Homeschooled Bastrop County teen headed to Air Force Academy

A Bastrop County teenager will soon join the ranks of the select few accepted into a U.S. military academy with future plans to serve the country.

Lake Mills, an 18-year old who lives near Paige, will report June 24 to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., fulfilling a dream he’s had since he was 12 years old.

Mills, who’s been homeschooled primarily by his mother Julie Mills, said he was always drawn to the military because military values aligned with his personal values.

He had grandparents who served in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, and in September 2016 when he was 14, Mills joined the Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit that serves as the official auxiliary of the Air Force.

Mills’ acceptance into the Air Force Academy wasn’t just the completion of a tedious, nearly two-year application process that involved nominations, letters of recommendation, interviews, medical tests and essays to get into a school with an acceptance rate hovering around 10 percent, it was also a milestone moment for his family, which has chosen to homeschool all five of its children.

The ability for Julie Mills and her husband Brett’s five boys to roam around outside and participate in “free play” was something that appealed to Julie Mills, a former English teacher who tailored the homeschool curriculum to have a focus on experiential learning.

This meant countless family field trips where the brothers would visit museums and natural and historic sites such as the Great Smoky Mountains, Colonial Williamsburg and Washington, D.C.

Mills said he’s enjoyed the environment created through homeschooling, where hands-on application is stressed. For example, he said that after learning about vectors in math he was able to apply what he learned by building an elevator with pulleys. The brothers have also completed work with real-world electricians to aid their study of physics.

In addition to homeschool work, Mills also took dual-credit classes at Austin Community College and courses at One Day Academy.

This came in addition to his Civil Air Patrol activities like serving as the cadet commander for his squadron of more than 60 cadets based at Camp Mabry and remaining on course for the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award. The award is the highest cadet honor given by CAP and presented to cadets who have “demonstrated excellence in leadership, character, fitness and aerospace education,” according to the award’s website.

Less than 0.5% of CAP cadets in the nation receive the Spaatz Award each year, and Mills received his this month.

“I had a goal in mind. Like the Air Force Academy, that was my goal and that was my vision,” Mills said of earning the Spaatz Award. “When I have something, I’m going to get it done regardless.”

Mills said another advantage of being homeschooled was that it allowed him to activelyseek relationships that weren’t built into a traditional school experience.

He could build bonds while volunteering at the church his family attends — Bastrop Christian Church — where Mills sang in the choir, worked as a sound technician for the choir and served as a junior deacon and as a children’s ministry teacher.

Julie Mills raised each of her five children with the mantra “do it scared.”

“Some people stay in their comfort zones and they never go out and try new things,” Mills said. “I don’t think you get to expand your perspective and learning from that, and I’ve always been so thankful for that.”

Like his older brother Hudson, Lake Mills received a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship to travel outside the U.S. to study a critical language in a different country. During summer2019 he studied abroad in Moldova for six weeks.

While the U.S. State Department paid for Hudson to study Mandarin in China, Mills went to Moldova to study Russian.

He picked Russian because it was a top critical language listed by the Air Force, and the 120 hours of intensive Russian study he completed added another distinguishing aspect to his military application.

His mother said she’s confident that the Air Force Academy is where Lake is supposed to be.

“It’s kind of like he was made to do that,” Julie Mills said, adding that she’s excited to maybe help other Central Texas parents with military academy applications for homeschool students.

While Mills doesn’t have to select a major until his second year in Colorado, he’s eyeing military and strategic studies. The end goal — as it has been since he was 12 — is to be a pilot, hopefully flying fighter planes before eventually retiring into the commercial airline business.

“I’m really looking forward to becoming a better leader, better communicator and working with a bunch of people accomplishing goals. I’m ecstatic to head out.”

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