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Edwards honors military academy nominees as 'cream of the crop'

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy-bound Michael Puzerewski and Anita Zavyalova, who will attend the Naval Academy, pose with U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards clearly enjoyed celebrating the "top-notch" high school seniors he had nominated for admission to U.S. military service academies.

“When I got elected to Congress, I didn't realize this was one of the things I get to do," the freshman congressman said during a reception for the applicants at his 11th Congressional District headquarters in Hendersonville. "It has been such a pleasure, such a joy and such an honor to have been involved in this. I've been so proud to have been a part of it and I've learned a great deal. This committee just asked some incredible questions, every one of which I learned from.”

Edwards called on Julia Ledbetter, a 2023 graduate of Hendersonville High School who just finished her first semester at the Naval Academy, to describe the experience.

“The best advice I can give anyone is: Great," she said. "Definitely we work really hard. It’s a lot, but it's worth every minute of it.”

A weekend visit to the Annapolis, Maryland, campus for prospective applicants convinced Anita Zavyalova, a senior at A.C. Reynolds High School, that she wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Everyone there was so striving towards success and I wanted to be a part of that environment,”  Zavyalova said.

She plans to specialize in cyber operations. Although the Navy requires academy graduates to serve five more years after graduation, Zavyalova sees herself as a career Navy officer. She’d like an assignment in Germany but is ready to go if her country asks her to deploy to a combat zone.

“It's what the Navy wants me to do, so I'll do whatever” the Navy asks, she said.

Michael Puzerewski of Fairview, who attends Holy Innocence home-school Academy, is the other applicant to have been admitted. Two older brothers also were admitted to his destination, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York.

Nominees awaiting word on their applications were Cayden Cannon, U.S. Military Academy; James, O'Neill, High School; Miles Edwards, U.S. Air Force Academy, Asheville High School; Luke Garner, U.S. Air Force Academy, Christ School; Cedric Gordon, U.S. Air Force Academy, Asheville High School; Matthew Hyatt, U.S. Naval Academy, North Buncombe High School; William Lawing, U.S. Air Force Academy Nesbitt, Discovery Academy; Nathaniel Leftwich, U.S. Naval Academy, Pisgah High School; and James Lilly, U.S. Naval Academy, Christ School; Chloe Smith, U.S. Naval Academy, North Henderson High School; and Lillian Whitesides, U.S. Naval Academy, Franklin High School.

"It's really been invigorating for me to see such top notch individuals apply for these military academies," Edwards said. "So many people are down on youth today, for various reasons, but it was so special for me to get to meet each individual here and see their high academic achievements, their energy and their passion for serving our country. And it was very easy decision to put every one of their names forward as as a nominee.

"These folks here are the cream of cream of the crop," he added. "They're going to be true leaders in our society and in our military forces."

Edwards also thanked members of the congressional district committee, made up of retired military officers who graduated from a service academy, for vetting and interviewing the applicants.

Committee members are Maj. General Rick Devereaux, USAF (ret.) chair; Maj Richard G. Augur, USAF Reserves (ret.); Kelly McCartney, USAF (ret.); Capt. Kevin C Albright, USN (ret.); Col. Walton Wright Curl, MD, US Army (ret.); Capt. George H. (Herb) Mensch, USN (ret.); and Col. John Plant, US Army (ret.).