Martins Ferry graduate to enter USMA

MARTINS FERRY – Martins Ferry High School has an alumnus to be proud of in Zachary Riggenbach.

Riggenbach, who graduated as co-valedictorian in 2013, has been accepted to the United States Military Academy (USMA) in West Point, New York. USMA is a prestigious school that was founded in 1802, making it the oldest of the nation’s five federal service academies.

At USMA, students are referred to as cadets. They are officers in training, and their tuition is paid by the U.S. Army in exchange for an active-service duty obligation. Cadets graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

Alumni and students are frequently called “The Long Gray Line,” and many historically significant individuals graduated from USMA, including U.S. presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant, former U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, Confederate Army commanding general Robert E. Lee, and former CIA Director David Petraeus.

With an undergraduate enrollment of just under 4,600, USMA is remarkably selective.

Approximately 9 percent of applicants are accepted, and applicants must receive a nomination from a congressional representative and apply directly to USMA.

Riggenbach worked with Field Force Admissions Representative Charles Ditchendorf, a Marietta resident, throughout the process of applying.

“It is an exceptional honor reserved for our nation’s most exceptional students,” Ditchendorf said. ” But it takes more than excellent grades to be accepted for admission. USMA also wants leaders who are physically fit and of outstanding character.”

Riggenbach became interested in USMA after he attended a one-week Summer Leadership Experience (SLE) on the school’s campus in his junior year of high school. Held every year in June, SLE allows high school juniors to experience life as a cadet for one week. The fast-paced program includes academic classes, military training, physical fitness training and intramural athletics.

“While I was at West Point for a week in the summer of 2013, I saw what I wanted to do in my career,” Riggenbach said. “The biggest contribution that the Academy makes, in my opinion, is developing officers that fight and win our nation’s wars. General MacArthur gave a speech to the Corps of Cadets ( known as his Duty, Honor, County speech) that outlined this principle. In it, Gen. MacArthur essentially said that all the other civilian professions would have somebody to answer their needs, but “yours is the profession of arms.”

“I felt that this may be the most worthy profession I’ve heard of once I had it explained in those terms,” Riggenbach added.

After returning from SLE, Riggenbach began the process of applying to USMA, receiving appointments from U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown for the class of 2017.

“Once I returned home, I knew that the only place I wanted to go to college was West Point, anything else would be accepting second best. I immediately started my application,” he said.

Although Riggenbach was deemed qualified, there was only one place open for students from Ohio’s 6th Congressional District and he was outscored by two other applicants. All the nations’ districts are subject to congressional limits on the number of cadets that can be accepted, to keep each service’s officer corps population representative of the country.

Riggenbach received the notification that he had not been accepted to USMA during Easter Break of 2013, while on a tour at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA). Though he had already been accepted at USCGA, Riggenbach was determined that USMA was the school for him.

“I realized during the tour that while the Coast Guard Academy was a great school, West Point was where I wanted to be,” he said.

Riggenbach took the blow in stride, instead choosing to join the Active Army in April of 2013, making him eligible for more nominations than high school candidates because of service, which translated to a higher probability of acceptance to USMA.

This year, Riggenbach reapplied to USMA, and even though the number of soldiers accepted from the U.S. Army was recently reduced from nearly100 to 85, he was chosen to attend. The second time around, he received nominations from Johnson again and U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Johnson was the one who notified Riggenbach that he had been accepted to USMA.

Riggenbach is slated to enter USMA on July 2 of this year, and he will graduate in 2018. He is currently training with the army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and he will complete that training in April as a member of Fox Company, 309th Military Intelligence Battalion. Riggenbach was set to join the 82nd Airborne Division, but that has changed with his acceptance. He will remain with Fox Company in Fort Huachuca as cadre to the unit until his departure for USMA.

Ditchendorf offered nothing but praise for Riggenbach.

“It’s been a pleasure to have worked with Zac and a delight to watch him grow,” he said, adding that Riggenbach’s degree will reflect highly on his abilities in the future.

Riggenbach gave credit to faculty members at Martins Ferry High School who helped him achieve his goal.

“Almost every one of my teachers at Ferry helped me in this process” he said. “My English teacher, Mrs. Stacey Bliss proofread all of my essays and wrote recommendations, my coaches helped with the record fitness test that is required by the Academy for admission decisions, and at least 12 separate individuals wrote letters of recommendation to some authority in the process. Many teachers wrote multiple letters. Also, Mr. Ditchendorf was answering questions and providing assistance from the beginning of the sometimes frustrating process.Without their help, none this would’ve been possible.”

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com.