By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsFebruary 28, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 28, 2019) -- Just over four months from now, new cadets will begin their 47-month journey to become commissioned officers as members of the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 2023.
Among those future Army leaders is Hannah Bajakian, a Fort Drum community member and Indian River High School senior. She was enjoying a family vacation in Disney World during a winter break from school when she learned about her West Point appointment.
"Receiving an appointment is more than a dream come true for me," Bajakian said. "This is something that I have been working toward for years now, and it's a goal that has finally been achieved. There is no relief quite like seeing all of your hard work come to fruition."
Coincidentally, it was also during her last school break in December when she secured the nomination to West Point from U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand - one of the final hurdles in the extensive admissions process. West Point candidates apply for nominations through the U.S. senators from their state, their House representative or the vice president. Service members can request a service-connected nomination.
Bajakian, daughter of Col. Todd Bajakian, commander of the 10th Mountain Division Office of the Inspector General, and Michele Bajakian, said that she was working out at the gym with a friend when she received the email from Gillibrand's office confirming her nomination to the academy.
"West Point was a dream of mine, but receiving the nomination made it seem more like a reality and an achievable goal," she said. "As I got further along in the application process, it definitely became more of a goal and less of a dream. Dreams are a great way to get started on a journey, but goals are the true motivators."
Bajakian and her family have been stationed at Fort Drum since 2013, having previously lived at posts in Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Germany.
"It has always been Army for me," she said. "The Army has raised me, it has been my family for 18 years and it has never failed me or let me down. No matter where I go, there is someone within a four-hour drive who I know. Everywhere is home when you are part of the Army, and that is something I can't imagine being without."
Bajakian said that she became certain of her own desire to serve as a commissioned officer while visiting her father at Walter Reed Army Medical Center six years ago.
"I met a man there who is a double amputee," Bajakian said. "He had two beautiful daughters and his wife is the kindest, most amazing woman I know. He inspired me in more ways than I can put into words. His dedication to service and happiness in serving this country left a permanent mark on me, and he is in the back of my mind on every step of this journey."
Applying to West Point is no easy feat in itself. The list of requirements goes well beyond the average college application where students submit their academic, athletic and community service records. Besides the nomination from an elected official, candidates need a medical review board qualification, admissions interview, PT test, three essays and letters of recommendation.
"It's a lot, but I feel that I have really learned a lot about myself during the process, and I have met so many incredible people with stories about USMA or the other academies that only strengthens my desire to attend," she said.
Bajakian amassed two thick binders full of research and documents during the application process - everything from uniform requirements and PT routines to information packets and items to memorize. However, nothing on paper could compare to an actual site visit, and Bajakian toured the campus with her family and later returned for the Summer Leaders Experience (SLE) last year.
SLE is a weeklong immersion into cadet life for prospective students that includes daily PT sessions in the morning, field training and an introduction to academics, all led by West Point cadets.
Bajakian said that before attending SLE, she wasn't convinced she could handle all that is required for a cadet to be successful. Bajakian found it to be the best week ever. More so, it felt like home.
"SLE was a life-changer for me," Bajakian said. "The strength and confidence that I built in the short week that I was there will stick with me forever. There is something so incredible about knowing that you are part of a history of leaders and heroes of this nation - that you are walking the same grounds as they did and learning the same traditions."
Among her extracurriculars, Bajakian is president of Indian River's National Honor Society, the Warriors Fight AIDS community service group and the peer education club. She participates in Math Club events, runs outdoor track in the spring and serves as vice president of the International Thespian Honor Society Theatre Troupe and Drama Club. She has been an active participant in the Theatre Department all four years.
Currently the class valedictorian, Bajakian will graduate with an advanced regents diploma and will be West Point-bound two days after graduation.
Bajakian will report for Reception Day on July 1, where she and roughly 1,200 other cadets will enter Cadet Basic Training - an intense six-week regimen of military and academy training. She said that she will continue to prepare herself for the rigors of academic and military training ahead.
"Unlike other schools, I can't just relax now that I know where I'll be attending school," she said. "This is where the hard work gets even harder. My physical training has increased tenfold ... and I'll be starting to make changes in my daily schedule to simulate what my schedule will be like at the academy."
Bajakian said that she also plans to make the most of her final months in high school, spending time with friends and family.
"I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit scared about the whole thing, but my belief is that if you aren't doing something that scares you just a bit, there is no way you can grow," Bajakian said. "The journey ahead will be a difficult one, but I really wouldn't want it any other way."