One of my great privileges is nominating Idaho students to our nation’s service academies.

This year, I nominated 19 students to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.

Every year, we hold a ceremony to celebrate these fine young people. Today, I’d like to share the stories of three nominees and pay tribute to two people who have spent years helping applicants succeed.

Ariana Evdokimo attends Skyview High School in Nampa and is nominated to the Air Force Academy. Two of her uncles were pilots, one in the Air Force, one a civil aviator.

Ariana caught the bug to fly attending the famous Reno Air Show with her parents, Andy Evdokimo and Wendy Nichols. “It’s like NASCAR for planes,” said Ariana, who saw her first show at 4, with ear protection.

Ariana considered enlisting but decided to go to college, play rugby, and serve her country. “It’s all wrapped up with my goals for what I want to do in life,” she said. If she isn’t selected at Air Force, she plans to attend Boise State University or the University of Idaho.

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(Ariana Evdokimo, with her parents, Andy Edvokimo and Wendy Nichols, after the Feb. 21 ceremony at Gowen Field)

Alissa Nalewajko, a senior at Eagle High School, has already been accepted at Air Force. She is the daughter of Derek and Suzanne Nalewajko. Her dad was a Navy pilot, serving 20 years.

Alissa is leaning toward Air Force, but also has been nominated to the Naval and Merchant Marine academies. Her academic record could have won her admission to many excellent colleges, but she aspires to meet the highest standards.

“I like the idea of not just the academic challenge, but the mental and physical challenge as well,” she said. “It’s definitely the harder decision to make right off the bat, but I think in the long run I’ll be better off for it.”

Kyle Almeida of Sandpoint High School has been nominated to the Naval Academy. His father, Flavio, served in the Navy and a grandfather was in the Air Force.

Service is important to Kyle. “In my school, I like to help people out. It’s something I strive for, every day and every year, to help as many people as I can – because if I’m building them up, then they can build others up, and it helps everyone.”

I’m proud to say that Judy Morbeck, a retired principal who coordinates academy nominations for my office, has spent her life building up young people.  Judy will be retiring at the end this year, and we are grateful for the great work she has done for our office and the people of Idaho.

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(Judy Morbeck worked with Kyle Almeida and other students seeking academy nominations)

“I love seeing these young people who are so accomplished and are going to be our next leaders,” Judy said. “It renews your faith because these nominees are just amazing.”

Also retiring is Lt. Col. Albert Gomez, a West Point grad who has worked as the West Point Field Force State Coordinator in Idaho.

For 20 years, Gomez worked with nominees and helped establish Idaho’s annual Military Service Academy Days, where students and parents meet with counselors, military liaisons, cadets, midshipmen and congressional staff.

Academy Days were held early this month in Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene, but two are upcoming: April 7 in Boise and April 14 in Pocatello. For more information, click here.

Military service is an unmatched opportunity. I am grateful to the students who stand up ready to serve, to the families who raised them and people like Judy and Al offering a helping hand. May God bless the fine young Americans ready to defend America.