Brothers Michael and Connor Willcox chose to pursue a very different college experience from their friends when they elected to attend military service academies.
Michael, a 2007 graduate of McKinney North High School, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs last year with a bachelor’s degree in engineering psychology.
Connor, a 2011 graduate of McKinney Boyd High School, is in his first year as a midshipman at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. He is studying marine transportation and intermodal logistics.
The brothers were both nominated to the service academies by U.S. Representative Sam Johnson.
Michael, 22, became interested in the Air Force after he visited the academy with his grandfather in the seventh grade. Connor, 18, chose the merchant marines because of his love of being close to the water.
The academies are physically and mentally rigorous. But the education is also tuition-free, a great benefit.
The Willcox brothers credit their high school athletic coaches with giving them the discipline to succeed at the academies.
Connor pursued the merchant marines because he also wants to travel the world. Currently a freshman, he will go on his first trip abroad in June.
The merchant marine prepares students for maritime careers, including working on cargo ships transporting goods and on oil tankers. In times of war, the merchant marine delivers military supplies overseas to forces. Connor’s goal is to become a harbor pilot who guides ships or a harbormaster, who manages ports and navigation of ships.
“They know every nook and cranny of the harbor and they know where submerged structures are,” he said.
Connor said that attending an academy is rigorous—he must wake up at 5:45 a.m., clean and attend classes from 7:45 to 4 p.m. Students’ schedules outline when to eat, what classes to take and when to sleep. He also plays lacrosse.
In classes, so far he has learned about navigation and drove a ship simulator. His busy schedule gives him less freedom than a typical college student, but also instills discipline.
“I’m always looking for a new challenge,” he said. “A military academy gives you that challenge. It makes you a part of something greater than yourself.”
He credits his high school football coaches at Boyd, Don Drake and J.J. Barry, with preparing him well for the academy. “They taught me all the discipline I needed to get through the regimented lifestyle I have now,” he said. “I’ve had a lot easier time than other people due to the toughness they taught me over the years.”
While Connor’s brother Michael originally intended to become a pilot, he is now a second lieutenant stationed at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and is waiting to see what career track he will follow.
He gained leadership skills while a student at the Air Force Academy and became accustomed to a very structured routine.
“You know what you’re going to be doing every single day,” Michael said. “You don’t wake up wondering ‘what am I going to do today?”
He spent the summer before his junior year at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio as a military training instructor. He worked with newly enlisted recruits—many older than himself—as they went through basic training. “They had zero experience in the military,” he said. “I was responsible for getting them to graduate and be successful.”
He also served as a squadron community service representative, keeping track of members’ community service hours and organizing service projects.
Michael was on the judo team while at the academy and served as captain his senior year. He credits his high school wrestling coach Shawn Brasher with preparing him for the academy.
“He instilled in me a constant drive to never quit and always strive to make myself better,” he said.
He plans to spend his entire career in the military.
“It’s a good fit for me,” he said. “I really internalized the values of the Air Force. It just feels right.”
Written by Katherine Leal Unmuth. This story is the sixth in a series of profiles on McKinney ISD graduates making a difference at home and around the world.
Photo at top: Michael and Connor Wilcox smiling together.Michael (l) and Connor Willcox (r).