Bradyn Kaiser was prepared to enter the University of Illinois on a full ride this fall, with plans to seek a degree in aerospace engineering.
Then, the 2020 graduate of Vandalia Community High School received an email that made him change his plans, for something he had thought about as a second-grader.
Now, Kaiser, the son of John and Tina (Braun) Kaiser, will pursue that kind of degree while preparing to serve his country.
Kaiser learned at the end of May that his application to the U.S. Naval Academy had been accepted.
It’s a chance to follow in the footsteps of his father, who served with the presidential helicopter squadron for eight years with Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
He participated in 86 presidential support missions with Clinton and Bush while a gunnery sergeant and in 76 support missions with Bush and Obama as quality assurance chief.
During his time with the presidential helicopter squadron, John Kaiser, a 1993 graduate of VCHS, was the quality assurance chief.
“Any maintenance or anything that was done on the (three) aircraft I had to sign off on, so they were safe to fly,” he said.
Bradyn Kaiser was a young boy during his father’s final years in the Marines.
But it left enough of an impression that Bradyn thought about also being a Marine.
When he and other second-graders were asked to write about “My Future Career,” Bradyn wrote, “When I become an adult, I plan on having a career as a Marine.
“The best part of being a Marine will be protecting people on earth,” he wrote.
Bradyn, who shared VCHS valedictorian honors with cousin Lanee McNary and Sophie Whitten with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages, is among the 1,185 plebes and 15 international students going to Annapolis, Md., for six weeks of basic midshipman training as part of Plebe Summer.
During this time, plebes have no access to television, movies, the Internet or music, and have restricted access to cell phones, being permitted to only three calls in the six-week period.
Plebes will learn basic skills in seamanship, navigation, damage control, sailing and handling yard patrol craft, and will also learn infantry drill and how to shoot 9-mm pistols and M-16 rifles.
To be considered for a prestigious appointment to the Naval Academy, Kaiser had to receive nominations from a U.S. senator or U.S. representative, and he received those from Dick Durbin and John Shimkus, respectively.
He also received a presidential nomination, meaning that he had three nominations, when only one was required.
Kaiser began thinking about what he was going to do after high school in the spring of his junior year.
“I was thinking (about) engineering, for sure,” he said. “Then, we (Bradyn and his parents) started talking about different options, and the (military) academies came up.
“So we started considering that, too,” Kaiser said.
But, John, who had a 21-year career in the military, did not have a role in Bradyn’s decision-making process.
“Honestly, I didn’t have any input on it,” John said. “Going to the Naval Academy, I never brought it up.
“I was pretty shocked when he actually brought it up,” he said.
Knowing that his son had a choice between the Naval Academy and a full ride at University of Illinois, John did not try to sway his son.
“I don’t care either way, because both of those options are really great for him,” John said.
“I mean, I would love for him to join the Marine Corps, but he’s got to do what’s right for him,” he said.
“Prior to him bringing it (Naval Academy) up, we had never really talked about it before. And, then, when it came around that we were looking at colleges, this came up,” John said.
“We talked about how big a commitment it was, and he’s already done his research, so he knew that,” he said.
“I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since he spent the first 13 years of his life around the military,” John said.
“I really didn’t have any influence on it,” he said. “I mean, I’m sure I did, but I didn’t try to sway him.
“I was pretty excited that he had a full ride to go to the U of I,” John said.
“I encouraged him to go to college and then, if you want to go to the military afterward,” he said. “But that’s what he wants to do.
“I guess it’s a good thing when the U of I is your Plan B.
“He said he wanted to go someplace that he knew he could make a difference,” John said.
Bradyn confirmed that his father did not push him one way or another, U of I or Naval Academy.
“I’d say it more like he would bring it (the military) to light,” Bradyn said, “but not anything on the final decision.”
On how he made that decision, Bradyn said, “I don’t know – it’s just that when I got the call (for his appointment), I knew that’s what I wanted to do … for sure.
Bradyn said he chose the Naval Academy over other military academies, “because in the Naval Academy, you can go to the Navy or Marines, and (Marines) is what I grew up around.”
In the academy, Kaiser will work on a bachelor’s degree. Currently, he’s looking at working on a degree in aerospace engineering, but doesn’t have to make a decision on his major until after his freshman year.
“They’ll show you the different options that you can explore. So, right now, I’m thinking aerospace, but it could change,” he said.
Bradyn started working on his application for the Naval Academy in June of last year and completed it around September.
Bradyn then applied for the University of Illinois and learned in December that he had been accepted there.
For application to the Naval Academy, Kaiser submitted his academic and personal information, gathered teacher recommendations and completed a fitness test.
Then, he had a three-hour interview with a blue and gold officer and had to write a 500-word essay of sorts “about why you wanted to go and why you’d be a good fit, stuff like that.
While knowing that he had been accepted at the U of I and knowing that he was on the waiting list for the Naval Academy, Bradyn “was just kind of focused on the U of I, because I just couldn’t hope that I would get in (to the academy) and have no backup plan.
“When I got that email (about his Naval Academy appointment), I just felt like, I want to go there more than the U of I,” he said.
Receiving news about the appointment, “I was a little shocked at first. I wasn’t really expecting to get that email,” he said.
Bradyn said it took about two days to make his decision about what way to go. “We had to weigh the pros and cons for each.”
He said that his father’s military background did help with the decision “because he knows a lot about it and what I’m getting into.”
Bradyn will report to the academy this Thursday afternoon.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his start at the Naval Academy will be a little different.
“Usually, you’d go in, get your hair cut, get your bags, and then just wait in line for a while,” he said. “Everyone (usually) shows up on the same day.
“But, this year, they’re staggering it over five days, and I had to show up with my head shaved.
“My parents just have to drop me off at the gate, and I’ll get to talk to them a little bit before I officially go in,” Bradyn said.
During his plebe summer, he will be in a four-week indoctrination while also starting his education.
In other summers, the plebes will train with other military personnel. Kaiser train with marines and go on a submarine, along with other things.
“There’s a lot of variety in how you’re trained,” he said, noting that that includes “practicing your leadership skills as an officer.”
After that first year, Bradyn and other plebes will continue to work on their physical fitness on their own.
“They really want you to be responsible for that,” he said.
At the end of his time at the academy, Bradyn has the option of entering the Marines as a second lieutenant or the Navy as an ensign.
He then is obligated to serve at least five years in the military.
Bradyn, at this point, is interested in going into the Marines, but “only so many get to go into the Marines, and everyone else goes into the Navy.”
While his father’s career in the military wasn’t the deciding factor for Bradyn, he feels that being around the Marines up to age 13 does give him something that many other plebes won’t have.
“I feel like I know more about what career I’m getting into and how the military operates while some might not because they haven’t grown up in a military family,” Bradyn said.
Preparing to enter the Naval Academy, Bradyn Kaiser feels just like he did when he was in second grade.
“I just want to do something impactful, that I feel like I’m doing something important,” he said.