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McKeon honors appointees

Community: Sixteen young men and women head to U.S. service academies

Posted: June 20, 2010 10:45 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, left, shakes hands with United States Naval Academy appointee Justin Shelton at a service academy recognition luncheon held in the Century Room at Santa Clarita City Hall on Saturday.

A military lifestyle changed Justin Shelton before the Valencia teen even decided to pursue a career in the service.

His parents sent him off to military camp his summer after junior high school, not knowing if he’d make it through. Weeks passed and, to their surprise, they didn’t receive any letters from Justin pleading for a bailout.

“He took to the military life like a duck takes to water,” said his mother, Tracey Shelton. “He really adapted and loved every bit of it.”

Justin said he liked having a drill instructor, enjoyed the structure and “developed a real knack for marching in drill.” Now, the 19-year-old is sure he wants to serve his country and follow the example of his father, a U.S. Marine.

His parents will send him off again in the fall — this time to the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, recognized Shelton and 15 other young people Saturday as appointees from the 25th Congressional District to U.S. service academies.

Representatives from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and U.S. Naval Academy joined McKeon in honoring the appointees at the congressman’s annual academy luncheon.

“To get into these academies these days, it not only takes a family but it takes several years for these students to get to the point where they can even be considered,” said Tom Dierckman, special assistant to McKeon.

Students are chosen on the merits of their grade point averages, extracurricular activities, leadership roles and community involvement.

“We had a kid that was a 4.0 (grade point average) football player that was turned down,” McKeon said. “This is very competitive.”

The congressman presented the academy appointees with U.S. flags and certificates of recognition.

Cadet David Dunkel of the U.S. Air Force Academy instructed the appointees to keep a positive attitude, even when they don’t think they have one more pushup left in them. Dunkel, of Valencia, was in the appointees’ spot one year ago.

Deciding whether to go down for one more pushup under the command of a drill sergeant will be the hardest and easiest decision they’ll have to make, Dunkel said.

“It’s easy because you don’t have any other options, but it’s hard because you don’t think you have that option,” he said. “Those limits, they shatter, before you even know that they’re there.”

Four years at Marine Military Academy in Texas and a year at Naval Academy Preparatory School have given Justin a glimpse of what lies ahead.

He is not quite sure what service path he wants to take yet, he said. But his dream is to work as an engineer on cutting-edge technology for the Navy or Marines.

Justin’s father, Kevin Shelton, welled up as he thanked the congressman for the recognition.

“God, I’m going to miss (Justin),” he said. “But the academy is making men and women out of them and bringing them back to us strong.”


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