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Longtime friends to become cadets

First slide

When Nathan Vowinkel arrives at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York this summer, a familiar face will be there to greet him — a very familiar face. Vowinkel and fellow student Alex Cummings from Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores have been classmates since attending morning pre-K at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School in Woodbridge years ago. 

Early memories include playing Transformers together and collaborating on a big science fair project in eighth-grade. In elementary school, they were both on “SWAT” team — Students Working for Aquinas Technology. 

“We had these black T-shirts, and any time there was an event, we would set up the projectors and microphones,” said Cummings.

“Any excuse to get out of class,” joked Vowinkel.

Hearing stories from their fathers, who both graduated from West Point, sparked an early desire in them to attend. Cummings rattled off facts about the school’s history and tradition and spoke proudly about its beautiful campus. “I remember talking to you in like sixth- or seventh-grade about West Point,” Cummings said to Vowinkel. “We both had an idea about the Army (and) service.” 

“I just have a sense of duty from my family, because it’s a long line of service,” said Vowinkel. “They were able to instill that patriotism in me that made me want to go.” 

Cummings found out he was accepted to West Point in late January. “I was so happy,” he said. A few weeks later, Vowinkel learned he was accepted, too. “You didn’t tell me,” Cummings said to his friend. “Someone else told me and then the first time I saw you (after that), I gave you a big hug.”

“We embraced,” Vowinkel confirmed. 

Along with other incoming West Point cadets from around the area, the young men have gone on long hikes carrying heavy rucksacks in preparation for a grueling summer of training. Fortunately, four years spent competing on the track and field and cross-country teams have taught them endurance and kept them in shape. Their parents are preparing too — they already have tickets for the upcoming football season. 

Cummings and Vowinkel both want to major in engineering, so odds are they’ll end up in class together again. They’re looking forward to spending time together while navigating their new home. 

“Just having someone you can talk to (will be nice),” said Vowinkel. “(Alex) points me in the right direction. He keeps me in line.”

“Nathan’s really talented in a lot of ways, in art, athletics. He’s a good role model,” said Cummings. “There are traditions we have from middle school and elementary school and high school — just inside jokes and sayings — and now we’ll have traditions at the military academy.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019

@ZoeyMaraistACH