- Associated Press - Sunday, June 17, 2018

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Most Americans have heard of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado, is also nationally renowned.

But the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point, New York, is often overlooked, according to David Witte, a military and Veterans Affairs representative for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-District 4, of Hot Springs.

“Last year, Arkansas was one of two states in the union that did not have a single student go into the Merchant Marine Academy,” Witte said in a recent interview, repeating what he said he’d been told by an academy representative.

This year’s incoming class will have at least two Arkansas residents, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reported .

Andrew Pequignot, 18, who graduated May 26 from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, found out earlier this spring that he’d been accepted.

Cole Eddins of Fort Smith also will be attending. In April, the Northside High School senior signed to play with the academy’s football team.

Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs, said he is pleased that Arkansas will be represented and hopeful that other constituents will follow.

“All the academies are top-notch, and these are some of America’s best and brightest that get chosen to go there,” he said.

Physically fit students with good ACT scores, strong grades and plenty of extracurricular activities need to know about the nation’s five service academies, Westerman said. (The fifth, the United States Coast Guard Academy, is in New London, Connecticut.)

“We’re trying to do a better job with high school counselors to get the word out,” he said. “I think there are opportunities out there that some of our students in Arkansas just don’t realize exist.”

Pequignot, the son of William Pequignot and Denise Dankert, is an Eagle Scout, a mountain biking instructor and plays the French horn. He hopes to play for the Merchant Marine Academy band.

His father also attended the academy, he said in an email.

“I visited USMMA, studied all about it, and got lots of stories from my father,” Pequignot wrote. “I loved what I found.”

“I plan to go into the Navy or the Maritime Industry with a Marine Engineering Systems degree for a few years and then just see where life takes me,” he wrote. “Getting … to travel the world and study in a big place far from home does not scare me but it excites me. I have lived in Arkansas since 1st grade and I would love to get to know new people and have new experiences.”

Corey Alderdice, director at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, said his school encourages students to aim high.

“In the case of our students, we look for that chance to match ability with opportunity,” he said.

When students are considering service academies, the school recommends reviewing all the options.

“It’s great when they see the full set of institutions, not just a handful,” Alderdice said.

The Merchant Marine Academy, located about 10 miles northeast of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, is a relatively recent creation.

West Point was founded in 1802. The Naval Academy originated in 1845. The Coast Guard Academy began in 1876. The Merchant Marine Academy was launched in 1943, in the midst of World War II.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 said merchant mariners would help to “provide shipping service on all routes essential for maintaining the flow of … domestic and foreign waterborne commerce at all times.” They also would be “capable of serving as a naval and military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.”

During World War II, merchant mariners helped ensure the flow of goods overseas, despite the threats posed by German and Japanese ships, submarines and bombers.

In 2016, an article in Smithsonian Magazine labeled merchant mariners “the unsung heroes of World War II,” saying they “kept the Allied troops armed and fed while at the mercy of German U-boats.”

Merchant mariners also had a higher casualty rate than any other branch of the services, it added.

Today, some graduates of Kings Point go on to serve as merchant mariners. Others become officers in one of the other military branches, Witte said.

All of them can walk away with college degrees, debt-free.

“It’s a good education. It is free,” Witte said.


Information from: The Sentinel-Record, http://www.hotsr.com

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