BETHEL — For the first time in several years, a Telstar High School senior has been nominated for three U.S. military academies.
On Monday, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King nominated Gregory Wheeler so he could apply to either the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, West Point in New York or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
Wheeler is the son of Bethel natives and Telstar alumni Tim and Stacey Wheeler. He is the youngest of three children. His two sisters are in college.
“We’re very proud of him in whatever he chooses to do,” Stacey Wheeler said.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tim Wheeler said. “You can always come back to your roots. It will be a good opportunity with the travel to see things.”
Tim owns and operates Wheeler’s Redemption Center in town and Stacey has worked for 24 years as a registered nurse at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.
The family is steeped in military service to country, with uncles and grandparents mostly serving in the U.S. Army, including one uncle who served in four theaters of operations during World War II.
Additionally, Greg’s mother served six years as a nurse in the Army Reserves. She said she had just married Tim Wheeler when she was activated in 1991 for Desert Storm, the war waged against Iraq following its invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
Their skinny, nearly 6-foot-tall son, however, said Wednesday that his desire to serve in the military started six months ago, separate from family tradition.
“Yeah, it’s pretty independent of any family history,” Greg Wheeler said.
“There’s no family pressure,” his mother said, laughing.
Greg Wheeler said he wants to serve mainly for two reasons.
“It’s kind of like a combination of both — education and serving the country — like I’ll get education out of it, and I also get to give something, as well — so I kind of like the whole deal,” he said.
“Ultimately, I’ll be serving in the military as an officer, so it will be a pretty significant portion of my life, especially if I make a career out of it.”
Greg said he’d been filling out forms for the military since the end of summer. He is applying to West Point and the Air Force.
“If I wasn’t going to get into one of the federal service academies, I was thinking of getting into neuroscience, but in the military, I’d more than likely go with majoring in chemistry or biology,” he said.
Fitness is another impetus for the youth who excels at Nordic and Alpine skiing, competing at the Skimeister level on varsity teams. Stacey Wheeler said their son was born into a family of skiers and began skiing when he was three years old.
Last year, he took third in the state for Skimeister and was eighth in Alpine and giant slalom.
Greg Wheeler also competes in varsity cross-country and track-and-field running. He enjoys running when not in school and loves exercising, both physically and mentally, he said.
He enjoys philosophy, but his major hobby is reading and it shows in his schooling. Currently, he is fifth in his class of 57 seniors and has a grade average of 93, which is considered an A-minus at Telstar.
As a freshman, Greg said he doubled up on math and science courses. In his junior year, the school ran out of math and science courses to offer him, so he began taking college courses online.
He said he wants to focus on math and science in college.
“I like how you never have all the answers (in science) and, alternatively in math, I like how there is only one answer, even though there might be numerous ways of getting it,” Greg Wheeler said. “And that I’m good at it.”
So good that he and some friends began a peer tutoring program in five subjects last year to help other Telstar High School students with learning, rather than simply having a free period at the library.
Those 80 hours, combined with 16 hours in a muscular dystrophy project, give Greg Wheeler 36 more hours of community service than needed to graduate from Telstar. And that doesn’t include 48 hours helping with Special Olympics each winter, his mother said. He’s yet to submit that paperwork to the school.
“The Muscular Dystrophy was a project he did with his sister, Rachael,” Stacey Wheeler said Friday. “They did a bottle drive and put a softball team together for a tournament with C.N. Brown. They placed second for fundraising.
“Special Olympics is something some of the members from the Nordic team do each year with Maine Game Warden Norm Lewis and his son, Ben, up to Sugarloaf,” in Carrabassett Valley, she said.
Stacey Wheeler said their son is also “really good” with history and English.
“He’s well-rounded,” Tim Wheeler said, which, all things considered, is an understatement.
Telstar High School first-year Principal Ann Bell agreed. She said Greg Wheeler has been taking a lot of advanced placement courses and is very involved in clubs.
Speaking to Wheeler’s nomination to three military academies, Bell said, “It makes us all very proud here that we have students that are able to achieve at that level.”
“He’s just a great outstanding student,” she said. “He is a great student who is very respectful and a hard worker. He’s had to overcome challenges. All students have challenges at some point, courses that challenge them, and you have to learn to work around those challenges — and, obviously, he’s done that.
“He’s definitely a student who has pushed himself to accomplish these things and that’s what it’s all about — students engaged in elevated learning,” she said. “And he’s quite an athlete.”
School guidance counselor secretary Marilyn Howe said Greg Wheeler is the first Telstar senior since Ben Cross in 2009 to get nominated for a military academy.
“He’s going to be a lifelong learner, that boy,” Howe said.
Greg Wheeler is in the student council, National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, where he serves at the state chapter level as treasurer.
He also acts in student plays.
“Acting is just fun, and I find that I’m not terribly nervous when it comes to performing in front of crowds,” he said. “I don’t know, it felt pretty natural to do.”
Last year, Greg played The Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” and was in last year’s winter play, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“That was his acting debut,” Stacey Wheeler said of “The Wizard of Oz” production.
“It’s funny,” Greg said. “Like for a couple of months afterwards, little kids who saw the play would see me, point and whisper, ‘It’s the lion.'”
In the other play, Greg said he was the main character’s brother, “who was off fighting a war for most of the play. I never realized the irony of that until today.”
He said he doesn’t do much outside of school.
“I’m taking college courses, so those take up my nights and sports take up my afternoons and the rest of the day, and on the weekends I work,” Wheeler said.
He also works two seasonal jobs on weekends, working at Cafe DiCocoa, a market bakery and cafe, and at The Bethel Inn.
Unlike most high school seniors, Greg Wheeler hasn’t bothered to get a driver’s license, because he has a motorcycle permit and a motorcycle.
He also enjoys learning statistics and critical thinking, or Philosophy 101.
“It actually just teaches you how to argue,” he said. “Basically, philosophy is your ability to reason ideas. I like philosophy just because it’s just a really subtle way of learning how to deal with the world. I like to think.”
Greg Wheeler said his ambition is to excel at life.
“Aristotle once said that the greatest happiness comes from self-realization and that’s what I’m going for — be all you can be,” he said.
This month, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also nominated:
* Samuel Brenner of Livermore and Spruce Mountain High School for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
* Thomas Rose of Lovell and Fryeburg Academy for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
* Christopher Titus of Farmington and Mount Blue High School for the U.S. Air Force Academy.