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Ionia High School senior Garrett Siemen beats the odds, gains acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy

By Steve Gunn
IPS News Service

IONIA - It’s very difficult to gain acceptance to any of the United States military academies

The competition is stiff, and every year thousands of outstanding high school seniors around the nation apply but are turned away.

That’s why Ionia High School senior Garrett Siemen was thrilled about a week ago, when he got an early hint that he was about to gain acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The hint came from the office of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who recommended Siemen for consideration. Then the formal notification came on Thursday.

Garrett Siemen, Ionia  High School senior, will study at  the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Siemen will report for cadet training at the academy on June 25, beginning a journey that he hopes will lead to a long and meaningful career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

“It was the most excited I’ve been in a really long time,” Siemen said. “I thought I had a pretty good chance, but they have a really low acceptance rate.”

Siemen had to go through a long, involved application process to gain the appointment to the academy.

“I had to fill out and turn in a lot of forms, write three essays, take a physical test, then there was an interview with a retired officer,” he said.

Siemen said he decided to apply for the Air Force Academy because he thought that branch of the service best matched his talents and interests.

“They are focused on research and development there, and that’s what I really want to do,” said Siemen, who added that he will probably study aerospace engineering or astronautical engineering.

Siemen will be carrying on a long family tradition of military service, going back four generations. He will also be following in the footsteps of his father, Brian Siemen, who served for seven years in the U.S. Army.

“My dad taught me a lot about what the military is like, and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” he said.

He will be the first in his family to gain acceptance to a military academy, a fact that means a lot to his father, who is a member of the Ionia school board, and his mother Melissa Kusack.

“Both of my parents were really excited,” Siemen said. “They were almost crying.”

U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

An outstanding record of achievement in high school obviously helped Siemen beat out the crowded field of candidates.

He has one of the highest grade point averages in this year’s senior class, his SAT test score was in the top four percent in the nation,

He is president of the IHS chapter of the National Honor Society, and serves as he student representative on the school board.

He has been very active in the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) program.

At the 2019 Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society (MITES) competition, his 3D printed work earned first place in districts and second in the state.

Siemen is also the technology manager for the high school theater program, bass drum subsection leader for the high school marching band, and has been a member of the basketball, track and cross country teams.

“I thought he was a formidable candidate, but it is just such a small college, and extremely difficult to get into, so you never know,” said Ionia High School Principal Ben Gurk, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “The Air Force Academy has a 12 percent acceptance rate. They only take about 1,000 applicants per year, so this is an extremely significant accomplishment.”

Siemen said he plans to take a skydiving course at the academy. Once he jumps five times he can earn his wings, and receive them in a special ceremony.

That will give him another special connection to his father, who was a paratrooper in the Army. Siemen said he wants to get pinned by his dad, with his dad’s wings instead of his own, when he graduates from the course.

“It’s just something that would be really cool for both of us,” Siemen said. “Being a paratrooper was really important to him, so it would be an honor for me.”