Cuero senior appointed to military academy
May 19, 2017 at 9:42 p.m.
Updated May 20, 2017 at 6 a.m.
CUERO - It was the first day of spring break, and Jace Staats only had one thing on his mind: the mail.
The 18-year-old had spent months opening the mailbox every day after school, hoping a letter with the words "Duty, Honor, Country," would be waiting for him when he got home.
March 13, Jace found not a letter in the mailbox but a big, fat envelope on his front porch with the return address of West Point, N.Y.
He opened the envelope to find that on behalf of the President of the United States of America and the United States Military Academy Admissions Committee, he had earned an appointment to West Point.
"I was on cloud nine," Jace said. "It was the best thing ever."
A year of studying, filling out applications, exercising, physical fitness tests and requesting nominations from congressional leaders led to that moment. But Jace, a leader among his peers, is prepared to tackle every obstacle to graduate from the prestigious military academy in 2021. He will be the first person in his immediate family to serve his country in the military.
"I never pictured myself going into the military, but the more I learned about it, the more I just fell in love with it," the sandy-blond-haired teenager said. "My perspective of the military has changed completely. I am ready to serve."
Col. Mike Jackson, a West Point field representative for the area, told Jace more than a year ago that interested candidates should consider applying for the academy's Summer Leaders Experience. The weeklong session gives high school students insight into becoming a cadet.
Out of 6,000 applicants, Jace was one of a thousand selected last June to attend the 2016 program.
His first day at the West Point summer program was hot, humid, lonely and difficult, Jace said, but "everything fell into place" the next day. Most of the activities the campers did were based on freshman year basics, which Jace will experience in more detail this fall. But of all the activities and workshops, Jace said he was most impressed with the cadets who were in charge of the program. They are who he aspires to be, Jace said.
"I thought, 'If I could become half of what these guys and women are, then I'll be all right.' Everything about them was everything I was shooting for," Jace said.
Once camp was over, Jace started his application to West Point. Requirements to apply are more hefty than the average high school transcript, GPA and test scores: One must be in good physical, mental and academic standing to apply. An applicant must also obtain a congressional nomination, which Jace received from U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-34th District.
Jace also will have to be in top shape - physically and mentally - when he leaves for West Point on July 3, his first day of training.
"I've been doing it all - running, pushups, pullups, situps - while keeping up with academics," Jace said. "I'm telling myself that I know it's going to be hard, but I am going to get through it. I'm not going to give up."
Jace said he is debating between studying mechanical engineering and management, but he knows he wants a career where his work benefits others. He has thought about a career in politics, a career in the military and being a youth director. But for now, he said, he looks forward to meeting his colleagues at West Point.
"They say that at West Point, friendship and brotherhood is stronger there than anywhere else," Jace said. "You can't get through it alone."
Lee Staats, Jace's father, said he is proud of his son. The family has waited for more than a year with Jace to find out whether he would earn an appointment. When Jace received his appointment, the family went out for a celebratory dinner, Staats said.
The family has attended West Point alumni meetings in Houston, Staats said. The West Point alumni system has a tight-knit support system, Staats learned, which he said will be great for Jace.
"Going there is going to be very intense, but I know he will meet every challenge that comes up against him," Staats said. "He's a high achiever and sets his goals high."
Cuero High School Principal Paul Fleener said he is also proud of Jace and is excited he reached his longtime goal.
"Jace is a hard worker; he is caring and compassionate and possesses the qualities people want in our leaders in our country," Fleener said. "He represents what is good in our country."
West Point will be Jace's biggest challenge yet, he said, but an adventure worth taking.
He said he hopes his appointment will inspire others from small towns to strive for the highest.
"The process has humbled me and showed me what kind of person I want to be. I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this," Jace said.