It’s not like filling out a standard application for college. There’s more to it than listing your favorite hobbies, some community service and a fundraiser you hosted in seventh grade.

Vying to attract the attention of the five United States service academies is competitive and they mean business.

Several years of preparation goes into the application process and just earning a nomination from your local congressman or senator is a great honor. From there it’s a waiting game as academies like the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy make their final selections.

Presenting nearly two dozen applicants from across Florida’s 6th Congressional District with nominations, U.S. Congressman Michael Waltz talked about sacrifice, duty, and commitment while addressing the nominees and their families on Tuesday evening at the Flagler Auditorium.

U.S. Congressman Michael Waltz presents New Smyrna Beach High School student Jace Jorden Engberg with his appointement to the United States Military Academy during the Class of 2026 Academy Nominees ceremony held at the Flagler Auditorium on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

“We had so many nominees, even in Flagler County, so it was really wonderful,” said Flagler Auditorium director Amelia Fulmer, proud to showcase the facility while hosting the ceremony. “There are a lot of wonderful moments that happen here, from awards to performances and it’s all about education.”

Among the recipients, Matanzas High School senior Ethan Drost not only received his nomination from the congressman during the ceremony, but his official acceptance into the United States Military Academy at West Point, one of several prestigious schools focusing on a career of military service.

“I really feel amazing that I have accomplished this dream of mine,” said Drost. “I set it when I was 13 and I saw it through. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go into the Army, (and) West Point is the way I want to start this amazing journey of mine. It will not be an easy road, I’m sure, but it is one I am fully prepared to take,” he said.

Matanzas High School student Ethan Tyler Drost accepts his nomination from U.S. Congressman Michael Waltz as a member of the Class of 2026 Academy Nominees, going on to accept an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, during the ceremony at the Flagler Auditorium on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

Coaches help prepare the students for the rigorous application process.  Serving as an admissions liaison for the U.S. Military Academy in the 6th Congressional District, Palm Coast resident Man Bui worked with Drost to help bolster his chances of a successful submission.

“It’s always so great to see young men and women make it through this year long process and now get their appointments to West Point,” said Bui.

“With their qualifications they could have chosen a many number of excellent colleges but they chose the rigor of four years of West Point and then to serve as an Army officer afterward. As a West Point dad (two sons ’16 and ’19) it gives me great pride seeing such fine young men and women wanting to be part of the leading and shaping of the future of our military.”

New Smyrna High School senior Jace Engberg worked with a different mentor to complete his nomination application, and as his name was called during the evening, drew resounding cheers from those on hand to commemorate his special moment.

“It’s great. I started my application junior year and all this hard work is finally paying off,” said Engberg, also headed to the U.S. Military Academy.

“I can’t wait to start the hard work when I get into West Point because that’s what it’s about, hard work,” he said. “Getting there is about a quarter of the battle, now I have to make it through plebe year, make it through the rest of West Point and hopefully change the world.”

It’s a mindset both Congressman Waltz, a Virginia Military Institute graduate and his district director U.S. Army Brigadier General Ernest C. Audino, a West Point graduate himself, hoped the young recruits would remember as they faced adversity and trials while walking the in the footsteps of some of the nation’s greatest leaders.

“This process inspires me,” shared Waltz. “To see a next generation willing to step up and serve is, just to see the quality, Ernie, I don’t know if we would have made it in if we were competing with these kids,” he joked. “They’re just running circles around us.”

Spruce Creek High School student Emily Kraft accepts her appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy from U.S. Congressman Micheal Waltz during the Class of 2026 Academy Nominee ceremony held at the Flagler Auditorium on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

Imparting two pieces of advice, Waltz laid the foundation for future leadership, before the official recognition.

“Listen to your NCO’s. Listen to those non-commissioned officers. They are the backbone of our military, they are the true experts. They’ve seen young officers come and go, succeed and fail, and you’ll find when you work with militaries around the world, that’s what makes ours so special and so unique. They don’t have that non-commissioned officer corp.,” said Waltz.

“Listen to them. They’re going to teach you about teamwork and leadership, followership and discipline. The other piece is, and this is the easiest one and the hardest one – don’t ever, ever, ever quit. You’re going to fail. The military is designed to make you fail. We want you to fail and train so that you don’t fail when it really matters.”