The apple doesn’t fall far from the McDonald family tree.
Martin McDonald of Tunstall Road is getting ready to head off to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard McDonald.
“I grew up exposed to what West Point was since I was a kid,” McDonald said. “That’s not why I wanted to go, but it’s how I became interested.”
McDonald knew he wanted to be in the military by the time he was in middle school, and believed West Point was the best place to prepare him for a military future.
Though he looked into other branches of the military and other academies, McDonald was drawn to West Point.
“You’re around other people who are in the same position as you are and they push you,” he said.
It’s well known that it takes a lot of dedication to make it through the academy.
Students who attend West Point receive a college education and then go on to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army to serve five years’ active duty. The Army has a number of branches that require technical and tactical expertise, including infantry, aviation, military intelligence, finance, armor and cyber.
McDonald is still deciding what he wants to study, and he said he’s considering either pre-law or economics.
While there’s a lot of dedication needed to get through college, there’s just as much commitment needed to get through the application process.
In addition to filling out the required forms, McDonald and other aspiring West Point students must pass a medical exam and a physical fitness test that includes a 300-yard run, two minutes of push-ups, a standing long jump, a basketball throw from a kneeling position, and pull-ups. They also must complete a questionnaire and provide a nomination from a United States representative and a senator.
In McDonald’s case, he received letters from Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel.
If it sounds like a lot, it is.
McDonald started the application process at the end of the summer in 2018 and finished in November.
“There’s a lot of people who start the application [but] don’t finish it,” he said. “If it’s not your top choice, it’s not worth doing. You have to really want to go to West Point if you’re going to apply.”
McDonald’s dedication started long before he took on the arduous application process — he left Scarsdale High School to repeat his junior year at Canterbury School, a college prep boarding school in New Milford, Connecticut.
He said he had made the decision to pack up and go to the prep school because he wanted to make sure he had the best possible grades to show on his West Point application.
“I think to compensate, I decided an extra year of academics would be good for me,” he said.
McDonald said Canterbury gave him some valuable skills to take with him to West Point. In addition to balancing his academics with playing football, hockey and golf throughout the school year, McDonald also had to make time to work on his application to West Point.
“It wasn’t that different from the Scarsdale kids and academics, but living away [from home] was different,” he said. “It was a good thing and helped me mature.”
The most difficult part was getting to all the appointments he needed to attend throughout the West Point application process.
“I had to find time to come home and go to my appointments and balance my school work with my sports,” he said.
Going to West Point was entirely McDonald’s decision, he said, though he’s wanted to be like his father since childhood.
McDonald’s father said he’s extremely proud of Martin, but was initially concerned about his son enlisting, just as any other parent would be.
For any kid to take on such a challenge and work toward it is “awesome,” Richard said, and despite the difficult nature of the application, Martin kept with it and the dedication was evident.
“[Martin] put in the effort to make it happen. It’s a daunting process,” Richard McDonald said.
“I’m very excited for him,” he said. “He’ll be a great cadet, and he’ll also be a great army officer.”
As McDonald gets ready to head off to the academy, he’ll remember the lessons he’s learned throughout the process — stay focused and stay dedicated.