From Sage Hill to the Persian Gulf: Class of ’08 Alumni Inspired Each Other to Serve

By Daniel Langhorne
U.S. Air Force Maj. Daniel Harold ’08 climbed the ladder into the cockpit of an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, during a training exercise on April 27. Sporting a mustache, fighter jet helmet and tan flight suit with both sleeves rolled up, Harold taxied the aircraft armed with a cannon capable of spraying 3,900 rounds per minute.

As a 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, Harold is deployed to defend U.S. national security interests in the Persian Gulf. Rather than the dogfighting “Top Gun” audiences are familiar with, his aircraft’s primary mission is to provide close air support to ground forces.

In his Sage Hill senior yearbook, Harold wrote “In Ten Years: I’ll be flying a jet.”

The Class of 2008 included a group of four young men who went on to military service: Air Force Maj. Andrew Irvine, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Puishys III, U.S. Army Capt. Alex Heiney and Harold.

Also known as “Bear” among fellow aviators, Harold said Sage Hill instilled in him a lasting intellectual curiosity and the discipline required to excel in an academically challenging environment while playing water polo at the highest level possible. He played Division I Men’s Water Polo during his time in the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“Sage Hill fosters in its students community service, mutual respect, and human dignity. Without this final quality, Sage would be just another Ivy League prep school, indifferent to the bigger picture. Instead, Sage helped me become a military officer and fighter pilot with a strong foundation in humanism and service,” Harold said.

While Irvine does not hold a combat arms job like Harold, both airmen hold highly sought-after jobs in their service branch.

After graduating from Sage Hill, Irvine earned his bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard University and law degree from Boston University School of Law. With two World War II veterans as grandfathers and parents who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, Irvine knew he wanted to enter public service after law school.

Originally, Irvine thought he wanted to run for elected office. He joined the Graduate Law Program that allows law students to participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and a direct path into the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Rather than trying for a political career, Irvine opted to stay in the Air Force.

“My time at Sage Hill is where I really learned how to learn, whether that’s academically or getting insights from other people,” Irvine said. “Learning to value certain things, the value of service. Not everybody needs to join the Armed Services or work for nonprofits or NGOs. That’s totally fine. Sage Hill is instilling in every student service-learning and giving people, including me, an appreciation for the impact that one person can have if that engagement is once a week, once a month or once a year.”

Earlier this year, Irvine was promoted to Major and currently serves as Victims’ Counsel stationed at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. He focuses on helping survivors of sexual assault exercise their rights within the military criminal justice system.

“It’s a huge honor to do this type of work and represent victims in the military criminal justice system,” Irvine said. “Our office’s value is on the legal side and hopefully that provides some understanding. Knowledge is half the battle. We’re equipping our clients with the tools to engage [in court] to the degree they want to engage.”

Sage Hill has always done a good job of teaching students how to sympathize and learn from people of all backgrounds, Irvine said.

Looking back at his Sage Hill days, Irvine will always remember his History and Social Studies Teacher, Hermie Lee Chaney, whose class shaped his understanding of constitutional law and the still relevant debate of federalist versus anti-federalist ideologies. A theatre class led by Chris Marshall sharpened his public speaking skills.

The transient lifestyle of military service can be stressful on families and particularly military spouses. Irvine said he’s grateful for his wife, Annie, holding down the fort at home with their two sons. He has no plans to retire from the Air Force anytime soon.

Puishys and Irvine first met at football camp the summer before their freshmen year. They played football together for all four years at Sage Hill. Also a baseball player, Puishys said the Sage Hill athletics programs and its lessons in team-building were a formative part of his high school experience.

Similar to Irvine’s lineage of service, Puishys had a grandfather who was a U.S. Navy sailor in World War II. 

“He definitely was a huge influence on my life and my family hero. I listened to all of his stories. I always wanted to be in some sort of ocean-going job whether it was ships in the merchant marine or something else. I figured the Navy was a really good fit,” Puishys said.

Heiney and Puishys became friends as Boy Scout troop members. Later in high school, Puishys met Harold through other extracurriculars. Puishys was also elected student body president his senior year.

“I would say we were all competitive with each other to say the least. I think a little bit of that competition can be a good thing by inspiring each other to be better and outdo one another,” Puishys said.

While attending the U.S. Naval Academy, Puishys developed friendships with a group of fellow cadets who all had plans to sail with the nuclear submarine fleet. He would earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Naval Academy while concurrently studying to earn a master’s degree from the University of Maryland. This technical background made him a strong candidate for selection to the Naval Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina.

After earning his stripes as a nuclear power plant operator, Puishys deployed on the attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi. He went on to serve aboard USS Henry M. Jackson and USS Florida, 560-foot-submarines that carry nuclear warhead-tipped missiles beneath the waves to deter nuclear war with America’s adversaries.

He’s currently serving a shore-based assignment as squadron engineer at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. If everything goes according to plan, his next deployment could be as the second-highest ranking officer of a nuclear weapon-armed submarine and responsible for the lives of a crew of up to 150 officers and enlisted sailors.

Despite being part of an elite community of underwater warriors, Puishys is soft spoken and grateful for his experiences at Sage Hill.

“I was particularly fond of all the Chemistry courses that I took at Sage Hill. Originally, I had plans to pursue a Chemistry major... I also really enjoyed my math [courses]. I really had a leg up at the Naval Academy by having already taken Calculus at Sage Hill School. I think that was a huge advantage,” Puishys said.

Puishys also thanked his wife, Shelley, who has spearheaded moving with their two daughters five times over the last seven years.

Heiney graduated from Claremont McKenna College where he was a leader in Army ROTC. He was awarded a Fulbright teaching assistantship to the Republic of Georgia in 2012. Heiney went on to become a U.S. Army field artillery officer with the 101st Airborne Division.

In 2017, Heiney was an adviser in Kandahar, Afghanistan, training Afghan National Army soldiers how to fire Howitzers in combat. After a tour at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he was deployed to Italy for two years with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and then another two years in Germany.

Irvine still fondly remembers his group of friends from the Class of 2008 that chose to serve while many of their classmates went on to careers in the private sector. He also appreciates the values his teachers and coaches instilled in him.

“Everybody likes to talk about a well-rounded education but at Sage Hill it was the reality,” Irvine said. “Try things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to try and meet people who have different backgrounds from you.”

More recently, Sage Hill has matriculated Irene Choi '21 to Northwestern Preparatory School and then the U.S. Air Force Academy, James A. Watson ‘19 to the U.S. Air Force Academy,  William Sun Leong ‘18 to the U.S. Naval Academy, Zoe Kreitenberg '12  to West Point and Kelly Carpenter '09 to the U.S. Naval Academy.

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Sage Hill School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. The School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship programs, and athletic and other School administered programs.