By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Obtaining an appointment to the US Air Force Academy is not an easy feat.
“In Minnesota, we had approximately 100 highly qualified applicants this year, and only about 25 were offered academy appointments,” said Lt. Col. Pete Swanson, admissions liaison officer with the Air Force Academy. He added that of the 10,000 who applied across the nation, only about 1,200 will enter as cadets in June.
One of the select few is Dassel-Cokato High School senior David Kivisto, son of Brian and Anne Kivisto of Dassel. A ceremony to commemorate David’s appointment took place at the high school May 1, with US Congressman Collin Peterson in attendance.
“David is an impressive young man, and I am confident that he will do an outstanding job as he begins his career in service to our country,” commented Peterson, who nominated Kivisto for the academy.
First in 25 years
Before Kivisto, it had been 25 years since a student from Dassel-Cokato High School was accepted to the Air Force Academy. The last person to receive the honor was Lt. Col. Jesse Carlson, class of 1993.
“In 1993, I got my appointment to the academy, and it’s truly changed my life,” Carlson said.
During his time at the academy, Carlson had the opportunity to explore several different career fields. He currently serves as the commander for the 133rd maintenance squadron of the Minnesota Air National Guard and has been deployed more than a dozen times.
Preparing for the future
For Kivisto, the goal of attending the Air Force Academy developed over time. It started with an interest in flying, and a dream of becoming a pilot.
He began exploring the military path after his oldest sister, Caroline, became a Navy nurse. By freshman year of high school, Kivisto was researching the Air Force Academy and had gotten in touch with Carlson.
Kivisto’s current plan is to serve in special forces someday.
“That could change,” he added.
At the academy, Kivisto will be able to take classes ranging from aeronautical engineering to political science to cyber security. After graduation, he’ll serve as a commissioned officer in the Air Force for at least eight years, five of which must be active duty.
Kivisto’s resumé shows his competence in many areas. An example of this is his 4.394 weighted grade point average, which fits well with the student population at the academy. About 8 percent of academy students were ranked first in their high school graduating class.
Kivisto is also an athlete. He’s been in cross country since 2012, and served as team captain last fall. He’s also been involved in Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato hockey, and is an avid weight lifter and skier. In 2015, he ran the Moose Mountain Marathon in northern Minnesota, which has a reputation as one of the toughest trail marathons in the country.
Physical training like this is good preparation for the academy. Applicants are required to pass a fitness assessment that tests pull ups, push ups, running speed, and more.
Leadership and character are also highly valued. The academy defines character as “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.”
Cadets are encouraged to lift others to be their best possible selves, and to practice honesty, courage, accountability, teamwork, discipline, and respect.
Kivisto has demonstrated these qualities through his volunteer work for Meals on Wheels, Prism, the National Honor Society blood drive, Pennies for Patients, and Toys for Tots. He’s also participated in youth leadership forums in Minneapolis and Washington, DC; the People to People International Ambassador Program in Europe; and the Naval Academy Summer Seminar in Maryland.
Other leadership activities Kivisto has been involved with include FFA and extemporaneous speech.
“I have been in student council since middle school,” Kivisto added.
This year, he is the student representative for the Dassel-Cokato School Board.
Ready to go
Kivisto will report for duty at the academy in Colorado at 7 a.m. Thursday, June 28. He will have six weeks of basic training before classes begin in August.
The US Air Force Academy is described as a place where students face real-world challenges and gain hands-on experience. Its website states that the education is valued at more than $416,000, but is offered at no cost to those who are admitted.
“It’s equivalent to a full ride to an Ivy League school,” Swanson commented.