North Summit student, pledging service, heads to West Point
Wyatt Espell had wanted to join the military ever since he had lived in Australia for a few years as a boy and witnessed a stark difference in life there compared to America. Even at a young age, he began to understand how precious the freedoms Americans often take for granted are — and he wanted to defend them.
"It’s just, I really want to protect the country — service before self," he said. "I’ve always wanted to serve and help others."
But it wasn’t until eighth grade that it all came into focus. At a Naval Academy recruiting seminar, a captain divulged advice to Espell that has since stuck with him and has, in many ways, shaped his future.
"He told me that, if I’m interested in this, everything counts and that I need to research all of my options," he said.
To that end, Espell began laboriously studying the military academies, and he began envisioning what life at one of them would be like. He knew, from that point on, that everything he did in high school had to contribute to his efforts to gain entry into one of them.
It’s all been worth it. Espell, a senior at North Summit High School, was recently admitted into the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. He described the moment Mike Lee, the Utah congressman who nominated him — such nominations are required of all military academy hopefuls — called to tell him as a surreal experience.
"I had to ask him three or four times to make sure, like, ‘So I’ve been accepted to West Point?’" Espell said. "I just couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. I had to take a moment and sit, and it was like, ‘No way.’ It was honestly one of the best days of my life."
The phone call was validation for all the hard work he’s put in throughout high school. Espell has loaded his class schedules with advanced courses and has played as many sports as possible each year, all so his credentials would be sterling for the academies.
"I’ve worked as hard as possible because this is what I’ve wanted to do," he said.
Espell will enter the academy well-prepared. He even knows what he wants to study: nuclear engineering. He hopes to become a CBRN officer, commanding the branch of the army that defends against chemical, biological radiological and nuclear weapons.
"If there’s a dirty bomb that goes off, they go in to protect everything and clean stuff up," he said. "Anthrax threats, they deal with that."
He added that he developed an interest in the field while following the Ebola crisis in Africa in 2014.
"I was super interested, and I was reading all the articles about it," he said. "I just love the process that happens when something like that occurs — the process of having to solve it and manage people and keep it contained. I really want to do something like that."
Everyone at North Summit has been supportive of his dream, Espell said. Teachers, who have long known about his ambitions, have done everything they could to prepare him. Friends tell him they are excited to see one of their own accomplish big things. But most important of all has been the backing of his parents.
"My parents have known I wanted to do this forever," he said. "When I first told them, they were a little hesitant, but they just said, ‘Make sure this is something you really want to do because this is going to be the next 12 years of your life at minimum.’ They’ve been very supportive through it."
Espell was eager to point out that he is set to report in exactly 83 days as of Monday. He is looking forward to the camaraderie he will form with other cadets — a valued part of life at West Point — and to finally fulfilling a lifelong dream. He will miss the life he’ll be leaving behind, but he knows it will all be worth it to call West Point home.
"It’s definitely mixed emotions," he said. "But I’m excited because of the stuff I’m going to get to do. I’m going to get to see every facet of military life, which is what I’ve wanted for years."
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