Two Belize Defense Force cadets, both young women, beat out hundreds of candidates from around the world for 4-year scholarships worth around a million dollars to attend West Point - the prestigious U.S. Military Academy.
Only 22 of the scholarships are offered to military formations around the world, and officer cadets 17-year-old Roberta Usher and 18-year-old Justine Swift snagged two of them. They are the second and third Belizean nationals ever to attend West Point and they are also the first females. They leave on Wednesday and today the two teenage girls told us they will leave as cadets and return as soldiers.
Roberta Usher, Heading to West Point
"I feel very honored that I got this opportunity and I got selected out of a few. I am honored and I am looking forward to serving Belize when I come back. I believe that this will enhance my discipline very much. I believe in the BDF motto 'shoulder to shoulder,' you must stand for your brother, be your brother's keeper, and I believe it's a very visible way to serve our country and my family line has been serving forever so I just want to continue that."
Justine Swift, Heading to West Point
"For me its more than just a dream I had when I was a little girl, it's a accomplishment especially being one in 22 from around the world to be selected as a candidate for West Point. I have to prove to all the males that I can persevere like them and I can make it through those hardships that I may encounter."
Brigadier General Lloyd Gillet, Commander BDF
"There are the first two women the BDF are sending to West Point. We had sent one man a couple years ago. Every year we can nominate up to 18 persons for these scholarships, this year we only nominated 5 and we got 2 persons selected."
Lt. Col. David Treleaven, U.S. Military Liaison
"The U.S. Military Academy at West Point of course is a very old, very prestigious institution now at over 200 year old and it is full spectrum university, in other words these young ladies will have to decide what their majors will have to be, they can choose electrical engineering or history if they want or in English, again it's a full spectrum curriculum that you'll find an ordinary university. Of course on top of that it's a very strong professional military training."
As part of the scholarship, both cadets have to return to Belize after graduation in 2009 and serve in the BDF for at least 4 years. The scholarships are estimated to be valued about US$250,000 each.