Tim Wilson’s decision to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy is no real surprise.
Wilson, who graduated Saturday from , comes from a family deeply rooted in the military.
His father, Greg, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate like his father before him, served in the Navy for five years including as a navigator on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. Wilson’s grandfather was awarded a bronze star in World War II and served in the Korean War, while his maternal grandfather served in the Canadian Navy.
Even so, this was a choice Wilson made for himself separate from his family.
“My goal in life was always to serve in the military,” Wilson said. “Personally, I realized it’s not to impress my Dad. This is something I always wanted to do.”
Proving He Belongs
Wilson was one of about 1,300 students selected from 60,000 applicants for admission each year to the Air Force Academy. Candidates are selected based upon criteria such as grades, college entrance exam scores, community service, leadership, athletic participation and a nomination from their congressman, senator or the vice president of the United States.
Wilson was nominated by 10th Congressional District Rep. Robert Dold, and received additional recommendations from Lake Forest High School counselor Megan Miles, math teacher Laura Gibson, English teacher Jane Eccleston and varsity football coach Chuck Spagnoli.
Although broad-shouldered and muscular, managed to snag the starting position at cornerback during his senior year of football. What Wilson lacked in stature he more than made up for with hard work, a trait he said his parents taught him.
“I base my success on hard work,” Wilson said. “For example, in football I’m usually the smallest kid on the team, but I find a way to start on the team by hard work.”
Born in Chicago, of the city a couple of times before finally winding up in his junior year. In California, he was captain of the football team his freshman and sophomore years and of the basketball team his sophomore year.
He continued to play football and ran track his junior and senior years at Lake Forest High School. He was a member of the school’s Men’s Club where he was involved in community service and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Greg Wilson believes that Tim’s success is tied to being the oldest of three children. He also has a brother, Chris, 16, who played on the football team, and a sister Amy, 15.
“He’s your classic first-born — very conscientious, a very hard worker and always looking out for others, wanting his sibling to do well,” Greg said.
Air Force vs. Navy
Wilson remains undecided at this point about what he will major in, but he is sure about one thing — fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot, a dream fueled in part by the many opportunities he was able to fly courtesy of his mother Margie’s job as a flight attendant for United Airlines.
However, given Wilson’s family ties to the Navy, you might expect him to be partial to travel by ship. Not so. After being turned down by the Naval Academy, he weighed a scholarship offer from the University of San Diego’s NROTC program, which would have required eight years of service with the Navy upon graduation, in addition to the offer from the Air Force Academy.
His active duty commitment after graduating from the Air Force Academy is a minimum of five years unless he completes the specialized undergraduate pilot training, which requires a 10-year active-duty commitment.
Margie Wilson was impressed with the Air Force Academy after a visit to the campus with her son but chose, along with her husband, not to influence his decision. They opted instead to take the advice given to parents on that visit.
“They told us, ‘We feel we do a great job selecting kids that make it through. There’s a small number that don’t and they all have something in common. They are here for somebody else. They didn’t make the decision, so as hard as it is, let them make the decision,’ ” said Margie.
Only time will tell why the door opened with the Air Force Academy, but not the Naval Academy.
Wilson’s father Greg noted, “In the end, we think it’s a better fit for him.”
But the former Navy man still struggled when ordering an Air Force Academy cap online for himself. “When it finally arrived I tried to put it on, but then I said no, maybe it’s too soon,” he said with a chuckle.
Tim already has exhibited leadership traits that could prove critical in potentially life-threatening situations Wilson may encounter during active service. It’s a sobering reality for which Tim said he’s prepared. So are his parents.
“I think we all believe the United Stated is the greatest place to live,” Greg said. “It’s our way to say thanks for that freedom. The military seems to be our route to pay back for that opportunity. You put it in God’s hands. They’re well-trained, they’re going to do the best they can and I think we’re very comfortable with that. The military is a fantastic organization. It really is. You can think of everything they accomplish when the average age of the whole military is probably 21 or 22 years old.”
Margie Wilson recalled the words of an Air Force colonel, who addressed parents during their visit to the campus.
“He said, ‘you’re not going to get the same kid back that you drop off here in June. We’re teaching them to be leaders. These are going to be the future leaders.’”
Tim leaves for the Air Force Academy on June 27 and immediately will undergo six weeks of basic training. He plans to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“I want to make good on this great opportunity I’ve been given,” Tim said.
Like his father, grandfather and generations of Wilson men before him, the younger Wilson’s love of country inspires him to make his contribution.
“Whenever I hear the national anthem, I feel a great sense of pride,” Tim said. “I live in the greatest country in the world.”