Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 5, 2013) — Five hundred and four rising high school students were welcomed to West Point June 1 with their own version of Reception Day. It was the start of the weeklong Summer Leaders Experience and a unique insider’s look at cadet culture and leadership experience.
Attendees signed into one of five platoons, were issued gear and met the cadet leadership that would serve as cadre for the week. They learned the rudiments of saluting and marching, preparatory commands and responses and even the beloved punctuating response to nearly everything at West Point: “Beat Navy.”
Sponsored by the U.S. Military Academy’s Office of Admissions, the program offers students full immersion into cadet life as they receive physical, academic and military orientations.
Class of 2014 Cadet Shane Greene, the SLE company executive officer, said those three pillars will be covered through classrooom workshops, morning physical training and afternoon intramurals and tournaments. Virtual and hands-on weapons familiarization is conducted at the Simulations Center and, finally, a day at Camp Buckner will provide students with squad-level training on the obstacle courses.
“SLE won’t prepare a student for plebe year, but it gives a rough overview of what the academy is all about,” Greene said. “Some people come in with no prior experience of the military or the academy. So in that way, some students who decide to come here are better prepared and know what to expect during the school year.”
Historically, 50 percent of SLE attendees return as new cadets, and Greene recalled his first visit as a student in 2009.
“It gave me a lot more insight into what goes on at the academy, more so than just an overnight tour would,” Greene said.
The cadets take a no-holds barred approach to SLE. That means no watering down the experience to encourage students to attend. It’s quite possible that first night in the barracks without air conditioning would alone change opinions.
“SLE can also deter some candidates from entering the academy, and that can be good,” Greene said. “If they don’t feel they can make it, just from this week, then maybe it’s better they know that now.”
Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, during a briefing at Robinson Auditorium, told the students to ask plenty of questions and familiarize themselves to this new environment. To the cadet cadre leading the students, he told them to be forthright and share their insight.
Students asked the dean about his own experience as a cadet, if the sequester affected the academy and how West Point shaped his Army career. Trainor, a Class of 1983 graduate, had also attended the summer immersion program, and told students he pursued West Point because he wanted to challenge himself.
“Our program goes beyond academics and trains you, builds you, physically and mentally, to become worthy officers for our Army. That’s what sets our institution apart from others,” Trainor said. “At the end of the 47-month experience you will be more than just academically and technically proficient. You will have the wherewithal to become the leaders of character our nation needs.”
Trainor congratulated the students on being accepted into what has become a highly-selective program. Due to federally-mandated budget cuts only half the usual number of students was invited this summer.
“This is not an easy program to get into,” Trainor said. “You made the cut…and it’s an impressive step toward the beginning of your senior year. You are charged with the commitment to take this leadership experience and make the most of it.”
Trainor said their attendance demonstrates the willingness to go beyond mere curiosity about West Point. At a time when students’ are making critical decisions about their futures, Trainor said they should take every chance to immerse themselves at any university or academy. No pamphlet or welcome video can compare to the experience of visiting an institution and talking with its student body and educators.
“This is absolutely the right time to start thinking about your higher education,” he said. “You should find out early enough the type of learning experience that moves you and the right learning institution that can offer it to you. Wherever you choose to go, take time to go visit and live among the students, attend classes and ask yourself if it feels right.”
The SLE participants challenged themselves in squad-level relay races on Daly Field.
Inside the West Point Simulations Center, students practiced marksmanship on a virtual range using the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000.
Whether it was inside Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center or outside on Daly Field, SLE attendees got a healthy dose of physical training every day. In addition to the morning workout, the students participated in intramurals and brigade open events.
Click here to watch a YouTube video of the SLE physical fitness assessment.
Students worked as squads on virtual training missions
using the America's Army software inside the West Point