Rio Mesa grad appears headed to West Point

Michael Bush.
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Since graduating from Rio Mesa High School, Michael Bush has been to boot camp, the Army’s advanced combat training and had a tour in Iraq.
In high school, he was into dance, heavy metal and working at the mall but dreamed of adventure and travel.

It was the latter part that led him to enlist in the Army.

Since grabbing his diploma from Rio Mesa High School in 2008, Michael Bush has gone to boot camp in Georgia, done a short stint on a base in Germany and completed a year’s tour in Iraq. Now, it looks like he’s headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Bush still has a thing about Metallica and jeans from the Hollister Clothing Co., but now he wants more than just adventure and travel. He wants to lead men.

“I’ve seen good and bad officers,” said Bush, who was profiled by The Star in 2008 along with five other young men and women who enlisted in the Army and Marines. “I thought I want to be that good officer.”

Plucked from his company in the 72nd Expeditionary Signals Battalion, the 20-year-old Oxnard native is now enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

The school, dubbed West Point Prep by some, is for enlisted men or women deemed a good fit for the academy but who still need to complete academic work to qualify for admission. Most of the more than 200 students will go on to the academy, but it’s not guaranteed.

Because of their maturity, age and prior service, the cadets who have gone through the prep school are also more likely to assume leadership roles once they go to West Point, according to the school. Although the officer candidates who have gone to the prep school account for only 11 percent of the total 1,200 cadets enrolled in the academy, they make up more than 20 percent of the cadets in leadership positions, according to the school.

For Bush, the prospect of attending West Point was not something he considered before enlisting in the Army. The more than 200-year tradition of the “Long Gray Line” at West Point, where generations of America’s great leaders and generals were once plebes, was completely foreign to Bush.

“I didn’t know much about West Point,” he said. “I think I knew it was where people went to school to become officers. I knew they had very high standards, but I really didn’t know anything about it.”

West Point — with its motto “Duty, Honor, Country” — has a history of producing the cream of the officers in the Army. Among leaders who once graced its halls are two former presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, and a long list of generals, including Robert E. Lee, Douglas McArthur, George S. Patton, Omar Bradley and Norman Schwarzkopf. The stately granite buildings of the school on the Hudson River in New York couldn’t be farther away for a kid who grew up in Oxnard.

Bush’s mother, Rose, said the opportunity for her son is enormous.

“It’s a big turnaround in our life,” his mother said. “I know he’s very smart and he was going to do good things, but this is a great chance for him.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Bush’s mother said she knew a little more about the school than her son because the former president, Fidel V. Ramos, attended West Point. So when her son — who was serving in Iraq as a specialist fixing and setting up computer and communications networks — was contacted by a West Point admissions officer who noticed his high assessment test scores, she understood the significance.

Bush said at one point he talked to his company commander, Maj. Heather Gunther, who graduated from West Point.

“She encouraged me,” he said.

Bush always had ambitions to go to college. He wanted to study computer engineering and, in part, he’d seen the military as a way to help him pay for school. But attending a prestigious military academy to become an officer and a future leader wasn’t something he envisioned.

That’s changed. In the months that he’s been at West Point Prep, Bush has become a company commander and excelled in academics. He’s also had a few opportunities to visit West Point. On Veterans Day, he and fellow officer candidates marched in a parade in New York City, as did cadets from West Point.

“It’s not what I was expecting, but it’s what I want to do,” he said.

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