Roosevelt High School seniors Hunter and Cole Norris learned the value of discipline and leadership through their participation in sports, orchestra and Eagle Scouts. Now the twin brothers will refine those skills as they each head off to a top U.S. military academy.
Hunter and Cole were both accepted to three of the top military academies in the country: the United States Military Academy at West Point (New York), the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis (Maryland).
Cole will attend the Air Force Academy, while Hunter will head off to West Point.
“I was the first one to start looking at West Point, in about eighth grade,” Hunter said. “I don’t remember how I got on the West Point website, but I probably spent at least 10 hours looking through that website. I just got attached to this idea of West Point.”
Cole caught on to the idea and realized a military academy could fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot.
“I have always wanted to be a pilot. Something about flying is just the coolest thing ever,” Cole said. “Hunter had found out about West Point and done his research and he’d started talking about it at family dinners and whatnot. So that led me to go on the Air Force Academy website and see what that’s all about.”
In addition to high school classes and extracurriculars, the brothers embarked on the rigorous process of applying to the military academies.
The application process included essays, a physical fitness test, a medical exam and an interview with essays to gain nominations from U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Congresswoman Cindy Axne.
“It was difficult,” Hunter said. “We were very blessed that we had mom with us to help push us through some of those times to get those essays done.”
Hunter said spending time in Italy for their father’s work further reinforced his desire to serve in the military.
“Just experiencing the world and experiencing military people over there as well, meeting them and spending time with them, that just developed that want to serve and desire to see the world and work with people who have different cultures and different world ideas,” Hunter said.
Cole and Hunter visited two of the academies in person before receiving their acceptance letters.
“I visited Annapolis with my brother; we went up there for a weekend. It was super cool,” Cole said. “But then I went to Colorado Springs to the Air Force Academy, and it just felt right. I love nature, I love Colorado, so just being there feels amazing, but then talking to people and walking on campus and seeing planes all over the place … it feels like if I want to be a pilot, that’s the place I want to go.”
The brothers checked the online application portal at least twice a day this semester in anticipation of a decision.
“I was in class one day and I was on the portal scrolling through it, and I found out I got in (to West Point),” Hunter said. “I was really excited, so I went out and called my mom. I was pretty pumped.”
Cole was accepted to the United States Military Academy shortly after, and within weeks the twins had received acceptance emails to all three academies. For Hunter and Cole’s mother Jackie Norris, her sons’ acceptance to the military academies came with immense pride and just a little bit of worry.
“John and I are both so proud of the life that we’ve been able to give them, and I think I’m resigned to the fact that we have raised them to fly and do amazing things,” Jackie said. “Off they go, and I’ll just say a lot of prayers.”
The United States Military Academy boasts an acceptance rate of 9%, while the United States Air Force Academy is almost as selective with an acceptance rate of 13%. While there is no surefire way to be accepted, the twins have advice for students who may want to follow in their footsteps.
“I think a really important aspect is leadership,” Hunter said. “Being a leader isn’t always going to mean being the one in charge. It means being the guy on the track team who’s doing everything the right way. I think that’s important for people to see, and oftentimes that’s the person who’s making an impact on the team.”
The brothers have not yet decided whether they will make the military their career, but there are still important milestones to focus on first. Hunter and Cole will graduate Saturday at the Roosevelt commencement ceremony, held at Drake University’s Knapp Center.
“We’re thankful and grateful to all the people who helped us get here, because we definitely didn’t do it on our own,” Hunter said. “So many coaches, teachers, scout masters, mom and dad, they’ve done so much for us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Cole Norris will attend the Naval Academy. He will attend the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.
Grace Altenhofen is a news reporter for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @gracealtenhofen.