Ford Kavu Pitts found out in the middle of an anatomy test at Durango High School that he had achieved his goal since middle school: He will be one of 1,200 new cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I had played through my mind the scenario of either getting rejected or accepted. When it did come, it was nothing like I could have even begun to comprehend,” said the DHS senior, who played defensive end and linebacker on the Demons’ 3A state championship football team.
Every night since sixth grade, before falling asleep, Ford would run through his day with a critical eye. He asked himself, “Did I do enough today to get closer toward West Point?”
He rarely was satisfied by the day’s progress.
Was that B in calculus going to be his downfall? He couldn’t take physics because of COVID-19, and would that be acceptable to West Point?
But when he received word that he had completed his six-year quest, his fellow students taking the anatomy exam probably noticed.
“I called my dad. I was shaking, my heart was racing, I was sweating. I couldn’t talk,” Ford said. “It was just this realization that so many late nights and early mornings, and sacrificing time – time to hang out with other people or to make significant relationships so that I could get to West Point – paid off.”
Jim Pitts, Ford’s father, said his son’s fascination with the military began when he was young and was fueled during a family trip to Oklahoma to visit his brother, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army.
Ford’s uncle had memorabilia from James Richard Pitts II, Ford’s grandfather and a 1951 West Point graduate.
“My brother had my dad’s diploma. He had a scrapbook from West Point. He had lots of pictures,” Jim Pitts said. “He had some of the clothing from the academy. When Ford was first exposed to this, he was in middle school. All of a sudden, he came home, and it just lit a fire. Since then, he’s just been driven.”
Academics, sports, just about everything Ford focused on, were a springboard to maximize his chances of getting a West Point appointment.
“He put together a white board, listing all his goals to get to West Point. That’s the kind of kid he is,” Jim Pitts said.
Several years ago, Ford began researching family history.
He discovered his grandfather had two older brothers, twins, who also graduated from West Point, Class of 1943.
One of the Pitts twins, Lt. Gen. William Pitts, flew a B-29 bomber out of Saipan, the Northern Mariana island where Ford was born.
“I had never known that I was born on the very island where my great uncle was doing his military service,” Ford said.
His unusual middle name, Kavu, means “seize the opportunity” in Palauan, a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken in the Micronesian islands of the Western Pacific.
As a child, he had a toy B-29. It was named the “Dinamite.” In ninth grade, he discovered the B-29 his great-uncle flew was also named “Dinamite.”
“I was like, ‘This has to be a sign from a higher being,’” he said.
Jim Pitts served in the 1980s, and although the family has a long military tradition, a military career was not pushed on Ford.
“It wasn’t something that I ever told him, you know, you need to do this. We never pressured him to do anything, really,” Jim Pitts said. “But we lived overseas. He was born on an island that was a battleground, and he knew all this stuff. And really what happened was, he was very intense, always. He wasn’t quiet or withdrawn, but he was, he was very intense. He was very driven on just about everything.”
Ford was open about West Point’s importance to him.
“There were people at school who didn’t know my name, but they knew where I wanted to go to college,” he said.
Durango High quarterback Jordan Woolverton, who signed with the University of Colorado, said, “We’ve been playing with him for a very long time in football now, and all I can remember is him coming in every day and outworking everyone on the field, no matter what it took. He was always a great leader and held everyone accountable to what our goals were as a team and individually.”
Ford, a defensive end/linebacker, was named to the first team of Colorado High School Activities Association’s all-state squad.
With Ford helping lead the DHS defense, the Demons went 8-0 and beat Roosevelt High School for the Class 3A state championship, the school’s first state football title since 1954.
“Ford has been one of the best leaders to come through the Durango football program,” head coach David Vogt said. “He is the only junior to ever be voted as a team captain and was again as a senior. His work ethic was always there, and he brought his fellow teammates up to his level. He put West Point as a goal, and his hard work has paid off. I couldn’t be prouder of a player.”
At West Point, Ford plans to join the rugby team.
Further research on ancestry.com showed some of Ford’s family members have graduated from West Point since the 19th century. His family roots trace to Mississippi and Missouri, and some ancestors fought for the Confederacy.
Growing up in Saipan, Ford swam among wreckage of downed American and Japanese planes from World War II. The wrecks were among his first memories associated with the military.
First grade came in a public school in Saipan. Second grade was in South Carolina, where most of his classmates were Black students. In third grade, he was home-schooled back in Saipan by his mother, Colleen.
He describes himself as “an anxious kid.” He remembers calling his mom every day to remind her to pick him up after school.
“I was worried she was going to forget to pick me up, which was dumb, but I worried: How would I get home?” he said.
He stuck out in Saipan, the only student with hair bleached blond from the tropical sun.
“How do you make your eyes green?” they’d ask.
One topic for the essay to enter West Point asked how a future Army officer could work with soldiers from diverse backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.
“I said, I can do that, because it’s what I’ve been doing my entire life – getting along with people who are not like me, who don’t look like me or think like me,” he said.
Ultimately, what Ford wants to do is serve his country, and he said West Point was the best preparation for that.
Setting goals to keep himself motivated “is something I’m pretty good at,” he said.
The next goal: graduation.
He plans to major in international affairs and minor in a foreign language. He wants a roommate who is strong in math, his weak subject.
After graduation, he would like to serve in the infantry, and he’s thinking of applying to the Green Berets, soldiers whom he sees not only as warriors but as diplomats.
An actuary’s chart of the lifespan of a West Point grad might not be as long as other college graduates, but that something Ford accepts:
“If we were at war when I graduate, I’d be in the normal Army, at risk of dying. But I would be doing what I love,” he said. “I would have died without regrets because I would be in the place I want, doing what I want, serving my country.”
Herald Sports Editor John Livingston contributed to this email@example.com