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High school graduate heading to U.S. Coast Guard Academy

June 24, 2005|By HEATHER KEELS

GREENCASTLE, PA.

heatherk@herald-mail.com

Tom Horejs has been saying a lot of goodbyes lately ? to four years of hard work at his high school graduation June 4, to friends and co-workers at a surprise party Wednesday, and to his last days of sleeping late and planning his own time.

Though Wednesday was his last day at the Moss Spring Swim Club in Greencastle, Pa. ? where he worked as a lifeguard for four years ? the 18-year-old won't be saying goodbye to saving lives.

Horejs, of Greencastle, leaves Saturday for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he will begin with summer training before spending four years in academic, athletic and military training.

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"I've had some friends wonder why I'm doing it, and why now, especially with the conflicts and the war," Horejs said, "But I don't see it that way. I'm just honored I was accepted and glad I can serve and do something I've always wanted to do."

Horejs made up his mind that he wanted to attend a military academy in ninth grade.

He said he was inspired by his neighbor and mentor Ted Larew, who attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

"From ninth grade on, that's all he thought about," said Horejs' mother, Karen. "He never wavered in his desire to go to a military academy. I never had to push him."

Horejs made his way though honors and Advanced Placement classes at Saint Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown with straight A's, balancing schoolwork with soccer, swim team, Boy Scouts, National Honor Society, stage crew and a list of other activities that kept him busy long into the evenings.

"It does seem like it's jam-packed, but it's really not as bad as it sounds," he said. "If you sit around too much, you get bored."

Horejs knows he won't be bored at the Coast Guard Academy. Afterward, he hopes to become a helicopter pilot.

"I never wanted to have a job where I would sit around and push papers," he said. "This way, I'll have a new adventure every day."

The Coast Guard Academy's mission seemed most in line with his values as an Eagle Scout, an athlete, a lifeguard and a swimmer, he said. He also liked the idea that he'd be able to begin doing search and rescue missions immediately after graduation and that the Coast Guard stays busy with rescues and maritime safety even in times of peace.

It was his visit to the academy after he was accepted that really decided the matter for him, he said. Watching cadets working to finish a paper that was due in a few hours, he noticed that they stopped to help each other and proofread each others' papers.

"It wasn't like they were competing," he said. "They wanted each other to succeed. I was really inspired by that. I think a person has good character who not only values themself but values their companions."

Horejs has talked to cadets and has been running, lifting weights and swimming to prepare, but with no military experience and neither of his parents in the military, he's bracing himself for an entirely new experience.

"A big part is not knowing what to expect," he said.

His mother, who doesn't think she'll see him again until Labor Day and won't have him home until Thanksgiving, admits to being a little worried.

"It's a big step," she said. "From now on, his life is going to be the military."

Still, she can't deny that Horejs was cut out for the academy.

"I think it's terrific for him," she said. "You're rescuing other people ... I think you couldn't ask for a better mission."

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