all,” said Echevarria, now 18, and a soon-to-be graduate of Carlisle High School. She is one of five members of the Class of 2017 heading for a service academy this fall.

It is believed this is the largest contingent of future cadets to graduate from Carlisle in recent memory. If that is the case, these high achievers are already making a name for themselves.

Fourteen years ago, the West Point Glee Club held a local performance prompting the Echevarria family to volunteer to take in two cadets.

As the story goes, career Army officer Antulio Echevarria II encouraged the young ladies to share their experiences as part of a strategy he had to get his eldest daughter interested in future military service. However, Rachel was not convinced by the tactic.

“All that talk didn’t work on her,” Grace recalled. “I remember it. I was fascinated.” When she got older, Grace clued him in and the support began for a future career choice.

“He never pressured me to do this,” she said about her appointment. “It was always my decision. My dad had a huge impact. He has always been somebody that I looked up to because of his intelligence and character. I always wanted to be a lot like him.”

Part of tradition

All five students have in common the close-knit ties of growing up in a military culture where friends and fellow service men and women are akin to an extended family.

The five seniors are also continuing a legacy of service in the footsteps of fathers who faced similar choices and challenges, but came through to serve as career military officers.

Grace Echeverria, Andrew Bowlus, Henry Perry III and Samuel Haseman are bound for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where their fathers are alumni.

Bartholomew Winn is heading for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis as Congressman Lou Barletta’s top choice for that academy. His father, Stephen Winn, became an officer through the Air Force ROTC before serving as a fighter pilot and retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

“We are extremely proud of them,” Carlisle High School Principal Jay Rauscher said of the five seniors. He said each academy appointment is a reflection of their approach to education, their commitment to country and their willingness to serve. “They are selfless. … They are just high quality kids.”

Growing up an Army brat, 18-year-old Samuel Haseman saw in his father Mark (an active duty colonel) and other officers the kind of leader and role model he wanted to become. “My dad set an example in terms of character. … How he deals with other people and his faith.”

“It makes me proud of our class,” said Haseman. “It says a lot about Carlisle High School. It’s a great school and a great community.” He plans to major in aerospace engineering.

Classmate Henry Perry wants to become an Army doctor. “I’m excited,” he said about his appointment to West Point. “It’s a new environment — a shock to the senses. It really tests what you are made of. I’m ready to start with a new fresh slate.”

Answering the call

All five seniors must report to their service academy for basic training, which ends in mid-August about a week before classes begin. If all goes according to plan, they will graduate in 2021 as junior officers.

Each had received a phone call from the staff of a U.S. senator or congressmen confirming their appointment to a service academy. The son of an Army War College student, Andrew Bowlus was a new arrival to Carlisle High School when he started his senior year last August.

After the phone call, he celebrated by running through the Young Hall apartment complex shouting the good news. Climbing into his car, he turned up the volume on the music, and after calming down placed phone calls to family and friends. “I was elated,” recalled Bowlus, 18, a resident of Carlisle Barracks. “I just feel humbled and blessed to be in this position because so many people did not get in.

“I am looking forward to the challenge, the camaraderie and the experience of it all,” he said. “I was raised in the military culture and brought up Army. It just feels natural to go to West Point. I grew up hearing stories about it.”

At first, Bowlus felt a bit nervous and was having second thoughts. Was the path to West Point one laid out for him or one he picked for himself? Eventually he came to terms with having a career as an Army officer, perhaps in military intelligence or cyber warfare.

“There is where I was born,” said Bowlus, who plans to major in electrical engineering. “This is where I was placed. I should grow where I’m planted.”

A huge honor

For all five seniors, the path to an appointment began in January of their junior year with a preliminary application process. Having passed that hurdle, they were subjected to a stringent selection process that included physical testing, medical testing, interviews by a selection committee and the writing of several 500-plus word essays to their U.S. senator, congressmen and service academy of choice.

Essay questions included their leadership philosophy, their impressions of what it means to be an officer and details on why they want to be in command. What helped the five seniors was the sense that they were never alone.

“Talking to other people who were going through the same thing has really been helpful,” said Winn, who has aspirations to become a Navy fighter pilot. “Applying to the academy is no easy thing. It was nice to see everything come to fruition and all of our hard work pay off.”

Classmate Grace Echevarria has her sights set on becoming an Army surgeon. “It is a huge honor,” she said about her appointment. “It’s something I wanted for a very long time so it’s really awesome to finally be here and finally get to do it. … To just be a part of the long grey line.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com

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