Kickapoo grad enters military academy
John Robert Snider II can pinpoint the exact time a decade ago when he started thinking about a life in the military.
It was when his father, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy known as West Point, returned from an overseas mission and talked about his experiences. He spoke of duty, love of country, leadership, camaraderie and service to others.
The teen, who is called John Robert by his family, was hooked.
“He came back and started telling me stories about the Army,” said John Robert, who recently graduated from Springfield’s Kickapoo High School. “That is when I first got intrigued to look at the military as a path.”
The teen explored his options and found out he was in high demand.
Selected by the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, he was also admitted — and was offered hefty scholarships — to attend Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The U.S. Air Force Academy was his first choice. He will report June 27 to the campus just north of Colorado Springs.
“This is definitely my calling. This is the best way I can give back to my country and to serve,” he said. “Being in the military is one of the best things you can do to help the most amount of people.”
Every year, more than 12,000 students apply for the U.S. Air Force Academy and only 1,000 or so are selected. The training and education is valued at more than $400,000 and includes tuition, room and board, medical care, and a monthly stipend.
The high-achieving teen, a student athlete and leader at Kickapoo, was not the first man in his family to answer the call.
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His father and his grandfather, Clarence Snider, served in the U.S. Army and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. His grandfather on his mom’s side, Airgas Manalert, was a commander in the Royal Thai Navy.
None nudged him toward the military.
Sunday is his final Father’s Day at home before reporting. The teen said he has spent time lately thinking about his father — and grandfathers — and the decisions they made.
“My dad is my ultimate inspiration,” he said. “In my opinion, my dad is the perfect man.”
In recent years, they have talked at length about the hard work, discipline and sacrifice required to serve.
“He told me that in battle, he’d risk his life to save two lives. That has always stuck with me,” John Robert said. “I’d rather put myself on the line for others.”
His father graduated in the top of his West Point class and was selected to spend one semester at the U.S. Air Force Academy, as part of an exchange program. He shared his impressions with his son.
“That is part of why I chose the Air Force Academy,” John Robert said. “He told me the semester he was at the … academy he was just amazed at the students there.”
But, he warned, it would not be an easy route. The days will be packed, the coursework will be rigorous and the physical demands will be relentless.
“My dad has taught me everything he knows about what I need to do at the academy to survive,” he said. “… I have to take all the classes and get good grades and graduate high in my class if I want to go where I want to go after the academy.”
Snider plans to study aeronautical or astronautical engineering with the intent to become a pilot and, hopefully, join the NASA Astronaut Corps.
“The end goal is to become an astronaut. That would be really cool,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to fly any missions for the astronaut corps but just being a part of that — being a part of missions — would be nice.”
The elder John Snider, a civil engineer, said his father served in Vietnam when he was a boy and didn’t encourage or discourage him from following in his footsteps.
“He educated me and he just said ‘Hey, here is something that is available to you,'” said Snider, 57. “It’s a calling, so to speak. It calls you. It was good that my dad let West Point call me and (we) let the Air Force Academy call John Robert.”
The military life meant moving around but the elder Snider finished high school in Joplin, a place he considers a home base. He met wife Ratthima, a ceramics engineer, as she pursued a doctorate at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
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The couple has two sons, John Robert and Jack Ryan, 16, a student at Kickapoo, who grew up in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The family moved to Springfield a few years ago and the boys were encouraged to get involved in school.
“We always try to tell them to do the right thing,” said Snider, noting he urged his sons to serve others. “We encouraged him to reach his potential and to fulfill his destiny.”
At Kickapoo, John Robert played golf and ran cross country. He served on cabinet and was a member of DECA, FBLA, academic team, National Honor Society, the Kickapoo University and the A+ program.
Kickapoo Principal Bill Powers, who just completed his first year leading the high school, said he got to know John Roberts and his family.
“He leads by example. He always stepped up to do what needed to be done.”
Powers recalled how John Robert, who was singled out during the senior recognition academy, spoke about his father and how much his example had shaped his life.
“He’s a great role model for our younger students,” he said.
“He’s just a great kid. I know he’s going to be fantastic at the academy,” Powers said. “It’s an outstanding honor. I know his family is very proud of him and we, as a school community, are really proud of him and we can’t wait to see what he does.”
The teen was nominated by three lawmakers. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt supported him for the U.S. Naval Academy, former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill backed him going to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Rep. Billy Long nominated him to any of the military academies.
After all the acceptance letters were in — from military academies and the Missouri universities — the teen committed to the U.S. Air Force Academy and then informed his parents.
“We were a little bit surprised,” said his father. “But, he’s got to make those decisions himself now. I said ‘OK, that’s good. He’s growing up.'”
The teen said the academy life will be all-consuming. He will only be allowed to visit his parents and brother at Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and part of the summer.
“Seeing my family will be limited but it will be worth it in the end,” he said. “And, it will be even better when I do see them.”
Two weeks ago, he watched President Donald Trump address cadets at the academy’s 2019 graduation over a live feed online. “It was really great to see all the happy faces of people graduating and throwing their hats in the air and hugging each other because, it is a long, hard four years.”
Snider said his wife and sons sacrificed and worried for him while he was deployed and now it’s his turn to keep watch.
“Like any parent, you worry if they go into combat. It is a dangerous business, even the training so you have some risk,” he said. “… When I went to combat, just like everybody, I was scared but then after a few minutes I realized I’d trained my whole life for this moment. Then I thought ‘What do I have to fear as long as I got the right training.'”
Snider said he’s excited for the adventure that awaits his son.
“We will always worry,” he said. “But we’ll just pray that he’ll be able to do what he needs to do at the right moment.”
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