June 14, 2011

Michael Desandre/Air Force Academy: Higher learning can be a higher calling

Mike DeSandre at March Madness with his fourth-grade teacher Tom Jordan and fifth-grade teacher at MSA football coach Mark Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Mike DeSandre.
Michael DeSandre is ready for the next big challenge in his life.

Next Wednesday, the 18-year-old Mahopac High School senior will fly out to Colorado Springs and begin training at the United States Air Force Academy, where he will spend the next four years as a cadet, preparing for a career in the military.

DeSandre has known for a long time that he wanted to join the military.

"I want to serve this country, and I believe in all the values the military holds," he said during a recent interview. "The military goes by an honor code, and that's how I live my life." He decided on the Air Force because of their cutting-edge technology and the wide variety of careers available through the branch. "The way the Air Force is going, it's becoming more advanced as time goes on, and it's growing into an Air, Space, and Cyberspace power," DeSandre said. "They're finding new ways to protect our country here and overseas."

His favorite subjects, math and physics, will be of great help to him in his future military career. Though he is not certain what career track he will follow after the academy, he knows he'll find something suited to his skills.

"Even if I don't become a pilot, I can become an engineer. There's such a variety of jobs, I know I can find something I love doing," he said. "All the branches of the military have a lot of counter-parts and careers, so anything you see in civilian life, you see here." DeSandre is also on his way to becoming a certified Emergency Medical Technician, thanks to a course offered to seniors at the high school, and is looking forward to using his skills on campus in Colorado.

The application process to gain admission to the academy is a rigorous one, and only the top candidates are accepted. Unlike other colleges, the military academies require a nomination from a member of Congress. DeSandre passed an interview with four officers from different branches of the military, and was given the recommendation by former Congressman John Hall, allowing him to pass on to the next stage of the application – a pre-candidate form asking many of the same questions that colleges across the country ask, focusing on grades, test scores and extracurricular activities. The final screening is the most rigorous, and focuses on quadruple qualifications. The application asks for proof that a future cadet is medically, academically, physically and socially prepared to join the military, along with three letters of recommendation from teachers. Once all of those things were in, DeSandre said, he "waited. And waited. And waited."

While some cadets find out about their admission as early as November, when March came around, DeSandre had still not heard word. Ever positive, he resolved himself to attending an excellent college, and participating in a ROTC program. Spending the day at Manhattan College for an admitted students program, DeSandre remembered thinking that he would end up there, and that he liked it.

"But when I came home that evening, my mother pulled next to the mailbox and I reached in and saw my big package from the Air Force Academy. I was so happy. It was a great feeling."

An avid athlete and leader in the athletic community, DeSandre is no stranger to serving his community. His favorite activity is playing on the Mahopac High School football team, and even joked that when he found out he was accepted to the academy, it was "the happiest I'd been since football season ended." He is also on the track team and plays MSA basketball.

Aside from playing sports, though, DeSandre helped run the Student Athletic Council, where he participated in planning events like March Madness and trips to Green Chimneys, and Athletes Bring Change, which volunteers with children at the Falls School.

He is also confident that his training as an athlete will serve him well during his time at the Air Force Academy. While many soon-to-be cadets are nervous about basic training, DeSandre said it is one of the things he is looking forward to the most.

"Every day I get more excited for basic training. Anyone in the Air Force has told me it's going to be the toughest part, but part of the reason I went to the Academy is the challenge. I know that everyone who gets to the other side will be stronger. When it's over, I'll know that I can do anything that is thrown at me."

In addition to all of his skills and positive attitude, DeSandre also has the support of his family and friends to help him get through the challenges at the Air Force Academy.

"My dad's always been there for me in every situation. He's all the help I've needed as I grew up," DeSandre said. "I've had so many coaches help me with working out and even with schoolwork. I'm very fortunate to have almost every adult I've encountered be willing to help me and encourage me."

DeSandre is looking forward to making them all proud as he progresses through the academy, and also to meeting new and inspiring people. "Everyone I've met who has been in the Air Force, from my liaison officer to my uncle to Senator Ball, has stood up for the values. I could tell immediately that the officers in the Air Force are a different caliber of people."

When he flies out to Colorado next week, DeSandre will begin his own journey through the military, and prove himself to be of that different caliber.

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