In 2003, a month before R - Day, I turned down my appointment to the United States Military Academy - on a whim when I was having a bad day - and I have regretted that decision every day of my life since. I want to share my story for all of those who are having a tough time at the Academies, or for those who are about to get accepted but are having second thoughts. Somewhere there might be some 17-21 year old reading these forums who I don't want to make the same mistake that I did. I am the son of a old Army officer. When I was a kid, I had an older brother attend West Point. From the first day I stepped foot on campus, my life was driven by one goal - to go to West Point and be a career Army officer. I was in awe seeing a bunch of tough looking cadets wearing sharp uniforms with purpose and determination in their eyes. These were real life G.I. Joes, and my brother and his classmates were my true heroes. I went from being an OK student to getting straight A‘s from 7th grade on; captain of 3 sports teams in HS, NHS, 1360 on the SAT's back when it was just two parts. The drive to get into West Point and be an officer is what pushed me to accomplish all of this. I never would have been as successful otherwise. My jr. year of high school, things started to change. My brother was just getting out of the Army. Just about this same time, I was going through a teenage phase where I wanted to be independent, and insignificant high school relationships began to influence my decision making. I began to think things like "why would I want someone telling me where I have to live?" and "I can get into any college, why would I want to go to one where people yell at me and there‘s few girls?" I went to a private college instead, and patted myself on the back for my independent thinking and setting my own course in life. When I got to college, I was disappointed. There was no "feeling" like at West Point. Anyone who has been to West knows that there is just this feeling that you can't put your finger on - a feeling of tradition that is alive and tactile. I immediately began to regret not applying. Then, 9/11 happened. This shocked me out of my coma that I had been in for two years and reminded me of everything that I had worked for. 9/11 put the purpose of my life back into perspective. As soon as my sophomore year began, I applied to West Point. I knew fully well that I would be starting over again as a freshman at 20, but I felt it helped me as I was more mature. I had experience at a tough college, so I was in a good spot to do better academically that I would have right out of HS. I worked hard in the gym and academically to prepare. My goal required hard work for my parents as well, taking me to physicals, nomination panel meetings, etc. Former teachers and coaches helped me with letters of recommendation. I had a whole team on my side. On Christmas Eve, 2002, I received my congressional nomination. A few months later, I was in my dorm room when the phone rang. This woman says "Did I catch you sleeping?" I said "no" and she says "Good, because this is Congresswoman Hart, and I wanted to be the first to tell you congratulations for getting accepted into West Point.” Ok, so I always loved the scene of Rudy when he opens his letter and gets accepted to Notre Dame as he's sitting on the park bench next to the lake and reads the letter out loud with tears rolling down his face, emotional music playing - I was living that scene. It was like being in a movie. I had achieved step one of my goal, and I was ready... ... or so I thought. I got this packet in the mail that had all the things we had to do to prepare. One of the pamphlets was specifically about swimming. I heard stories about plebe drowning from my brother and how tough it was. I had a high school classmate who was at West Point tell me these doom and gloom stories about how she saw cadets get pulled out of the pool it was so hard. I started getting sick thinking about it. I had 3-4 months to get ready, so I reached out to my college's swimming coach who was an USAFA grad and he began to work with me. I'm an OK swimmer - when it comes to treading water, doggie paddle, cannon balls, rafts … but one thing I have NEVER been able to do in my life is go under water without pinching my nose. It is a serious phobia of mine. As soon as I feel water start going up my nose, I start to panic, gag, and get this uncontrollable reaction where I start gagging. The packet the academy sent me had something about a swim test that was jump into water above your head, swim face down for 150 yards, and tread water for 5 minutes. I can do all of that, except the face down part. That is all pretty easy though, but I had heard about things like having to jump in with full combat gear off a 10 meter high dive, do some exercise where you sink to the bottom because you are loaded down with stuff , get out of your gear under water, all this crazy stuff that I'm sure you can’t do while pinching your nose shut. I started to worry. The cadet I spoke with didn't know if they let you pinch your nose, but she said anything I would do differently that would draw attention to myself was not a good idea plebe year and I needed to get it under control. I understood that if you do not pass plebe drowning, you do not graduate. I had never failed a thing in my life, and the thought that I might not be able to pass this of all things really started to weigh on me. By late April, I had been going to the pool at my college every chance, often meeting with the coach who made it his personal mission to help me. After trying everything, I still could not go for more than a few seconds underwater without coming up choking and coughing. I began to get discouraged. At the end of the semester, I went home for break and talked to my parents about my fears. It ended up turning into an argument about me having a history of quitting things that were difficult. Part of the packet West Point sends is this card. If you decide you don't want to go, you mail it in and they give your spot to someone else. Easy as that. In a late night fit of discouragement and fear of failure, I fill out the card at like 3:30 AM, write something like "Due to personal reasons I am unable to attend" and drop it off in the mail. The next day, I wake up around 11 (on summer break), remember what I did, and run down to the mailbox. Guess what - the mail came. I call West Point's admission office and tell them that they are getting the card, but it was a mistake. I end up on the phone with a director of admissions. I explained my 11 year journey to get there and my underwater issues. He nicely tells me that if I'm having second thoughts to the degree of mailing the card, then I made the right decision and it is too late - they will fill my spot with someone who is more certain that this is what they want to do. Game over. My dad didn't talk to me for a month. The last words he said to me before that month was that I will regret this decision for the rest of my life. Well, I'm 31 now, and not a day goes by where I do not regret it. If only I could go back in time to the moment where 20 year old me was dropping the card in the mailbox and punch him in the stomach and rip the card up… There is not a day that I don't think about it. My life since that day in 2003 has not been the same. I have never been as successful as I was up to that point. Very few schools were still accepting applications in May. I ended up going to a state school and graduated with decent grades, but never will have the opportunities that go with a West Point diploma and Army career. I know some of you are saying "Why didn't you just go to OCS then?" Tough question, but the answer is basically that I was so depressed after I backed out, that I lost all drive. I started to apply to OCS a few times but never finished out the application process. I spoke with an ROTC officer about going that direction, but would have had to tack a few years onto college and would have to pay my own way (parents wouldn’t help me out financially after I my choices). I nearly dropped out all together. I graduated, got a civilian job, but have never had that direction, purpose, or vision again. I have survivor's guilt, as crazy as that sounds. I looked up the Class of ‘07 and saw the graduates who were killed. I feel like it is my fault. One of them could have been the high school senior who in May, 2003 got a call that a spot opened up and they are going to West Point. Their proud parents dropped them off on R-Day, pinned their 2nd Lt. bars on four years later, wore black Pea Coats with USMA 07 on it, and now their son or daughter is dead - all because some guy couldn't go underwater without pinching his nose freaked out, dropped a card in the mail, and slept in. So if you're still with me on this long post, what is my point? I don't want you to make the same mistake. You put the work in. You got accepted. If you're a current cadet, you made it, maybe even made it through your plebe year or longer, and now you're having second thoughts? There’s a challenge you're worried you can't overcome? If you don't really know what you're getting into, if someone said “you should check out an academy” and you said "oh, that looks cool" and that's why you are applying ... that's different. But if this has been your life goal, if you worked for years to get here and made it this far ... DO NOT QUIT. You think it sucks? I hear from grads how West Point sucks. A lifetime of regret sucks a whole lot worse. You don't like people yelling at you? There's hazing and yelling at all levels of life. I get yelled at on my civilian job. It's a lot harder to swallow when there's no greater meaning behind it as there is in the Military. Maybe you're like I was, and think "I'm a valedictorian, I can get into Harvard, I'll be just fine without West Point" Well, that might be true. But trust me, you may NEVER have an opportunity in front of you again for the rest of your life as significant as an appointment to West Point. Even worse than lost opportunity is the question “WHAT IF?” What if I had gone? I will never know. Life doesn’t have a reset button. If it did, I’d have pushed it by now. I feel awful that I didn't serve my country when so many others did and lost their lives. If I could do it all over again knowing what I know now at 31, you would have to drag me out of that swimming pool at plebe drowning before I would let it beat me. I can't go back in time. You won't be able to either.