It was the mystery and majesty of the sea that drew Victoria Ramirez-Solis to the Merchant Marines.
The Hinkley High School senior knew she wanted a career in the military since she was a student at Aurora Hills Middle School. She also knew she wanted to attend college, and the idea of a service academy seemed a perfect way to realize both goals. In the end, it was the water that guided her decision as she considered academies through different branches of the military.
Victoria Ramirez-Solis, is one of more than 40 students from Congressional District 6 to have earned a service academy nominations from Rep. Mike Coffman for the coming school year. Ramirez-Solis underwent a complicated application process that included fitness exams and in-depth interviews with panels of veterans.
“I just like the idea of being out on the sea,” said Ramirez-Solis, 18, adding that the deep ocean holds the same kind of unknowns as the outer cosmos. “We know more about outer space than we do our own sea. That’s amazing to me.”
Ramirez-Solis is one of more than 40 students from Congressional District 6 to have earned service academy nominations from Rep. Mike Coffman for the coming school year. Coffman recommended nominees from Aurora high schools such as Grandview, Regis Jesuit, Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest and Smoky Hill to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Military Academy, Naval Academy and Merchant Marine Academy.
Nominees like Ramirez-Solis underwent a complicated application process that included fitness exams and in-depth interviews with panels of veterans. In choosing the final set of 42 nominees, Coffman considered factors like students’ SAT and ACT scores, athletics and military legacy. Coffman said he went through those considerations with a simple objective in mind. Service academy hopefuls aren’t in yet. They must compete with nominees from every other congressional district in the country for coveted spots. Acceptance letters are mailed out in the spring.
“My goal is to get as many young people into the academies as possible,” Coffman said. “Most of the time, these are people who really want to serve. They’re people who want to serve in a leadership capacity.”
That’s what separates the service academy nominees from those who enter the military in other ways, Coffman said. He recalled his own enlistment. A high school dropout, Coffman earned his diploma only after enlisting in the Army. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado.
The service academies offer a much different route to service, Coffman noted, one with a different degree of pressure. There’s the stress of being a first-year cadet wrapped up with the academic rigor of a top college. That kind of challenge isn’t for everyone, Coffman notes, and having an outlet in the form of team sports can offer a saving grace.
“I think that first summer is pretty tough, and (sports) can help them get through that,” Coffman said.
Team sports helped Wayne Southam make it through his first year at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 1997. An Overland High School graduate and the recipient of the Denver Post’s Gold Helmet Award, Southam had plenty of college options thanks to his academic and athletic record.
But the prospect of military service at the Air Force Academy beat out every other offer, Southam said. Part of it was a matter of military legacy — Southam’s father was in the Air Force Reserves, and he wanted his own chance to serve his country. The chance to play Division I football was appealing, as was the prospect of having a job right out of college.
On a more fundamental level, Southam saw an appeal in the service academies’ basic honor code, the guideline barring students from stealing, cheating, lying and tolerating anybody who does so. All of these elements helped him get through the tough first year.
“Everyone is going to yell at you. If you’re doing it wrong, they’re going to yell at you. If you’re doing it right, they’re going to yell at you,” said Southam, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2003 and is now a captain in the Air Force Reserves. “It gets better quickly.”
Ramirez-Solas insists that she’s ready for that kind of pressure. The parts of the service academy that appealed to Southam — the legacy, the athletics and the honor code — have also played a decisive role for this Hinkley senior.
For Ramirez-Solas, it’s also a route to the ocean and its untold mysteries.