Dream of becoming fighter pilot takes flight for G-AHS senior
Greencastle-Antrim High School senior Nathan Kirkwood is on a flight path to achieving his dream of becoming a fighter pilot by accepting an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.
The 18-year-old son of Todd and Deena Kirkwood also may have the opportunity to continue his athletic career at the Division 1 level with the football and track and field teams at Annapolis, Md.
“The service academy appointment process is highly selective and competitive. I am thrilled that Nathan has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, and I commend him and his family on this great achievement,” said U.S Rep. John Joyce, a Republican whose district includes Franklin County. Joyce nominated Kirkwood to both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“Naval aviation called to me,” Kirkwood said after making the decision to attend the Naval Academy versus the Air Force Academy and the three other schools with air sciences programs where he was accepted.
The decision also is based on being part of the Navy team and the opportunity to serve his country.
“Serving is really important to me,” Kirkwood said, explaining the freedom to go to school and church or drive wherever you want “doesn’t happen by chance. Somebody has to stand up and fight for that to be true here.”
His dream takes flight
Kirkwood has loved planes all his life; the flight to Disney World was his favorite part of vacation.
His father retired Dec. 31, 2021, after 36 years in the Air Force Reserve, working in aircraft maintenance with the 167th Air Wing based in Martinsburg, W.Va.
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A pilot friend of his father’s has turned the controls over to Kirkwood a few times flying out of Hagerstown. His G-AHS job shadowing was with a pilot at Martinsburg, where he got to try the flight simulator a few times.
He will probably major in aerospace engineering. All USNA graduates receive bachelor of science degrees because the core curriculum is so STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) based and come out as commissioned officers with the rank of ensign. Thinking practically, that major will set him up to become a pilot.
“I really enjoy engineering and anything that flies,” said Kirkwood, who plans to make the Navy his career.
Service assignments come out senior year at the USNA, and 90% get one of their top two choices, but Kirkwood doesn’t have an easy route because “not as many people get to fly at Navy as Air Force.”
“Nothing in life is ever guaranteed. This has empowered me … the Navy is where I want to be even if odds of flying are a little lower,” Kirkwood said. “I’m OK going for it and working for it.”
As an athlete, Kirkwood relishes being part of a team, which weighed in his decision. In the Air Force, everyone supports the pilot. In the Navy, Kirkwood will be part of a field including different specialties, such as submarines and naval operations.
“Being an athlete … I’d rather be part of a team that takes care of each other,” Kirkwood said.
On the field
In Greencastle, Kirkwood’s teams have included soccer, football, track and field and Unified bocce, which features athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without.
Soccer came first, and Kirkwood didn’t put on football pads until the summer before 10th grade. He now ranks No. 63 nationally in the Class of 2022 among Kohl’s Athletes, who participate in camps and ranking programs for punting, kicking and long-snap specialists.
Last fall for the Blue Devils, he averaged 64.44 yards per kickoff and had 25 touchbacks. At his latest Kohl's camp, he went 14 out of 15 on field goals, including two 56-yarders.
His skills earned Kirkwood a spot on the Pennsylvania Big 33 team, comprised of the best high school football players from Pennsylvania, as the primary place kicker and backup punter after leading the pack at tryouts with a 50-yard field goal.
The team members recently got together in State College, Pa., and will face the best Maryland players at the Big 33 game at Bishop McDevitt High School at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 30.
“It’s so cool to be part of such a high-achieving team … all there to make their teammates better and rally around one goal — to beat Maryland,” Kirkwood said.
He’s met with football coaches at Navy and was asked to try out, but it will depend on the depth of the roster, which already has some veteran kickers, whether he makes the team.
Kirkwood, who holds the G-A school record of 22-feet in the long jump and competes in the triple jump and 100- and 400-meter relays, thinks he has a chance of making the track team, too.
"The academy is the ultimate goal, but a sport there would be an added bonus,” Kirkwood said.
Blessed in his community
Kirkwood is involved off the field as a member Peer Leaders, Peer Tutors, student council, National Honor Society and robotics club and volunteers with Grand Point Church and the Greencastle Flyers Running Club.
A student representative to the Greencastle-Antrim School Board, he served for a year alongside his sister, Madi, before she graduated in 2021 and continued her education at Baylor University with a nutrition major on the pre-med track.
“I just want to be involved in my community and help where I can,” Kirkwood said. “I strive to do the best I can in everything I do. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch. I want to be involved in what’s going on. I want to be a part of things.”
Kirkwood says he feels blessed by the opportunity to serve his nation and for the support of his friends, family and community over the years.
The opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy is a reflection of how blessed he is, Kirkwood said.
The U.S. Naval Academy induction day is June 30 and Kirkwood is ready to report for a Plebe Summer of “early mornings and late nights, converting you from a civilian to mid-shipman.”
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org