HUNTLEY – Austin Wise had to wade through numerous applications and seek the nomination of a congressman, but he eventually inched closer to his dream of being a pilot for the armed services.
After a six-month application process, Wise, a recent 18-year-old graduate from Huntley High School, received news this spring that he was accepted into the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The federal service academy in Kings Point, N.Y., produces a select hundred of licensed Merchant Marine officers each year.
Wise will join about 250 freshmen at the academy this year. Each applicant received a nomination from their local congressman. Wise traveled to Rockford for an interview with staffers at former Congressman Don Manzullo’s office, while submitting applications from the academy and the U.S. Defense Department.
For Wise, the acceptance was a product of hard work to achieve his dream of being a pilot. He plans to study marine engineering and pursue a flight role in the academy to receive training and certification as a pilot.
Beginning in May 2011, Wise got a feel for flying as a member of the Lake in the Hills Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary squadron of the U.S. Air Force. He quickly climbed the ranks of the patrol, moving from cadet to first lieutenant.
Wise traveled to Kings Point earlier this month to start orientation and boot camp. He sat down with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto to discuss the academy and his passion for flying.
Di Benedetto: What do you hope to get out of the academy and the experience?
Wise: I want to fly first off. That’s one of the biggest things, but hopefully I can be a little more disciplined. I feel too that it builds a good person, good character and a good leader. I feel like it would be a great career to fly for the armed services. I think it opens quite a few doors.
Di Benedetto: What motivated you to apply to the Merchant Marine Academy?
Wise: My grandfather graduated from the academy in 1972, and he would always talk about it and joke around about it since I was a kid. It was a joke at some point, but as it went on, I started looking at my different options. It seemed like something I wanted to do. I was applying for that and the Air Force Academy, and I figured it would probably be easier to get into the Merchant Marine Academy for me. Plus, my grandfather loved it, and he’s probably more nuts about it than I am.
Di Benedetto: Do you know where this passion for flying came from?
Wise: I have no idea. I was told when I was a kid that it was planes and trains that I was interested in. My grandpa thought I was going to drive a train for like eight years, then I switched to flying. My great-uncle flew for United [Airlines] for a long time. When he retired, he joked that he left the plane in Gate G8 in Atlanta for me when I finally get there.
Di Benedetto: You clearly are involved with the Civil Air Patrol and military service. Why do you want to pursue a career in the military?
Wise: Flying is part of it. But at the same time, I feel like I have an obligation to. I feel like I need to. I don’t where that came from or why, but I feel like have an obligation to serve my country.
The Austin Wise lowdown
Age and school: An 18-year-old graduate of Huntley High School
Favorite hobby not involving the Civil Air Patrol: Active in student government and technical theater in high school
Favorite movie: “Star Wars”