When Christian Bell stepped on the U.S. Naval Academy campus as a sixth grader, he immediately knew where he wanted to be in the future.
At the time, his family had surprised him during their trip to Philadelphia to visit the academy. He was in awe.
“When I saw it, I fell in love,” Bell said about the Naval Academy. “I was like, ‘This is where I’m meant to be.’ It felt like home.”
When Bell, a senior at Braden River High School, found out U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan nominated him to the Naval Academy, he was ecstatic.
A nomination to the service academies also gave Terrence Tysall, another Braden River High School senior, a reason to celebrate.
“(My parents) showed me the letter, and I kind of freaked out,” Tysall said. “That’s probably the closest I’ve been from tearing up about something like that. I can’t even describe how I was feeling. It was amazing.”
Bell and Tysall said their nominations mean everything to them. Both have been dreaming of attending the Naval Academy and serving since they were in sixth grade. The nominations are an important step toward being accepted.
“The Navy mission, the Navy ethos, everything’s aligned exactly with my personal values and with what I want to do,” Tysall said.
Tysall had always been striving to attend an Ivy League school as a result of his push to do well academically and his passion for science, technology, engineering and math subjects. But he also had an interest in the military and always wanted to be a pilot. He said the Naval Academy would be the perfect fit for him.
“I found a way I could combine the college education I wanted and become a pilot, join the military and serve my country,” he said. “It’s everything. It checked all the boxes.”
Throughout their time in JROTC, Bell and Tysall have learned how to balance having fun and being serious while working with the cadets or participating in JROTC teams such as the rifle team, drill team or raiders team.
“It’s the fact that it treats everybody exactly equal no matter where you’re from, no matter your academic prowess in other classes,” Tysall said. “You can be great and pretty much anybody can rise through the ranks. It’s about hard work and dedication.”
Bell and Tysall said cadets in the JROTC program have become like family to them, and they have support from the others in the program as well as his teachers.
“(JROTC) is like a family, so it brings everybody together,” Tysall said. “It gets you comfortable in leadership positions in front of other people. It also teaches you how to be a good follower. It all kind of comes together and makes you a better person.”
Both Tysall and Bell have several family members who served in the military, and both are hoping to follow in their family members’ footsteps continuing their legacy. They grew up hearing stories of their family members serving in the military.
“It means a lot to be carrying on that tradition (of serving),” Tysall said. “It’s been a long line of it. I’m looking forward to being able to serve my country just like they do because they’ve always talked about how much that ended up meaning to them. If I can contribute a small part to that, then that will be an accomplishment.”