Greg and Layla Armstrong were surprised when their son Ben told them that he wanted to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point after he graduates.
They were thinking that he would choose Harvard or University of Southern California. West Point came out of left field.
But knowing how focused and disciplined Ben is, they knew that once he settled on West Point, that that was what he was going to do.
“I tried to steer him to the Air Force Academy,” Greg, an Air Force veteran joked. “But he was pretty much dead set about West Point from the beginning.”
“I thought he would go to USC,” Layla added. “But with the discipline he has in his sports and in his grades, I think he has the attributes for West Point. It’s nothing that we ever talked about.”
Ben will graduate from Lewisburg High School in Olive Branch in May and will report to West Point on June 28 to start his freshman or “plebe year.”
Although his choice of schools came as a bit of a surprise to his parents, the senior said he chose West Point because he wants to serve his country and knows that he will get a first rate education in the process.
“I told them this is what I wanted to do,” Ben said. “I get to live in this country. I can’t imagine not giving back by protecting it. And I just know that West Point is going to prepare me for whatever career path I choose.”
The fact that he grew up in Imperial Beach outside of San Diego and was surrounded by neighbors who were Navy SEALS may also have played a part too.
Ben said he would see the SEALs coming back from training and knew about them because they were in the headlines for killing 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 in a daring raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“It was right around that time,” he said. “I became aware of who they were and what they did. We had a lot of Navy SEALs as neighbors.”
Getting accepted at West Point was a long and involved process that took about a year to complete. He had to fill out a candidate questionnaire which covered every aspect of his life - academics, athletics, physical fitness and character development. It was so comprehensive that he even reported the two speeding tickets that he got when he was 16.
“I can’t think of anything I didn’t have to tell them,” he said.
Applicants are also required to take the ACT written portion, submit recommendations from teachers, complete a Cadet Fitness Assessment where he had to make a video showing he could do the required number of pull ups, push ups, abdominal crunches and a one mile run.
He also received the required recommendation from District 1 U.S. Representative Trent Kelly. Each Congressman can nominate up to ten candidates, but can only appoint one.
“I was relentless with my application,” he said. “It was difficult. I had some mistakes that I had to go back and fix including the wrong Social Security number. Things like that.”
But he kept at it, checking his mailbox twice a week for the letter he hoped would arrive. And when the letter of assurance finally arrived informing him that he had been accepted to “the Point”, he immediately went on line to the school’s portal and clicked “accept.”
“It was my first and only choice,” he said.
Danny Barulli, Mississippi Field Force Representative for West Point who interviewed Ben and helped shepherd him through the application process, said he is the total package.
“Every cadet is a leader, is at the top of their class academically, and athletic,” Barulli said. “And you have to excel at all three. He had all three.”
Barulli said another attribute that stood out that is often overlooked, is Ben’s kindness.
“He is a very kind young man,” Barulli said. “You need that in leaders. You don’t want someone who is just barking orders. You want someone with heart.”
Barulli said he believes Ben will thrive at West Point and will ultimately choose to make the military a career.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he has everything he needs to be near the top of his class,” Barulli said.
Greg and Layla said they spoke to Ben about West Point and what to expect to make sure that he knows what he is committing to, and are convinced that he has made the right decision.
“I sat him down six months ago and told him he can go anywhere he wants and to make a decision where he will be happy,” Greg said. “It’s never been a question in his mind. This is what he wanted to do.”
“I pray every day,” Layla said. “My mother tried to talk him out of it and brought up everything negative. But, somebody has to be a colonel or a four star general. And maybe God has that for him. I know God has a plan.”
Ben said he is excited about reporting in June. He’s undecided though about what he will major in.
“I’m sure I will get more nervous as it gets closer,” he said. “But I think I’ve made the best choice.”