One nomination closer to a dream future for Lorna Loughery and Ana Panaitescu


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For months, seniors Lorna Loughery (L) and Ana Panaitescu (R) have been working hard on their application to get nominated to the Air Force Academy. Their dreams came true just a few weeks ago and they are now waiting to hear back from the academy itself.

TOWAMENCIN — As seniors Lorna Loughery and Ana Panaitescu were sitting in their homes eating a bag of chips one day, completely clueless about what was to come next, they were interrupted by a sudden phone call from an unknown number. When they answered the call, they received a message of a lifetime, announcing their nomination to the Air Force Academy.

The two initially heard of the Air Force Academy from their families because they knew they had an interest in being involved in the military.

The amount of education and the leadership training they get there is like no place on Earth

— Ana Panaitescu

“I actually found out about the Air Force Academy in ninth grade from my dad. This one night, he talked about this Facebook post he saw, and he was telling me about how he saw the Air Force Academy kids throwing their caps up in the air and said, ‘It was beautiful.’ I was already part of the Civil Air Patrol, so I kind of had a background in the military or the military life, I’d say. I started researching that and I was like, ‘The amount of education and the leadership training they get there is like no place on Earth,’ Panaitescu said on what initially sparked her interest in applying. “By requesting nomination, I’m requesting them to help me become the leader I’m supposed to be in the future and help lead the new generation of people who are also going to be under me.”

“I heard about the Air Force Academy sometime in between seventh or eighth grade. I’ve always wanted to pursue something in aeronautical engineering, so [her mom] was like, ‘Have you looked at it at all?’ and at first, I was kind of like, ‘No, not really. That didn’t really intrigue me much,’ and then I kind of started to toy around with different leadership seminars and I joined JROTC, which really helped me find a love for the military, and I’ve had family in the US since the 1700s, so they’ve fought in a lot of wars and a lot of those are documented, and growing up, I listened to a lot of those stories. That kind of helped me shape my love for the Air Force and made me want to pursue the Academy,” Loughery said.

The preliminary application process begins in March. It starts in the middle of the applicant’s junior year and goes halfway into their senior year. That initial stage will consist of recommendation letters, essays, background questions (GPA and academics), a physical fitness test, and a medical examination. Applicants will also have to log all of the service activities they’ve done throughout the years while also answering questions relating to leadership and integrity. The physical fitness aspect of the application will be administered in a certain order and at certain time limits for various physical activities including pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and a mile run in which they will have to meet certain averages. 

“The test is set up in a way where it’s supposed to be extra challenging because it’s more so the order that it’s in in general. You have to do a basketball throw where you keep your arms straight behind the line and have to throw a basketball as far as you can, which is a very odd thing that you wouldn’t normally expect to do on a daily basis, but also pairing that in a certain order, so being able to push yourself for about 45 minutes we go through the entire process with the time allotted in between events and moving forward,” Loughery explained. 

“I know for Covid, it’s been especially hard to do this. You have to find it on your own time, making sure that the schedule you’re building is enough to build muscle for you and make sure you’re getting this result,” Panaitescu said on training during the pandemic.

After submitting the first portion of the application, they will then be interviewed by the review board, who will ask intricate questions that relate to the academy they are applying for. Once the applications have been sent and interviews are completed, candidates will be selected for various categories: Congressional, Senator, Vice Presidential, and Presidential.

Considering that it was such a detailed application process, many can find it difficult to stay on top of things and stay driven to get things done. One thing that helped them stay motivated and organized was to keep a checklist of all of the deadlines, either on a whiteboard or spreadsheet.

“That would be my motivator: to check off those boxes. Although Covid did happen and it was quite a struggle, I think that just having that thought saying, ‘I can check off that box,’ it was just such a satisfying feeling and knowing that you’re one step closer, it’s such a big motivator,” Panaitescu said.

In addition to being a long process, it’s also highly competitive, and the two had to learn to overcome negative thoughts whenever they came up. They constantly looked to their friends and family for moral support, but they also had to find the confidence within themselves to keep going.

Anyone can fill out an application and anyone can type words into a document, but it’s whether or not you’re putting the proper motivation and the proper effort into those things.

— Lorna Loughery

“There’s going to be people out there who are going to be better than me, but those are the things I can’t control. What I can control is just continuing to do better for the community and just being a better person,” Panaitescu said.

“Anyone can fill out an application and anyone can type words into a document, but it’s whether or not you’re putting the proper motivation and the proper effort into those things,” Loughery added.

Coincidentally, the two found themselves in the same situation when they discovered that they were both nominated.

“I was in my kitchen eating guacamole. I got a phone call, and it said, ‘No caller ID’ and I was like, ‘Oh come on, these scammers again.’ And I was so close to hanging up on them, but I answered and I was just really confused and then I heard, ‘Hi, this is Amanda Toth from Senator Bob Casey’s office. I am pleased to inform you that you got a nomination. I told her, ‘Thank you’ like 50 times. I think she was sick and tired of hearing me say that, but I was just so speechless. I started screaming at the top of my lungs. My sister got so scared, so I told her all about it and it was just crazy to think that it happened and it was just amazing to see what was accomplished,” Panaitescu said about her reaction to being nominated. 

“I was eating chips and laying in bed, and I think I was on a FaceTime call with someone and then suddenly, the audio cut off, I see that there’s this phone call and I had been stalking my phone 24/7, monitoring it. Whenever I got a call from anyone, I didn’t care if it was a scammer, I was picking up everything. I knew it would be relatively around Christmas time that I would be getting it, if any, from certain offices. I answered it and they were like, ‘Hello, Lorna Loughery’ and I was like, ‘Yes, sir,’ and he basically congratulated me. I got up and I’m trying to keep this straight face, you know, a professional tone of voice as I’m shuffling across the room and I go to my dad who was asleep and I’m like shaking him awake while on the phone and he’s looking at me like, ‘Is everything okay?’ and I just hang up. It was just a very joyful moment jumping up and down and dancing around. It was like a ton of weight lifted off your shoulders and was very freeing,” Loughery explained.

“I was extremely happy and excited for both of them. Getting a nomination is very difficult. Both of them faced off against the best students in Montgomery County and across the state. I was confident that one of them would receive a nomination. It is rare for two students in the same class at the same school to get nominations to the same academy, so I was also pleasantly surprised,” Major Parmiter said. “To get to this point requires years of hard work: keeping their GPA up, great SAT scores, sports, and extracurricular activities. I’ve seen students get accepted to Ivy League schools and not get nominations to an academy.”   

“It is always a little emotional to receive the news that one of our cadets secured a nomination for an academy, so you can only imagine the amount of pride to hear two of our own were nominated. Although we are thrilled for all of our cadets, whether they opt to go right into the workforce, college, enlist or ROTC, the academy is always a little sweeter merely because of the perseverance required to complete the challenging application process and minimal slots available,” Chief Sullivan explained. “I must admit that I am not surprised though. These young ladies excel in all their endeavors. They both have held the highest position within our program as cadet commander of AFJROTC PA-20062. C/Col Loughery was our first commander as a junior, a true testament of her capabilities.”

If you keep pushing through, you can really achieve anything.

— Ana Panaitescu

Currently, they are waiting until March or April to hear back from the academy to know whether or not they have been appointed. This experience was long and, at times, tiring, but it was well worth the dedication for the two because it was an overall tremendous learning opportunity.

“I learned more about myself and my character, what I can build upon, and what are the things that are out of my control. Overall, that mental battle was something you really had to learn. You had to learn your own brain. It’s constantly saying, ‘You can do this and you got this,’ Panaitescu stated on what she learned from this experience. “If you keep pushing through, you can really achieve anything. It sounds pretty cliché, but it’s so true and you don’t realize it until you get to a point in your life where you do have to experience that.”

“For me, I definitely learned a lot about my ability to speak of myself because that’s not something I do very often. In the three different interviews I did, each one was different, but it’s also a different environment, you’re on a board of people who know what it takes to get into the academies and they’re scrutinizing you down to the core. They are looking you straight in the eye, two of them being virtual, you have to change your manner and when speaking, you’re not going to speak as much with your hands, you kind of have to sit there and kind of hope your facial expressions can portray the things that you want them to, or in person at a distance,” Loughery said. “I learned a lot about that and also embracing the things that I’ve done and turning them into something that is now mine like taking all the little seeds that I’ve planted along the way and finally seeing them bloom. It was very rewarding.”

Without the help of their surroundings, Loughery and Panaitescu could not imagine where they would be. They owe all of their hard work to those who helped them reach their goals.

“I would like to thank everyone out there, the things I’m a part of, like Civil Air Patrol. The people there have always been big supporters of this, and people in the JROTC have always been there; they’ve been inspirations for us. For me, personally, my family. They’ve always been there and I think I’m so blessed to have a family I can open up to. I think they’ve been a really big part of motivating me, making sure that if I’m feeling down, I can have the proper advice and they can be that shoulder to cry on if need be,” Panaitescu said. “The resources I’ve had in the past have been there with open arms and I think I really feel blessed for that.”

These two amazing ladies are just what the academies are searching for as future officers of character, integrity, and discipline. I know these dynamic women will become exemplary leaders and contribute to the continued success of America.

— Chief Sullivan

“The first people I need to thank are Major Parmiter and Chief Sullivan. They’ve been here for me for over four years now, and they’ve always been on my side. They’re there to help me. They’ve helped me grow in so many ways that I definitely would not be where I am if they were not there to help me along in the process or if I had a question, they always had the answer and they sent me in the right direction. It was amazing having people who could be teachers but also be a confidant and supporters because they know what it takes and they definitely supplied the confidence and motivation I think Ana and I both needed in our own respects,” Loughery said. “I love to thank my family too because they have always been there, they know what my motivations are, and they never let me steer off that path. My sister’s my best friend in the entire world. If I had a question on wording or if I needed her opinion on something, she was always willing to help me out.”

“These two amazing ladies are just what the academies are searching for as future officers of character, integrity, and discipline. I know these dynamic women will become exemplary leaders and contribute to the continued success of America,” Sullivan said.