Big decision demands bigger Branch Week for Corps of Cadets
All 16 commissionable branches had static displays in Central Area
Class of 2015 cadets attended junior leader branch panels
Corbin Forum hosted branch luncheon
More than 180 Soldiers throughout the country served as branch representatives during Branch Week, Sept. 9-14
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 18, 2013) — One of the biggest decisions cadets have to make at the U.S. Military Academy is choosing which Army branch they will initially serve as second lieutenants.
That’s why the Department of Military Instruction made Branch Week, Sept. 9-14, even bigger this year—to provide the Corps of Cadets every opportunity to help them make an informed, confident decision when the time comes.
In only its second iteration at the academy, this event has already dwarfed the efforts from the previous year. During the setup for Branch Week, six C-17s worth of personnel and equipment arrived from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Benning, Ga.—the Abrams, Reconnaissance Stryker, the M777 Howitzer, the Engineer Buffalo Mine-Protected Clearing Vehicle, the Air Defense Avenger, the JCB High-Mobility Engineer Excavator—as well as the Patriot Missile Launcher driven from the Air Defense Artillery School from Fort Sill, Okla., to fill Central Area with visual representations of the profession of arms. Also, the AH64 Apache, UH60 Black Hawk and the Kiowa all flew here from Fort Bragg.
More than 180 Soldiers were in attendance to include elements from every brigade out of Fort Drum, N.Y., the 20th Support Command from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and various Human Resources Command and proponent representatives from throughout the nation.
The intent of Branch Week according to Lt. Col. Ron Whittle, DMI’s Accessions chief, is to provide a plethora of resources for cadets to learn about the branches. Cadets often refer to it as the academy’s version of a career fair.
“Branch Week was a team effort across the academy and even outside the academy as Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve airlift units committed training missions to transport a large majority of the personnel and large pieces of equipment in support of the week,” Whittle said. “Stewart Air National Guard Base provided exceptional support in terms of airlift as well as passenger and cargo processing. They even volunteered to provide vehicles and drivers to transport some of the equipment back and forth between Stewart and West Point.”
Additionally, West Point Garrison played a crucial role by making Camp Natural Bridge available to house a majority of the guests. Whittle said this was a significant cost-cutting measure.
A new feature to Branch Week this year was the functional battalion-level tactical operations center outside Washington Hall.
“The TOC is a really big highlight this year for cadets to see the integration of branches like Military Intelligence, the Signal Corps, Adjutant General within a battalion-level command post,” said Capt. Kelly Thompson, the Force Sustainment branches representative at DMI and Branch Week officer-in-charge.
With all that in place, cadets had a week to explore the 16 commissionable branch choices, with events specifically tailored for them.
The Class of 2015 was given the option of attending two of four junior leader panels at Eisenhower Hall Sept. 9. The branch panels enabled cadets to gain a deeper understanding of each branch’s unique expectations of its junior officers.
“The cow class, by this point, should be refining their branch preferences,” Thompson said. “The panels were Q&A-based discussions where cadets could ask these lieutenants and captains from different branches what it’s like to be a platoon leader in a particular branch, what kind of work they do and what equipment do they have.”
Also, Class of 2014 and ‘15 cadets interested in a career with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, had the opportunity to interview. Thompson said more than 40 cadets spoke with members from the Ordnance proponent and from an EOD detachment out of Fort Bragg. The questions were mostly background or clearance type queries as well as determining whether the cadet would make a good EOD officer.
“The firstie will almost get on-the-spot feedback on whether they meet the baseline requirements and if this is a branch they would excel in, or no, this would not be a good fit,” Thompson said. “For the firsties, it’s their official EOD interview; their one chance to interview.”
Thompson said this is only the second year cadets have the opportunity to interview and find out if they are EOD-qualified prior to entering the basic officer leadership course.
Class of 2015 Cadet John Williams was interested in what the Ordnance Corps has to work with, but Branch Week allowed him to explore other branch options.
The Field Artillery representatives brought a heavy-duty display with them to West Point as they provided the Corps of Cadets with information about their branch and careers during Branch Week.
In only its second iteration at the academy this event has already dwarfed the efforts from the previous year. During the setup for Branch Week, six C-17s worth of personnel and equipment arrived from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Benning, Ga.—the Abrams, Reconnaissance Stryker, the M777 Howitzer, the Engineer Buffalo Mine-Protected Clearing Vehicle, the Air Defense Avenger, the JCB High-Mobility Engineer Excavator—as well as the Patriot Missile Launcher driven from the Air Defense Artillery School from Fort Sill, Okla., to fill Central Area with visual representations of the profession of arms. Also, the AH64 Apache, UH60 Black Hawk and the Kiowa all flew here from Fort Bragg.
Class of 2015 Cadet John Williams spent some time at the Ordnance static display, and sat down with a Soldier to learn about the robotic equipment they employ. Williams is exploring his options and said it’s up to the individual cadet to ask the tough questions and really make use of the availability of these branch reps to better educate themselves.
“This week I’ve been interested in Air Defense Artillery, EOD and a little bit of Field Artillery,” Williams said. “I think EOD is cool, particularly with how they work a lot with robotics. That seems to be the future for the Army.”
Williams could also see himself in the ADA and described himself as spatially orientated with a good understanding of digital interfaces and systems.
“Quite honestly part of that comes from playing video games, but I think I would enjoy it and could help out ADA,” he said.
Branch Week is DMI’s main effort for its branch education and mentorship program, and the goal is for every cadet to actively fill in the blanks to any career questions they have pending. Williams said everything is available online about Army branches for cadets to learn on their own, but having service members on site to provide personal experiences and insight is what’s worth investigating.
“I think I’ve learned much more on my own initiative by going up to them and asking about their experiences in the Army more so than specifically about the branch itself,” Williams said. “That has been the real value of this week. I think cadets can get more out of this week than intended if they take it upon themselves to talk to people and explore each of the branches.”
For the Class of 2014, Branch Week was more of a lead than learn opportunity. With only a few weeks before their decisions need to be locked down (Branch Night is scheduled Nov. 21), there isn’t much more required for them by means of branch education. So it was their task to lead the Class of 2017 through the static displays, share their perspectives on the branch process and have the plebes engage the subject matter experts.
The plebes will compose a non-binding list of branch choices this academic year. Class of 2017 Cadet Dominique Jefferson said she has no idea what she may branch. Her father serves in the Signal Corps, and Jefferson said that automatically puts the branch in consideration.
“Since I’m just a plebe all I really need to do right now is learn and not make any decisions yet; just kind of see where my interests are,” she said. “So during Branch Week I’m getting a good look at all the branches.”
She also expressed an interest in learning more about the Infantry branch.
“It kind of intrigues me, and maybe I can be among the first females to branch Infantry,” Jefferson said.
That’s something the Army is still preparing for, and Capt. Walt Gray, the DMI Infantry and Armor branch representative, fielded questions about that during a sold-out luncheon Sept. 10. Hosted by the Corbin Forum, about 100 female cadets met informally with branch representatives at the West Point Club.
“They’re asking a lot of similar questions any male cadet would ask about what it takes to be a successful Infantry or Armor officer,” Gray said. “The other question is ‘how and when is this going to happen?’ Some of that hasn’t been determined yet, but I tell them absolutely with our branching model and process they should put down what their preferences are. It’s good to get that feedback about what percentage of females want to go into those maneuver branches that aren’t open yet.”
The combat arms opportunities not available to Class of 2014 graduates may change for other classes, so Gray advises cadets to explore their preferences and see what talents those branches are looking for and focus on improving themselves to those standards.
“Branch Week provides a plethora of resources for cadets to learn about the branches and ultimately match their talent strengths with the unique talent needs of each branch,” Whittle said.
Class of 2014 Cadet Alesia Moore, the Corbin Forum cadet-in-charge, said the forum allowed cadets to discuss career options informally with the branch officers in a casual environment and learn what it means to be a woman in the profession of arms.
“This is a perfect setting for cadets to feel comfortable enough to ask certain questions,” Moore said. “And the questions being asked and the answers they’re receiving are going to produce better candidates for the profession and we’re going to make the Army as a whole better.”
It’s not that the opportunities to ask questions are necessarily lacking, Moore said, during the four years at West Point, but it’s more about taking that initiative to actually ask those questions.
And the Corbin Forum is the place to make that happen and allow female cadets to feel comfortable asking those questions.
As the combat exclusion policy is changing, Moore thinks that more questions are being raised—not only within the Corps, but throughout the Army.
“I think it’s a big question being asked everywhere about how are we going to make this happen and how will it be done successfully,” she said. “Branch Week is just one of those opportunities here at West Point for us to ask those questions to people who’ve been in the profession and have done the job and experienced enough to know what is to be expected.”
Moore is looking to branch in the logistics arena—possibly Quartermaster or Transportation Corps. She said just because combat arms has become available doesn’t suggest the female members of the Corps will all jump at the opportunity. “It’s all about personal preferences, and not just availability,” she said. “Personally, I’m so motivated in a sense to be doing this because I want to prepare my female peers for success if they do decide to go in that direction. I feel it’s my duty as a member of the Corps to make sure that my peers are upholding the standards so they’ll be well-suited for the branch they want to join.”
Branch Week ended with one final meet-and-greet in Central Area, as the Corps of Cadets prepared to support their Black Knights the following day against Stanford at Michie Stadium.
“The Combined Arms Tailgate was a culminating event for Branch Week and our way of allowing the Corps of Cadets to say thank you to the branch guests for all they did this week and express our sincere appreciation for a fantastic week,” Whittle said.