VALDOSTA -- Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, held his annual Academy Day on Monday at the Valdosta-Lowndes County Conference Center to select nominees for the U.S. service academies.

Those academies are comprised of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.

There were 20 Academy nominees from the First Congressional District who were interviewed by Kingston and his Service Academy Board, said Rob Asbell, Kingston's spokesperson. The board consisted of distinguished citizens, retired military and active duty personnel from the district. Two local residents on the board were Mary Alice Magee, Nashville-Berrien County Chamber of Commerce, and Fred Wetherington, Wetherington Farms, Hahira.

Prior to the interviews, Kingston welcomed nominees and their families and reminded them how important their selection was.

"Out of 600,000 constituents, only 20 people are going to be interviewed," Kingston said.

Three candidates were interviewed for the U.S. Military Academy, eight for the Naval Academy, eight for the Air Force Academy, and one for the Merchant Marine Academy.

Cy Avila, 17, from Kingsland was accepted by the Naval Academy, but he needs to have a nomination, he added. "They gave traditional offers, and I was one of them," Avila said.

Avila is a Native American of the Sandia Pueblo tribe and is originally from Santa Fe, N.M. He arrived in Georgia in 1990. His father, Cy Avila, who accompanied him, was an enlisted man in the Navy for four years with two more years in the Navy Reserves. He was stationed at Kings Bay and Norfolk, Va.

Avila completed his interview, which he said, "didn't seem long enough. They thanked me for having such a complete application packet," he said. "It's a dream come true and I worked hard for it all my life. My dream is to be an astronaut and be the first man on Mars."

He's now working on his civilian pilot license at St. Mary Flight School.

David Burkett, 17, of Baxley, a candidate for the Naval Academy, was accompanied by his father, Edward and mother, Merry.

Burkett described his interview with the academy board as "professional and not intimidating."

"Every member asked a question and they weren't easy, but they were realistic," he said. "All 20 of us that have made it this far -- I think we're all qualified."

Mr. Burkett has mixed feelings about his son wanting to go to the Naval Academy. From his own experiences as a Navy veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, he realizes there will be long periods when he won't see his David.

"I'm very proud of him, and I'm very concerned for him, but I want what he wants," Mrs. Burkett said.

Veronica Davis, 17, and her grandparents, David and Joyce Drury, made the journey with her from Folkston. Davis was one of three females seeking a nomination. Of the three, she is the only one wanting to go to the Naval Academy.

Her grandfather, a Navy veteran, influenced her decision. "After all the Navy did for me, I wanted the best for my granddaughter," Mr. Drury said.

Kyle Munn, 17, of Bonaire is an official candidate for the Air Force Academy he said. "I'm here to get as many nominations as possible," Munn said. "I'm here in memory of late Col. Harry Stafford, who helped push me along the stream and, of course, my parents."

Munn has always wanted to be in the Air Force and wants to get into astronautical engineering. "I want to fly what I design," he said.

Those who will be selected to attend the service academies will be notified before Christmas Day.

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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