Soldiers, Reserve Ambassador, Mayor Mentor Teen Hoping to Attend West Point
August 11, 2011
FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Did you know what career you wanted to pursue back in eighth grade? At age 13? Jacob Paniccia did. A year later, Jacob is working toward his goal of attending the U.S. Military Academy and receiving a commission in the Army.
Having just completed his freshman year at Angelo Rodriguez High School with a 3.8 GPA, Jacob has made a good start preparing to compete with 10,000 applicants for one of the coveted 1,150 spots.
Staff Sgt. Victor Pedraza first took note of Jacob more than a year ago when he walked into the Fairfield Army Career Center in the Solano Mall. Many noncommissioned officers would not have taken much time to talk with a 13-year-old, since 17 is the minimum age an applicant can enlist in the Army.
However, Pedraza feels his job is not just about recruiting, but being an ambassador for the Army to everyone regardless of age.
"He was poking around, seeming curious," Pedraza said. "So I asked him if there was anything I could help him find out."
That opened the floodgates for a lot of questions from Jacob.
"My son at his age had ideas of what he wanted but nothing like Jacob,"” Pedraza said.
Pedraza thought he had helped educate a teen about the Army and that would be the end of it. A year later, however, Jacob, now 15, came back in with his mother, Carol Paniccia. Together they spent more than two hours questioning Pedraza about the Army and double-checking information they had received from other people.
"At one point they told me I was wrong on some of my numbers (for benefits and bonuses), so I double-checked for them. We discovered that the numbers had just changed," Pedraza said. "I was so impressed with Jacob, that I wanted him to meet our current Future Soldiers. I thought it would be good for him to meet some teens from this area who have made the commitment to serve. I thought it would be good for them as well, to see someone even younger than they are, with such a strong desire to serve in the Army."
Pedraza had the perfect opportunity with the celebration of the Army’s 236th Birthday. The Future Soldiers were already scheduled to witness Fairfield’s Mayor Harry Price issue an official proclamation honoring the Army by declaring June 11-17 Army Week. So Pedraza invited Jacob and his mom to attend.
June 14 Pedraza gathered all the Future Soldiers together.
"I had each of them introduce themselves and tell their story (of why they chose to enlist in the Army)," Pedraza said. "Then I told Jacob, 'Now it’s your turn!' I wanted him to feel like he was one of us."
All of the Future Soldiers and Jacob got a chance to meet and speak with Mayor Price and Dr. Richard Lundin, the Army Reserve Ambassador for California and a retired general, who was on hand for the proclamation. The opportunity to network with these two political leaders was important for Jacob, because one of the requirements to be eligible to apply to West Point is receiving a nomination from your Congress member. A reference from a mayor and a retired Army general could assist in gaining such a nomination.
Jacob and his mother were able to speak with Mayor Price and Dr. Lundin at length. Dr. Lundin was suitably impressed by Jacob, even down to his bearing and demeanor, noting that Jacob stood properly at attention and at ease during the presentation by Mayor Price and while they were talking prior to it.
"I thanked him for the choice he was making to serve," Lundin said. "I let him know he was doing the right and honorable thing. I also told him all of [the Army’s] generals these days, come from West Point."
Also on hand for advice on becoming an officer, was North Bay Company Commander Capt. Minh Nguyen. Among the advice Nguyen provided Jacob was keeping good grades and getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports. Nguyen also reminded him that there are other paths to becoming an officer besides West Point and to keep those in mind as back up plans.
While the Army Birthday is a celebration of the past, and Fairfield’s proclamation of Army Week is honoring the present, the leaders present at the Army Career Center took time to cultivate the future.