WALHALLA, N.D. — Colton Willits will begin the first step on the way to realizing a lifelong dream when he enters the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs later this month.

Willitis, a recent graduate of North Border High School in Walhalla, was accepted to the Air Force Academy in March and will begin instruction there June 27. Willits will follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, grandfather and uncles, all who served in the military.

“My grandfather was Air Force, my great-grandfather was Army Air Corps and my uncles were Army,” Willits said.

“As a little kid, I always wanted to be in the military. I used to put on my grandfather’s Air Force uniform and run around the yard,” he said.

Willits' desire to be an officer was piqued by visits he had with military personnel he met at Cavalier Radar Station when he was helping his father, who owns an entertainment business, put on events there.

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“I’ve been going out there the last eight years. I’ve met graduates of the Academy and enlisted personnel. Their influence made me decide I want to apply for the Academy," he said.

The application process for the Air Force Academy is challenging and requires a recommendation by a member of Congress. Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp recommended Willits. Other criteria for students accepted to the Air Force Academy include a combination of success in academics and extracurricular activities.

Willits graduated with a 3.96 grade point average and was a three-sport athlete in high school, competing in football, basketball and track. He also was a member of the National Honor Society and was Boys State secretary and on the State Superintendent Student Cabinet. He also is an enlisted member of the North Dakota Air National Guard 119th Wing in Fargo.

Willits plans to study computer science at the Air Force Academy.

“I would like to commission as a cyberspace operations officer,” he said.