Maggie Jones and Will Mace are busy breaking in their boots. They'll go on runs wearing them and polish them until they shine.
They have only about a month to break them in before they put those boots to the ground for long marches during weeks of grueling physical training.
"If you don't break them in, you'll be miserable," said Jones.
Jones and Mace, both 18-year-old seniors at Jay M. Robinson High School, were recently accepted to the U.S. Military Academy.
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A handful of Cabarrus County students are accepted to the U.S. military's five academies every year. Jay M. Robinson High School usually has had one or two graduates attend the prestigious academies each year since the school opened in 2001, said Angela Bridges, a guidance counselor at the school. But to have two students accepted to the same academy is rare, she said.
Ethan Kindley, a senior at Concord High School, was also accepted to West Point, and Breeden "Mac" Ritchie, another Concord High School senior, will attend the Air Force Academy next fall.
The three Cabarrus students gearing up for cadet life at West Point are among about 1,200 applicants from across the country who are accepted each year to the academy, 50 miles north of New York City.
Applying to West Point is a competitive process. Bridges said the academy examines students' academics strength, SAT scores and leadership qualities in sports or extracurricular activities. But candidates must also qualify medically and physically, and they must receive a nomination to the academy, usually from their congressional representative.
Acceptance includes a fully funded, four-year college education, including tuition, room and board, as well as medical and dental care, courtesy of the Army.
Maggie Jones, the daughter of Glenn and Trina Jones, has wanted to go to West Point for years. She focused her high school career around her dream of becoming a cadet, taking classes to make herself a competitive candidate and serving as commander of the school's Air Force ROTC program last year. She was also a camp counselor and a varsity swimmer.
So it came of no surprise to anyone that she planned to attend West Point, said Jones, whose father also served in the Army.
Will Mace, the son of David and Jane Mace, decided to apply to the academy when he visited Pearl Harbor during a mission trip to Hawaii. He was also accepted to the Virginia Military Institute and received ROTC scholarships to UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.
He got the news of his acceptance to West Point from his mother, who called him while he was on a skiing trip.
"I was standing on top of a mountain," said Mace, who played baseball and is a member of the Beta Club. "It's the most excited I've ever been."
Mace and Jones will report to West Point June 28 for Cadet Basic Training - often referred to as "Beast Barracks" or simply "Beast" - for six weeks of strenuous physical training to inundate new cadets to military life. When classes begin in August, they'll begin their plebe year, their first year at the academy known for its demanding and stressful nature.
"It can literally be hell on earth for a year," said retired Army Col. Russell Olson, a history teacher at Jay M. Robinson who has taught both Jones and Mace in world history and military history classes. "It requires a great deal of mental and physical strength."
And the hard work won't end after the first year. They'll spend four years preparing to become an officer, studying for a rigorous academic schedule during the school year and completing military training during summer. When they graduate, they'll be commissioned as second lieutenants and serve a minimum of five years in the Army.
"We know it's going to be hard," said Jones. "But it's worth it. We'll grow as people for it."
Jones wants to make a career as an Army officer. Her dream is to become a colonel.
"Both of them are really outstanding young Americans," said Olson, a graduate of The Citadel who retired in 1999 after 30 years in the Army. "I'm glad that they're going to be serving our country."
With ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mace and Jones know that being deployed to a war zone is a possibility. It doesn't bother them, they said, shaking their heads.
"We're over there for a purpose," said Jones. "I'm not afraid to do what I need to do to defend my country."