Military academy dreams nearly shattered

2013-05-27T20:00:00Z 2013-05-28T18:48:04Z Military academy dreams nearly shatteredLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

CALUMET CITY | When Brayden Banske visited his big sister at the U.S. Naval Academy, he made it his goal to follow in her footsteps.

"Courtney went through, and when I started to visit campus, it just amazed me," the Bishop Noll Institute senior said. "I was just in love."

Banske, 17, of Calumet City, applied to the academy in his junior year, took the fitness assessment and asked his congressman, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., to nominate him for admission.

"We were already communicating with his office, then we just opened the newspaper one day and it said Jackson resigned," Banske said. "We were just floored."

Without a nomination, the application could not go through for consideration.

"My Dad called the head of his office to see how I could still get the nomination," Banske said. "As more and more people found out, they tried to help through their political connections."

Banske sought nominations from U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., but they had already reached their annual limits for military academy nominations.

He then approached U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, asking if he could intervene because Bishop Noll is within his district. The academy told the congressman that would not be possible.

Because a military academy can seek nominations from the vice president, Banske tried that option and received a nomination from Vice President Joe Biden.

But the vice presidential seal of approval wasn't enough. He wasn't accepted.

Banske then set his sights on West Point.

In his letter to the admissions office at West Point, Banske explained the lack of a congressman to make a nomination.

"I am used to things not being easy and having to work harder than everyone else," Banske wrote in the letter, noting he is captain of a high school swim team without a pool and on a track team with no outdoor track.

"So the fact that I am trying to get a nomination to West Point in a district without a congressman is just another day at the office for me," he wrote.

The day after Robin Kelly won the primary election for Jackson's seat, Banske penned a letter to her explaining his circumstances and seeking her assistance if she won the general election.

"She took up this issue fast, and sent the nomination to West Point right after she was elected," Banske said.

Biden nominated Banske for admission to West Point as well.

Banske had to wait for a response from West Point. While waiting, he retook standardized tests -- five times for the SAT -- to keep improving his scores and updating his application.

His family registered him at the New Mexico Military Institute, a prep school used to feed military academies, and sent the deposit in case he didn't get accepted to West Point.

Then, at 8 a.m. on May 1, his father -- Calumet City Deputy Fire Chief Rich Banske -- opened an email with the response they had hoped for.

"Congratulations! We got your nomination just in time and last night the Admissions Committee approved your offer of admission to West Point," it read.

The elder Banske called his son at school with the news.

"Oh, he was excited," Brayden said. "It was just like a shock."

His father said he shed a few tears when he called Brayden.

"It was something he worked hard for for so long," Rich Banske said. "We in the family were all up and down with him through the process, and it is a grueling process."

Because the process was delayed so many times, Brayden had just three days to respond to the offer. He reports July 1 to West Point for a six-week summer training program before classes begin.

His sister Courtney, a 2008 graduate of Bishop Noll, is 22. She is in her first of five years of military service required upon graduation from a military academy.

She may be finishing her service when her brother graduates from West Point.

Rich Banske said he wonders how many other kids may have missed out on an opportunity to attend a military academy due to Jackson's resignation. Each member of congress may nominate 10 kids from the district each year for each of the nation's three military academies.

He said he knows of one other south suburban applicant to the U.S. Naval Academy who did not get accepted due to a lack of a congressional nomination.

"If these kids didn't follow through and take chances, who knows," he said. "These kids may have decided to try again or they may have given up their dream all together."

Now that Brayden will be attending West Point, his father says it will make for an interesting rivalry among the siblings.

"It's going to make Army-Navy week really fun at the Banske house," Rich Banske said with a laugh. "The only things in my house that say 'West Point' have the word 'Beat" in front of it right now."

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