The standard question for any high school senior is "What are you going to do after graduation?" and one of Chinook's 2013 graduates is answering that question as only an elite few in the United States are able.
Rob Klingaman, star athlete in wrestling and football and straight-A student at Chinook High School, is going to be attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., starting June 27 for what is known as Plebe Summer before his four-year degree work begins.
Although he's unsure what field of study he'll concentrate on, Rob said he's primarily interested in engineering or political science. Since Naval Academy graduates can choose between United States Navy or Marine Corps careers, he will graduate as either an ensign in the Navy or a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
"It was quite the process," he said about applying, "and I feel pretty good, happy, it happened."
Despite Rob's words that downplay his achievement, only a relative few young people have the academic and athletic merit, as well as the diligence of spirit to tackle the application process, to earn a place in the Naval Academy, said Perry Miller, Rob's head wrestling coach and defensive football coach.
"I don't think everybody has quite in context what goes on," said Miller, who is also Blaine County Justice of the Peace, a 20-plus year military man and father of sons in different branches of service, including one at the U.S. Naval Academy.
20,000-plus applicants vie for the 1,200 to 1,300 annual openings at the Naval Academy, Miller said, adding that a certain number of those openings are taken by commitment to enlisted people and by direct appointments such as made by the president, former presidents, generals and admirals and for children of congress members, among others.
"So really they're vying for about 600 spots," he said. "To be selected is certainly very prestigious and very noble."
And, certainly, this wasn't a snap decision, said Rob's mother, Bobbi Klingaman who ranches with her husband Larry in Blaine County. He's been talking about joining some branch of the military since junior high, she added.
During his freshman year, Rob said, he spoke with Miller's son Willie Miller who was planning on joining the Naval Academy. As a result, he then started researching the academy, liked what he found out and made that his priority for a post-high school career path.
His junior year Rob was accepted into a Naval Academy six-day summer seminar.
"They really put you in the life," Rob said, by starting each day with physical training then moving on to classes during most days and activities with a platoon other days including mock sea trials and a seven-hour workout complete with obstacle course runs.
"It's a pretty fun, intense, atmosphere," he said, which also emphasizes honor and ethics.
He came back excited and determined to get his application completed and started on it "rigorously" in August, he said, and by December he had it sent in, along with required letters of recommendation and a nomination from a congressman.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester fulfilled that role for Rob, and it was his office that notified Rob Monday of last week that he'd been accepted.
The application process goes well beyond just filling out the proper paperwork, though, because applicants must meet age, academic, athletic, medical and character standards as well.
"Robbie is the kind of kid I believe, as a prior serviceman and having sons in all different branches of military ... we want to develop into our future leaders," Miller said.
Bobbi Klingaman credits Rob's association with Perry Miller and the Miller family with providing guidance toward the Naval Academy.
And Miller hopes that's true.
"He's a phenomenal young man," said Miller, who has known Rob literally all of the young man's life. "He's very diligent. He's very committed, very dedicated to things he does. You know he's a 4.0 student at Chinook High School, on track to be the valedictorian of the class ... a person that makes good choices and does the right thing."
Rob's parents are excited about his nomination and proud of his accomplishments and his future military service, his mom said.
"I'm proud of him. It's hard as a parent to have him go so far away but I think what he's doing is great," said his mom. "And he certainly has the heart and the mind for it."