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Local student sets sights on West Point

Northeastern’s Rachel Parker earns spot in leadership immersion program.

At Northeastern High School, incoming senior Rachel Parker carries a 4.0 grade-point average and cried the first time she took the ACT and scored a 28.

The local student who is captain in two sports and who lettered in three, plus played the lead in the spring musical and was named the county fair’s 2010 Lamb Princess, retook the ACT and got a 33.

She’s going to take it again.

It’s all in her quest to win acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the 211-year-old institution that has only been graduating women since 1980.

The 17-year-old increased her odds this month by being selected from more than 4,000 high school juniors to attend West Point’s annual Summer Leaders Experience, a weeklong immersion in cadet life for 500 students.

“Everyone’s captain of their sport,” Parker said. “You’ve never been around such a group of accomplished people.”

Parker was notified of her acceptance into the competitive summer seminar, which ran last week, this past March after applying to attend the academy itself after graduation.

“I ran around the house screaming for a couple of minutes,” she joked.

Next week, Parker is off to Buckeye Girls State at the University of Mount Union in Alliance. The 67-year-old program, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary of Ohio, serves as a crash course in government and leadership.

She knows her acceptance into West Point still isn’t a given. The competition will be fierce.

Parker said she recently met a girl who’s a part of West Point’s incoming class. The girl, Parker noted, is a nationally ranked archer and has a pilot’s license.

“Everyone’s amazing,” Parker said. “These people are insane.”

The Summer Leaders Experience is similar to a summer camp, only instead of skeet shooting, they participated in a virtual combat simulation wielding M4 rifles. And, instead of s’mores, they sampled MREs.

“It was amazing. I loved it,” said Parker, explaining how every day started with a mile or two run at 5 in the morning.

Classes in social and behavioral sciences and history were supplemented by visits from Special Forces personnel who showed off several generations of night-vision goggles.

Parker doesn’t come from a military family, but Jill Parker is impressed by her eldest daughter’s desire to serve in the military.

Rachel Parker said she will do ROTC at a regular college if she doesn’t get into one of the service academies. West Point graduates are required to serve five years of active duty in the Army after graduation.

“To take that intelligence and want to use it to serve the country, there isn’t anything more you could ask,” Jill Parker said. “At some point, the worry will set in. Luckily, there will be a few years of schooling before she’s in harm’s way.”

But, even though the Pentagon in January removed the last remaining barriers to women in direct ground combat — clearing the way for them to begin serving in artillery, armor, infantry and special operations units by 2016 — Rachel Parker is more interested in pursuing an intelligence career. She’d like to one day work for the CIA.

“They set you up so well for success through the academies,” Rachel Parker said. “You have the resume that no one else has. You can say you attended West Point and people will turn their heads.”

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