Growing up, Laura Holmstrom had no idea her dad's brief stint at West Point was one of the biggest disappointments of his life.
As a kid in Duluth, she first wanted to be a veterinarian or a baker. By middle school in Bismarck, N.D., she wanted to fly Air Force planes. But in high school, after Holmstrom moved back to Minnesota — first to Babbitt, then Roseau — and visited the service academies, she fell in love with West Point: family-oriented, a place that created leaders of character.
Her father, Erik Holmstrom, helped her with the rigorous application process: Typical college admissions stuff, plus things like securing a congressional nomination and taking a physical fitness test. It wasn't until late in that process when she realized the full scope of what she was doing. By going to West Point, she was living out her father's dashed dreams.
June 28, 1995, was R-Day, or Reception Day, at the United States Military Academy, the day cadet candidates report to West Point. Erik Holmstrom, who'd been a standout offensive lineman at Duluth's Denfeld High School, had made it through the application process and hoped to walk on to West Point's football team. During R-Day, he was pulled aside for additional medical testing. He was told that an ACL repair from an old football injury hadn't been tight enough; his ligament was 0.03 centimeters too loose for him to be deployable. He was sent home.
"I can look back at it and say all these things [in life] probably wouldn't have happened if I'd got in," Holmstrom said. "But at the time it was devastating. It knocked me backward the next two years."
He righted himself, graduated from the University of Minnesota, worked in Republican politics, then got into fundraising, married, had kids, found happiness. He now works for the LifeCare Health Care Fund, and his wife works as a nurse. As the oldest of their four children grew up, he could see that Laura had a natural military constitution, but he never pushed her toward it.
"She was that kid from birth: very black and white, tell her to do something and she'd do it, always excelled in school," he said. "She loved the ethos of working for something bigger than herself."
Laura, now 19, is nearing the end of her first year at West Point, a chemical engineering major in the class of 2026. She wants to be an infantry officer and explore the world, then eventually head to law school to be a patent attorney. Her family didn't come for her R-Day, but they came for acceptance day after cadet basic training: "Just amazing to watch, so much pride," her dad said. "At the same time, there was a little bit of me saying, 'Man, it would have been fun to do this.'"
"It's motivation for me to keep going, something he didn't have the opportunity to do," Laura Holmstrom said. "I kind of try to live it with him. I just want to impress him, honestly."
After finishing her first year, she'll head to Airborne School this summer at Fort Benning, where she'll learn to jump out of planes. She can't wait.