CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — It’s been just two years since Clarksburg native Alex Altenburg achieved a distinction few others share.
Altenburg, a 2017 graduate of Notre Dame High School, was admitted to all four U.S. service academies — the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the United States Air Force Academy — ultimately choosing to attend USNA in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Honestly Annapolis was a pretty easy choice for me. I loved the Naval Academy, just going and visiting there, I loved the town of Annapolis, and I liked all the options you have to serve after graduation,” now Midshipman 3rd Class Altenburg said. “I felt like the Naval Academy provided the biggest variety of service assignments in terms of being able to commission into both the Navy and the Marine Corps because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do at the time, so I wanted to leave my options open and I’m definitely glad I did that.”
Now halfway through his second year at the academy, Altenburg has chosen a major of aerospace engineering and hopes to take to the sky upon graduation.
“I want to fly. I’m not sure exactly who I want to fly for in terms of flying for the Navy or flying for the Marine Corps. That’s still up in the air,” he said.
Having made it through year one at the Academy, which he said was not at all what he expected, Altenburg said the biggest adjustment was sleep.
“We were getting up a little bit after 5 o’clock every morning and going out and working out. Then we had to report to class directly after that,” he said. “You didn’t have anywhere near as much autonomy as I had high school senior year, so you’re coming in there, you’re losing that and in a lot of ways you’re just being pushed around.”
Of course that’s because freshman year — or as the Academies call Plebe Year — is to learn to become a follower.
“To be able to be a leader, you have to be a follower first,” Altenburg said.
With half of his sophomore year under his belt, Altenburg said he’s gaining more responsibility.
“This year we just have a lot more freedom, and you start having some basic leadership roles,” he said. “We’re each assigned a plebe, and our job is kind of to mentor them and help guide them through the first year.”
And sleep’s a bit easier now too, Altenburg said.
“This year it’s 6:30, so I feel like I’m sleeping in now,” he said. “My friends at regular college will tell me that I’m out of my mind when I say that I’m sleeping in.”
Now, Altenburg speaks to prospective candidates about the Naval Academy and its admissions process. In fact, he was even granted an extended Thanksgiving break to do so in his hometown.
The process begins with a nomination from either your U.S. Senator or your U.S. Representative — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito for West Virginia, U.S. Rep. David McKinley for his home of Clarksburg.
“I was fortunate enough to get nominations from all of them to the various service academies,” Altenburg said. “I had to split that up because of doing all four of the academies.”
He’s also been sharing the news of USNA’s “Summer Seminar” program, a six-day long semi-military program held in Annapolis each summer.
“You get to explore the grounds and some of the basic life of a midshipman,” Altenburg said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people who are looking into the academy but aren’t really sure which route they want to take yet, or if you’re trying to decide between the different academies.”
The application process for that program, which takes place for rising seniors this June, opens Jan. 3.
Though the Summer Seminar application also serves as the preliminary application to the U.S. Naval Academy, those who choose to move forward with their applications will also have to submit their ACT scores, GPA and resume, as well as complete an interview with a Blue and Gold Officer, Altenburg said.
“That person may or may not be a graduate of the Academy and they come and just try to get a whole person interview aspect of you,” he said. “Because it’s obvious not just grades and not just physical scores, the Academy is looking for well-rounded individuals.”
As a high school student at Notre Dame, Altenburg was heavily involved. He served on Student Council, was a member of both National Honor Society and Key Club, and a member of the Irish’s soccer, cross country, varsity baseball, swimming and tennis teams.
To those considering furthering their education at any of the U.S. Service Academies, Altenburg recommends keeping active in both school and in the community.
“Not only will that help make you a stronger candidate, it will also help you when you get to the academy, and I think that’s something that I definitely overlooked,” he said. “My whole goal was focused on getting into the Academy, but sometimes I didn’t think about doing things that would help me once I got there. Definitely being active in the community will aide you in being a better midshipman.”
To learn more about the USNA Summer Seminar, click here.