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Local students thrive at academies

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 12:12 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Growing up in Huntington, Robert Blair, Ian Gilliam and Kelsie Burns regularly bumped into one another on the soccer field, at school and at family functions, but when they got together during Christmas break this year, things were a lot different.

Each Huntington native returned to the Tri-State this year on break from three of the United States' five military service academies, and they were looking forward to some well-earned rest and relaxation.

"It's nice to relax, eat home-cooked meals and sleep in your bed," said Gilliam, who attends the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. "Coming home is good, and going back is good. It gets a little easier to say 'goodbye' every time because you just want to get back and get things started up again."

Gilliam's trip back home was the shortest of the three. Burns returned home from West Point Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and Blair is spending his post-secondary years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Blair, a 2012 graduate from St. Joseph Central Catholic High School, and Burns, a 2013 graduate from Huntington High School, were recruited to play soccer at their respective academies, while Gilliam pursued every military academy option available to him before committing to the naval academy.

Gilliam, who graduated from Huntington in 2012, said he plans to pursue a military career after graduation, and Burns said she would like to pursue a career in human resources or aviation.

For Blair, a pre-med student, the soccer scholarship simply was a bonus in addition to going to the same school his sister graduated from just a few years ago.

"It's such a great opportunity because you can be sure you'll have a job when you get out," Blair said. "Plus, you're getting to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself."

All three off them said the experience has been different than what they thought it would be, noting the early mornings, tight schedules and well, military-style of instruction. However, they all agree that their experiences are providing them the kind of preparation for the futures they want to have.

"When I visited, I was really impressed with the school, and I knew I wouldn't get a better opportunity academically," Burns said. "We're not getting a typical college experience, but I think it is definitely going to be worth it after it's all said and done."

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