They first met playing soccer at Desert Vista High School as freshmen and became close friends as juniors last year.
And not long after Willow Brown and twin sisters Cassandra “Cassi” Bych and Camille “Cammi” Bych graduate virtually next week, they’ll be on their way to military institutions of higher education in preparation for serving the country.
Cassi and Cammi have earned appointments to the Air Force Academy and Willow earned her appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
They won’t be able to attend the “live” commencement ceremony that Tempe Union High School District has tentatively set for July 19 because they’re scheduled to report for academic duty, either as Cadet Basics at the Air Force Academy or as a “Beast” at West point.
Given their high school track record, it’s not surprising that all the Ahwatukee teens are eyeing careers of service.
The daughter of Lawrence and Kelly Brown, Willow for four years at Desert Vista has been an athlete – tennis, cross country and soccer at school and club soccer off campus.
But has also been a peer tutor as well as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta, a mathematics honor society, and an officer of Rho Kappa, a social studies honor society.
She also has been an active volunteer at Mountain Park Church, including working at their café.
The twins, daughters of Rob Bych and Debra Wickman, have been equally – and almost identically – active both athletically and academically.
Both were members of the Thunder Link Crew, which helps freshmen transition to high school, and both were captains of the Thunder varsity soccer team, playing as well on the Utah Royals AZ DPL Soccer Team.
Both belong to the Science National Honor Society, with Cammi serving as secretary and Cassi as vice president.
Both also are members of the National Honor Society, Rho Kappa, Mu Alpha Theta and the Spanish Honor Society.
Outside of school, they also both belong to the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots Phoenix Chapter, an international organization of women pilots that promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support and sharing a passion for flight.
Ask them why a military academy is their next stop in life and their answers reflect a love of country that inspire them to show their love by action.
Willow said that between sophomore and junior year, she went on a mission trip with her church to Missouri and visited a veterans home.
“Just speaking with the veterans there and hearing their stories really inspired me to look into joining the military. I had heard about West Point before through a friend of mine, so I began doing research and I felt that I had been called to the service,” said Willow, who hopes to make a career in the Army, preferably working in military intelligence.
Cammi and Cassi are following in the footsteps of their father, a 1976 Air Force Academy alumnus.
Their father had taken them after their freshmen year to a soccer camp at the academy.
“During that week-long soccer camp, I felt a connection to the school that I hadn’t felt at other universities that we had previously toured, Cammi said. “The balance of academics, athletics, and military was very interesting to me. After that experience, I decided that USAFA was my ultimate goal.”
Cassi felt the same way, explaining, “We both immediately fell in love with it. For the next few years, we went to more soccer camps and we had the opportunity to attend summer seminar, a week-long summer program at the Air Force Academy that lets prospects experience what life is like there.”
The sisters both anticipate some kind of a career in the Air Force.
“I know that I want to fly, so I am definitely going to the right college,” Cammi said. “I do not know which direction I want to take my career in the Air Force, but I know that when I arrive at the Academy, I will have all of the resources and guidance that I need to make the right decision.”
Added Cassi: As of now, I am looking to major in engineering at the academy and possibly become a pilot. I don’t know if it will change in the future, but right now I do anticipate a career in the military.”
Applying and getting appointed to these institutions is no easy task.
Willow started in her junior year, collecting letters of recommendation from her teachers and filling out a blizzard of forms. She also had to train for and pass a physical fitness test and secure a nomination from a member of Congress.
“It was fun for me to organize everything I had to do between submitting paperwork, interviewing with different people, writing essays and working out for the Candidate Fitness Assessment,” she said.
“In August I found out that I had received an early acceptance, which was an unexpected surprise because it was so early,” added Willow, who also won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy – an accomplishment matched by Cassi and Cammi.
“When I saw it that morning, I was overjoyed and I remember surprising Cassi and Cammi at school with the news,” she said.
The twins also had to follow an equally arduous route, sitting for interviews that at times ran for several hours and training four months for the physical fitness test.
In the long run, it was worth it, the sisters said.
“It’s hard to put into words what I felt, but it was as if this giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders,” explained Cammi, who got a call from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office congratulating her. “I was absolutely speechless. All of the hard work that I had put into my application had finally paid off.”
Cassi got the news first – after missing the call because she was in class.
“I was in shock and I actually started crying because I was so happy,” she said. “It was the culmination of months of hard work and patience, so hearing that news was one of the happiest moments of my life. After the call ended, I immediately called my parents and texted my friends the news. Then I went back inside and told my sister to answer her phone.”
All three young women concede that senior year is ending in a way no one could have imagined when it began last year.
But they all have taken the seismic disruption in stride.
“I think 10 years from now I’ll look back on this time and be thankful for the experience,” Willow said. “Challenges like these make us stronger and I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to not take the little things in life for granted.”
Cammi said, “I hate that I can’t celebrate with my friends and family in the traditional sense, but I know that missing the last quarter of senior year and graduation is a small sacrifice compared to what others are going through right now. Ten years from now I will look back at this moment and cherish the time that I got to spend with my family at home before I had to leave them for four years.”
Her sister echoed that sentiment.
“Obviously, not being able to finish our senior year of high school or have an official graduation is a less than ideal situation,” Cassi said.
“However, while it is unfortunate, I know that there is a lot to be excited about in the future. I think that a lot of us in the Class of 2020 will look back on this year and laugh because while it wasn’t normal, it was certainly interesting."