Northwestern Press

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Miss Smith goes to West Point

Thursday, June 23, 2016 by ANNA GILGOFF Special to The Press in School

Graduation is a joyous time for high school seniors with new experiences within reach.

For Abbie Smith, these new experiences will begin at West Point with the realization of a long-held dream.

“[Congressman] Charlie Dent [R-15th] called me while I was at track practice, doing off season prep,” she said. “When I heard the voice mail my heart actually stopped for a minute. A huge weight lifted off my shoulder.”

“I wanted to serve our country [ever since] we had an FBI speaker in middle school,” said Smith. “After that, I started looking into the Secret Service and the CIA.”

Smith was attracted to these agencies because they “involved a lot of mental and physical work combined.”

Then, she started to think about the military academies as a possible avenue for her to achieve her goals.

A few years later, she actually visited West Point in New York state.

“I went there last April after receiving the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award,” she said. “The award acknowledged excellence in athletics, academics and leadership. [I was part of] a group from the Lehigh Valley that they took around.

“The same year I [visited] Annapolis. Sarah Jones was the main reason why I wanted to go to one of the academies.

“She was my inspiration to apply.”

Smith’s older sister, Haley, and Sara Jones were friends in high school.

“She was close to Haley so I went to visit her with Angie [Alden].

“Annapolis was amazing. They were preparing for their physical fitness test,” Smith said.

“Just looking out the window, there was always someone walking around in uniforms.

“Sara said she loved the school and it was the best place she’d ever been.”

All these experiences contributed to Smith’s decision to apply to the academies, which is no small task.

“There were a lot of moments when it clicked in my head just how many people were applying,” said Smith, adding writing the essays were particularly challenging. “I had Ms. [Pam] Henderson, Mrs. [Linda] Paist, Mrs. [Liss a] Opolsky and my parents read my essays.

“Just getting all their edits and combining them took a long time. They look for grammar and quality.”

In addition, Smith had to pass a candidate fitness assessment which included push-ups and sit ups, shuttle and mile runs and even a basketball throw.

“I took it two times with Mr. [Tim] Churetta and Angela Alden,” said Smith. “We had to bring in papers for him to fill out.”

“It helps being on a sports team,” said Smith, who was on the cross country and track team.

“I think the discipline of running and the workouts will help me a lot [at West Point].”

Applying to the academies also required extensive interviews.

“I had to interview with a representative from each of the academies and [various] Congressmen’s representatives and other military representatives as well.”

Smith interviewed with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for the Naval Academy and Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa. for West Point as well as Dent’s representative.

“You’re in constant communication with the [applicant],” said Erica Gross, Smith’s guidance counselor. “There are letters of recommendations [to gather] and filling out all the forms. You almost want to triple check everything.”

“The application process is definitely a great contributor to self-improvement,” said Smith. “I learned how to communicate better [and increased my] mental strength and ability to accomplish things through all the different processes.

“I met a lot of people and I got to hear more about what I was getting into. I [also] met a lot of representatives from the academies who saw how determined you are.”

Gross can attest to Smith’s determination.

“I’ve been her counselor since day one,” she said. “Abbie is an accelerated, honors kind of student. She’s pretty focused and very respectful. She applied to all of the academies. Her organization in getting me all that was required was amazing.”

Smith leaves for West Point June 27.

“The whole summer is like a boot camp where they combine physical preparation and knowledge of the military,” said Smith. “They give us this little book to memorize things like symbols on uniforms, types of guns, different historical events related to the military and a lot of different sayings.

“I had to order boots which I’m breaking in.

“They make me a lot taller but running in them is awkward. We have a Facebook page set up by the academy.

“They want us to understand social media but also want us to understand the drawbacks.”

“I think the last week we go out in the field, but there is a lot of hands on work.

“A lot of upperclassmen will be working with us and training us as candidates throughout the summer months. If we pass, we become plebes.”

Smith’s family couldn’t be happier.

“My dad was in Army Reserves around Desert Storm, so he was very supportive but my mom was hesitant at first,” Smith said.

“She kept asking me if this was really what I wanted to do. My grandpa was in the Air Force and he’s really proud.”

Smith said her two younger sisters are happy for her.

“Haley just wants to see me in uniform,” Smith said. “On the first day, they size us for everything and at the end of the day we march out wearing our uniforms.”

Her family is invited to West Point on R-day, reception day and A-day, acceptance day.

“I’ve no doubt he’ll excel with her leadership qualities,” said Gross. “She’s a role model and people look up to her.”

Smith commented on having women serve in combat.

“I think it’s fine. They should be able to,” Smith said. “If anything, it gives me more determination to do better.

“I think since men are at a biological advantage, using them to train beside will help me work harder but the mental impact is greater than the physical.

“In the end, it all comes down to how determined you are to pursue your goal.”