When Richmond Hill's Zack Jones reports to the Air Force Academy this fall, it'll be the latest step in a journey he's had planned since his days in elementary school.
“This is my lifelong dream,” Jones, 18, said. “Second grade is when I can remember telling people I want to go to the Air Force Academy and be a fighter pilot.”
Jones said was sitting in Richmond Hill High School teacher Sharon Worsham’s class taking a test when Wallace Ingram, the school counselor for the class of 2014, convinced her to let him talk to a student.
Jones said went into the hallway and “he (Ingram) said he got a call from Jack Kingston’s office, the secretary said I got an appointment to the Air Force Academy.”
Actually, Jones received primary nominations from both House Representative Jack Kingston and Senator Isakson.
“Jack Kingston actually called me,” Jones said, “It was the Friday night right before the seafood festival, it was like 10 at night, and I get a call from this random number and I missed it the first time and then it calls me again. And so I thought “I guess somebody calling me twice at 10 at night, it must be important,” I answer it, its Jack Kingston saying he’s giving me a nomination.”
“I was ecstatic,” he said, “I mean that’s one of the big things you need to go”
Jones said he found out about Isakson’s nomination just by checking his application page for Kingston’s. He saw it said nomination received and then saw it said Senator Isakson.
“I was like, “what, I didn’t know I got that,”” he said.
Jones said he is most excited about all the different experiences available to him at the academy. He knows the first year will be tough, especially next summer when he will be at a duty station and in school for part of the summer.
“So once you get all the hard stuff out of the way, it’s a lot of travelling. I think it will be interesting to go see everything,” he said
Jones aid he is probably most nervous about the first day of basic.
“I’ve never been in that type of atmosphere where everything you do is wrong and everyone is in your face. I know it will be worth it," he said.
Jones said he would like to thank his parents for pushing him throughout his life.
“They’ve pushed me to work harder, from a younger age, and having that foundation by the time I got to high school where everything you do counts for college it wasn’t that hard to put myself in all the tough classes and do the work without being told to, so I’d defiantly like to thank them.”
He would also like to thank Sergeant Blanks and the ROTC at RHHS. He said Blanks always pushed him to do better, which gave him a lot of experiences that demonstrated he could be a leader, and helped him get to where he is today.
It was his leadership opportunities that Jones felt set his application apart from others applying for the academy. He was a first sergeant in JROTC and at a JROTC summer camp at Parris Island, so he was second in control of a large group of people.
“All those opportunities and experiences I had showed that I know what I’m doing, I can demonstrate leadership, to an extent, and its not going to be something new that’s thrown at me later on.”
Jones said for those applying to any academy, “first of all, you need to want this yourself not have someone else want it for you just because it’s a free school, you have got to want it, otherwise you are not going to make it through.”
“If you want to go there straight after high school you need to start early,” Jones said and “take all the hardest classes you can, get yourself put in a leadership position multiple times, be involved in clubs, sports and stay in shape. You got to be well rounded, everything you can think of, you got to do that.”
Jones took all the advanced placement courses he could fit into his schedule while being involved in track, cross-country, raiders, and the National Honor Society. He also volunteered at his church.
Jones is one two students from RHHS attending the Air Force Academy in the fall and plans on majoring in aerospace engineering. Others attending the Air Force Academy this year are RHHS' Amanda Elliott and Bryan County High School's Melissa Campbell.
In addition, RHHS' Alexis Elliott is attending the Naval Academy Preparatory School and expects to be at the Naval Academy next fall.