For as long as he can remember Ian Gidcomb wanted to be a soldier.
Not just any solder. A Ranger, in the Army's elite special forces unit.
Gidcomb, who graduates tonight from Champaign Central High School, achieved the first step toward his goal when he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He will report for boot camp July 2.
"It should be fun," said Gidcomb, 18, a top tennis player and student council president at Central.
Gidcomb's father, Lt. Col. Scott Gidcomb, has served in the military since the 1980s and was deployed twice in the last decade, to Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2012-13.
"I've always grown up with it. I've always seen him in uniform," Gidcomb said.
The younger Gidcomb also wants to be an engineer, so when his parents told him in seventh grade about West Point, with its emphasis on engineering, "I kind of just saw it as a perfect fit."
His parents are "excited and proud," he said. "Most parents are kind of afraid of the Army, but it's just normal for us."
His father has been in some dangerous situations overseas. In 2012-13, he was stationed at a forward operating base as part of a special unit coordinating U.S. troops with Pakistani and Afghan soldiers. The family always knew something was up when a communications blackout was imposed.
"We'd hear stuff on the news before we'd hear it from him, which was always scary," Gidcomb said. "Eventually we'd get a phone call, or a Skype or an email at least."
But he's not afraid of danger himself.
"I don't see myself just behind a desk in my 20s working in some job. I want to be out in the world. I want to do things," he said. "I know I can do it. It's the job for me."
The government pays all of Gidcomb's costs at West Point and provides a monthly stipend. In return, he commits to five years of military service after graduation.
Gidcomb wants to start out in the infantry and hopes to go to airborne school next summer to learn parachuting and possibly air assault. Then, when he graduates, he can go to Ranger school.
"I would see myself early on actively participating in combat situations, if the world was in that situation, which it always seems to be," he said. "That's what they train us for."
This year's West Point class is just under 1,200 students, with a 7.5 percent acceptance rate.
Gidcomb was nominated by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, but had to go through several rounds of interviews.
The first was with a West Point representative who came to his house to assess his character and ask how he'd handle certain situations.
"They have a big emphasis on honor," he said. "I know a lot of kids who look great on paper, their resumes, but honestly as people they are lacking."
He was also interviewed by Sen. Mark Kirk's staff, who asked what he thought of the war in Afghanistan.
"Honestly, I told them I don't really think we should be there. It's not a war we can win. The problems we're trying to solve can only be solved by them. We're trying to come in and fix cultural issues that we don't understand," he said. "It should have been kept a small-scale, with special forces."
Gidcomb's dad was also a big influence on his tennis career. Scott Gidcomb played the sport at Lake Land College and handed his son a racket at age 4 or 5.
The younger Gidcomb played tennis until age 11, when he quit to play baseball. Last year, he decided to pick up the racket again.
This season, he lost just two singles matches and two doubles matches for Central and helped the Maroons win their fifth straight sectional title Friday at Atkins Tennis Center.
His biggest wins? Two involving rival Centennial High School.
A win against an old friend, Patrick Kearney, sealed Central's victory over Centennial earlier this year. It involved "a lot of deuce points," Gidcomb said.
And on May 19, he and his doubles partner knocked off No. 1 seed Normal Community and then Centennial, giving Central the conference title.
Gidcomb also ran cross-country, played baseball and wrestled at Central.
What: Central High School commencement
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts