Prairie Ridge High School senior Abby Mann’s acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is an achievement in and of itself.
Fewer than one applicant in five manages to get accepted. Unlike the other four U.S. military service academies, entrance is based solely on merit, and does not require a nomination from a member of Congress or being the child of career military personnel.
Mann, who credits her interest in the Coast Guard in part to her job as a lifeguard at the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago, ships out this summer for a four-year stint at the New London, Conn., academy. Upon her commission as an ensign, she will owe five years of service, but the Coast Guard proudly points out that 85 percent of graduates stay longer.
Northwest Herald Senior Reporter Kevin Craver, who as an Army infantryman has always had a preference for land over water, took some time to talk to the Crystal Lake resident about the decision she made.
Craver: How did you connect with the Coast Guard Academy?
Mann: It was just a part of my college search last year, looking around and weighing my options, and I stumbled across the Coast Guard. The Academy, for me, fit into my personal ambitions. Everything about the Academy really appealed to me. I love how the school is challenging academically and physically. And I have the option to serve my country. I really like that.
Craver: Did you visit the school?
Mann: I did. Every summer they do an academy experience program. I went to the Academy for a week last summer. It was really surprising for me – it wasn’t so much a college visit as it was boot camp. It was really intense.
All of us “AIMsters” [slang for the kids in the week-long Academy Introduction Mission], had to go through a week of training where they treat you like swabs. That was really hard. But when I came back from that – since I survived (laughs) – it showed me that maybe I was strong enough to go to school there.
Craver: When did you get accepted?
Mann: I got accepted on my birthday – Nov. 6. But they give you until May, a long time, to see if you want to go. I gave it a few months, until after Christmas break, to make my decision. After Christmas break, I decided I was ready to accept.
Craver: And unlike other colleges, they pay you.
Mann: Yeah. That was a good selling point.
Craver: You made a good choice. A college degree from a U.S. military academy is gold-plated when it comes to getting a job if and when you return to civilian life. Any idea on your major?
Mann: I’m majoring in marine and environmental science.
Craver: Is there any kind of military tradition in your family?
Mann: Both of my grandfathers were in the Army, and my brother is in Navy ROTC at Iowa State.
Craver: So two of the three Mann children are going to be swabbies. What about the youngest? Any peer pressure?
Mann: She doesn’t want to do that. She’s saying no to the whole military thing.
Craver: If your career moves faster than your older brother’s, he’ll have to salute you.
Mann: That would be great. I would love that.
Craver: It’s four years away, but have you given any thought to your duty station?
Mann: I’ve been to California, Florida, I love the ocean, I love the coasts. I’ll have a better idea when I’m a senior
Craver: Piece of advice – don’t rule out Alaska, and I’m not just saying that because my wife and I watch “Coast Guard Alaska.” I’ve been there, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Mann: I will definitely consider that, that’s for sure.
Craver: Congratulations, and thank you for serving your country. When you become a veteran, you’ve accomplished something that makes you a little prouder, makes you stand a little taller. Don’t ever forget that.
The Mann lowdown
Who is she? Abby Mann, Sage YMCA lifeguard and future U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet
Family? Parents, Doug and Michelle; older brother, Andrew; younger sister, Elly.
Last book read? “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Favorite movie? The Lord of the Rings trilogy