Gilroy graduates headed to top U.S. military schools

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Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy  (GECA) seniors, from left,Timothy Garber, 18, headed to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD; Charles Keith, 17, appointed to the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, and AJ Mannino, who will study at the U.S.

GILROY—A pair of young high school men just graduated in Gilroy is headed to West Point and Annapolis and another has his heart set on following soon.
Their goals are for active duty or careers in the military as SEALS, in aviation and engineering and as an Army doctor.
The trio was graduated from the Gilroy Unified School District’s 231-student TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy, or GECA, a special program that allows highly motivated students to attend high school and college at the same time.
They, and one other who was not accepted, are the first graduates in the school’s seven-year history to apply to the elite military academies and two are the first accepted, said GECA principal Sonia Flores.
“We are very proud of them, they worked really hard to accomplish what they did,” she said. “Each one sought out their nomination from their (U.S. Congressional) Representative and that is not an was easy task; it shows their perseverance.”
The three are Timothy Garber, 18, of Gilroy, appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis; Charles Keith, 17, of Hollister, appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point; and AJ Mannino, 18, of Gilroy, accepted to the United States Maritime Academy after missing an appointment to Annapolis.
Keith also was accepted to Annapolis and was a dual graduate, earing his high school diploma from GECA while simultaneously earning his AA degree from Gavilan Community College.
While the academies’ application process was rigorous, the three said it was what they’ve wanted and for some a long time dream.
“Military service has always been in the back of my mind, to serve my country,” said Keith, adding his father and uncle both served in the U.S. Army.
Garber said it was a book about the SEALS, the elite Navy fighting teams, that inspired him. And while interested in studying cyber security, he also is open to naval aviation, special ops, surface warfare and service on a nuclear submarine.
And for Mannino, “I read the American Sniper and it really inspired me…it became my dream to go to the Naval Academy” and maybe become a SEAL.
His grandfather was in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War, and Mannino said that if he gets into Annapolis he’d consider the Marine Corps option upon graduation.
Mannino said he was “disappointed by not devastated” when he learned he was not accepted like his classmates to Annapolis. But the academy has encouraged him to reapply and that’s the plan once he has spent time in the marine engineering program at the maritime academy. That school, while not an official U.S. military college, offers rigorous coursework to train ships’ captains, engineers and others for the nation’s commercial fleet and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Less than half of the 22,000 who want to apply to the military schools are invited to apply and only six percent of those receive appointments, Mannino said.
As for their parents, the trio said all have been supportive, with the mom’s a bit more fearful about what it all means.
Keith has set a goal for himself of attending medical school after West Point. If that works out, he’ll make the Army a career, he said.
But medical school is not automatic, even for a graduate of storied West Point. From among the one thousand or so graduates each year, eight are offered the opportunity for medical school at the Army’s expense, he said.
As for the lads’ legacy at GECA, they have made their mark.
“It’s what their dream was and they made it come true,” said Marcy Ratliff, GECA’s counselor and the one the trio said was indispensible as they went though the difficult application process.
The three also praised GECA as a school and it’s staff—and noted the school’s unique approach became a challenge in the application process.
”We definitely had to explain what GECA is all about,” said Keith.
He added, “It’s pretty amazing anyone from GECA applied, and that we actually got in,” given that so many applicants come from large, traditional high school and some with amazing sports programs that can help propel applications, he said.
“Explaining how GECA is different was a challenge,” agreed Mannino. “But two out of four applicants got in. Our class was the first to apply,” he said. “I’m kind of proud of what we’ve done; I hope it stays on as a tradition.”

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