From West Ranch to West Point Prep: 525th Soldier makes the cut
April 20, 2011
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan --An Army specialist meticulously stuffs his rucksack and duffle bag until they are ready to burst at the seams. It wasn't the first time he packed his bags for his deployment, but this time the task was different - not many people have the opportunity of going home ahead of schedule.
Nicholas De La Flor will soon end his enlisted career and begin the journey of becoming a West Point graduate. The 21-year-old intelligence analyst, with the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, is scheduled to return to Fort Bragg, N.C., from Afghanistan and begin school mid-July.
De La Flor was working at the joint border-control center he checked his e-mail and got the message he had been patiently waiting for.
"My father got a letter for me in the mail that said I was accepted into West Point's preparatory program," said the Valencia, Calif., native. "My parents and sister were freaking out with excitement."
After replying to his family he wasn't going to go, De La Flor put practical joke aside to soak in the good news. The one-year school will academically prepare him for the four-year United States Military Academy, West Point.
"It was both very shocking and a relief," he said. "All my hard work had finally paid off. I worked over twelve-hour shifts everyday; the application process was added work that tested my motivation when my work day ended. I was shocked because acceptance to West Point is extremely competitive, and my admission letter arrived later than expected. I figured I didn't make the cut."
He started gathering his application package last October with help and advice from West Point alumni and commissioned officers in his unit.
"My leadership encouraged me," De La For said. "I want to aspire to be one of them."
West Point graduate, Capt. Christian Wollenburg, the 525th BfSB's Alpha Company commander and De La Flor's officer in charge, told him to keep goals in mind. He wrote the aim-driven candidate a letter of recommendation after he gauged the specialist's sincerity to apply.
Wollenburg said De La Flor's military intelligence background includes a lot of research analysis and writing, so it will be an easier transition for the candidate to get into the academic mindset of the academy.
"Once he adjusts, he will do very well," said Wollenburg.
He sets a great example for Soldiers to pursue something beyond what they see in front of them, the Fort. Bragg, N.C., native added.
Finding inspiration from his officers was not always the case for De La Flor.
The specialist said he never saw himself working in the Army's officer corps. After graduating from West Ranch High School, Valencia, Calif., in 2008, he joined the military to serve his country and gain life experience before pursuing further education.
"The military has already exposed me to things I'd otherwise not have the opportunity to see," he said. "Just being deployed has opened my eyes, and the people I work with are very diverse. You get to know more than what's going on in your hometown."
De La Flor's positive outlook and experience as a Soldier became a drive that pushed him toward success as he leaves his enlisted life behind.
"Why not go as far as you can try to go, he said. "I want to be a great leader and would like to branch infantry and pursue a major in computer science, with a minor in foreign language."
There is only one catch he didn't expect when learned about West Point - basic training is not waved.
"I always said I'd go through basic training again, and now get to go through it two more times while at school," said De La Flor, but I'm pumped for it and ready for this new experience."