After her family dropped her older brother off at West Point two years ago, Dorothy Dennis was so mad that she swore she would never go to the military academy.
Now, two years later, the 17-year-old recent West Orange High graduate is gearing up to join her brother there and begin her Army career.
“I was mad at them for taking my brother away, and I said, ‘I will never go here, this place is awful!’” Dorothy said. “God really changed my heart over the past couple of years. He was like, ‘Remember that thing you said you were never going to do? You’re gonna do it now!’ Next time I went back I was like, ‘This place is really pretty!’”
Dorothy credits a few influences in her life with helping jump-start her interest in joining the military, her faith and her family among them. Military membership is a sort of family business, she said. Her grandfather went to West Point, where her brother is now, and was an officer in the Air Force. Another grandfather was in the Marine Corps. Her dad attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, and her mom did Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college and was in the Air Force.
"I want to be able to inspire people to dream for greatness." - Dorothy Dennis
Dorothy’s decision to join the military came during her high-school career. On a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on a band trip her freshman year, the seed was planted. Her friend then helped convince her to join the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at school. During JROTC, Dorothy participated in physical training and drill and leadership skills, among other things.
“For so long, I was like, ‘I’ll never go into the military, especially not the Army,’ and then I saw a way I could be a positive influence over people who are really negative when they’re in the Army,” she said. “I want to be able to inspire people to dream for greatness. The Army really cares about people and developing leaders, and they develop teamwork.”
Her faith also played a large role in her decision. Her favorite Bible verse, John 15:13, goes hand-in-hand with a desire to be selfless and have an impact on others’ lives: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
WEST POINT BOUND
Also known as the U.S. Military Academy, West Point’s mission is to “educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.”
Cadets attend the institution for four years, where they train for the military in the summer and work toward their degrees during the academic year.
The application process is an intense, multi-step one that begins with West Point’s Summer Leadership Experience. Each year, about 1,000 rising high-school seniors are selected to attend SLE, where they stay in the barracks and are exposed to the West Point experience.
“I want to be able to influence people in their lives and the soldiers I’ll be leading someday.” - Dorothy Dennis
Dorothy next had to get a congressional nomination to the academy; she applied through U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, as well as for the ROTC and presidential nominations.
“The presidential (nomination) you can only get if your parents were missing in action, killed in action, prisoner of war or retired military, and my dad is retired Air Force, so I got that one, ROTC’s and Webster’s,” Dorothy said.
One of the final steps was participating in a physical fitness test and an exam from the Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board. To prepare for this and basic training — formally called Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training — she credits her dad with making her run with him to get in shape.
“I was a swimmer and played water polo in high school, so running isn’t that great,” she said. “I hate it, but I’ve been running with my dad to get ready for BEAST.”
After all of that, she finally found out in late January that she had been accepted to West Point.
“They try to make it a surprise,” Dorothy said. “Daniel Webster came to my school and presented me the award. I was really excited, and one of my sisters FaceTimed in from Nairobi, so it was pretty cool that she got to FaceTime in for that. It was kind of shocking, and I was like, ‘I’m actually going to BEAST.’”
At West Point, Dorothy plans to study some type of engineering, and she said West Point is known for its engineering program. Once she graduates, she also will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. She has the next four years to decide her specialization within the Army. Currently, she is considering aviation or infantry.
“They’re excited, proud and sometimes more excited than I am,” she said of her family’s reaction to her joining the Army. “I want to be able to influence people in their lives and the soldiers I’ll be leading someday.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].