PITTSBURG — C.J. Russell is only a few years away from becoming a United States Marine Corps pilot, but aiming high is nothing new for the Pittsburg native.

Russell, 22, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on May 26 as a second lieutenant in the Marines. He was one of six Kansans at the academy, and said that — while he went in nervous— he hopes he can encourage others to consider the same path.

“It felt like I was going to this very big place with a lot of really smart people, which was very true,” Russell said. “But there are people here in Pittsburg and Crawford County who can do it. I hope I can encourage them to look at military options, whether it’s going to an academy, getting involved in ROTC or anything.”

Russell attended St. Mary’s Colgan High School and is currently on a short break before heading to The Basic School on base in Quantico, Virginia. After training there, he’ll head to flight school in Pensacola, Florida. He said his father led his interest to the airways, and the atmosphere at St. Mary’s helped push him to the Naval Academy.

“My dad was in the Air Force so the military was always there,” he said. “Going to Colgan and learning about discipline and having so many people take an interest in my future, I started looking at the military schools.”

And flying was always part of the plan.

“I was originally looking at the Air Force because they have planes,” he said. “But the Navy has just as many planes, or more.”

Russell was accepted into the Naval Academy and headed there shortly after graduating from Colgan in 2013. The self-discipline and drive he said he learned at Colgan followed him to the academy and pushed him toward the Marines.

“Coming to the academy, I could choose between Navy aviation and Marine aviation,” Russell said. “The discipline and leadership I saw in the Marines was attractive, and I met people in the Marines that I wanted to be like.”

Russell’s parents are Lisa and Randy Russell. His mother said they are extremely proud of C.J. and think he is a great example for southeast Kansas. C.J. Russell said he couldn’t have made it this far without support from his family and others.

“I definitely didn’t do this all on my own,” he said. “I had my family, school and community all pushing me. It made me who I am and able to get into the academy. I look at my service as a way to give back to all those who helped me.”

After finishing flight school in two to three years, Russell will go to a Marine Corps air station in California, North Carolina or Japan.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.