Army Crew conducts Golden Oar Run to honor former teammates
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 10, 2015) — The Army Crew team’s Golden Oar ceremony and run was established March 2 to honor the memory of U.S. Military Academy graduates and rowers who have been killed in action, wounded in action or have inspired others through their dedication to living the Army Values.
Nearly 100 members of the Army Crew family and guests gathered at Battle Monument to reflect on the lives of Lt. Col. Jaimie Leonard (USMA Class of 1997), Capt. Matthew Carpenter (USMA Class of 2003) and retired Capt. Sam Brown (USMA Class of 2006).
Leonard was killed in action June 8, 2013, while serving with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, in Sharana, Afghanistan. Carpenter, who served and deployed as an Armor officer in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2009 and died Dec. 1, 2010. Brown was wounded in action while serving as a rifle platoon leader deployed to the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. In September 2008, his patrol was struck by an IED and he suffered burns to over 30 percent of his body.
During the inaugural run from Trophy Point to the Army Crew docks, participants carried oars, and runners at the front of formation carried the Golden Oar which bears the names of the three former crew members. This heralds a new team tradition that no Army oar will enter the water for the spring season until they stop and reflect on the sacrifices of their predecessors.
The boats used by Army Crew bear the names of former teammates, a fact that never dawned on Class of 2016 Cadet Jordan Duran when she was a plebe. She didn’t know who they were and never gave thought to the graduates who had gripped the same oars she trains and competes with every day.
Duran, the Golden Oar cadet-in-charge, wanted to change that by creating an event which would recognize this inspirational legacy.
“No one had really explained to me how outstanding these individuals were, and when I did learn who they were I knew this was something our team needed to recognize,” Duran said. “Not only that, it deserves to be recognized at least once a year, and what better time then when we transition from our hard winter training into the spring season which is our most competitive season.”
During the ceremony, Army Crew was often referred to as a family. Later, Duran explained that anyone on Army Crew would attest that being on this team has been a defining part of their West Point experience.
At the end of the ceremony, cadets bow their heads in a moment of silence to reflect and honor the sacrifices made by members of Army Crew.
“I know you can say that about a lot of sports and teams, but I think we are very much a family here,” she said. “There’s nothing individual about what we do. When we go out to compete, we leave it all out in the water. You do everything in your power to make sure those people are successful out there because they are your brothers and sisters. We get in the boat together, row together and finish the race together.”
Duran said part of their identity as Army Crew comes from those who trained and raced before them. The varsity men’s captain, Class of 2015 Cadet Courtland Adams also spoke at the ceremony about what it means to be a part of this family.
“Our rowers are fighting for more than just victory on the race course. We are synchronized by our commitment to serve,” he said. “We row for more than just each other. And we never forget the men and women who have sacrificed before us.”
To see a photo gallery from this event, visit www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/.
The inaugural Golden Oar Run started at Trophy Point and ended at the boathouse as Army Crew honored former members in a ceremony March 2, beginning a new tradition.
Perhaps most memorable about the ceremony was the number of family and friends in attendance who personally knew the three honored graduates.
“They were the most important people at the event,” Duran said. “To share this reflective moment with their families, friends and coaches, to recognize how much we appreciate all that they did ... it just makes the bonds we share that much stronger.”
Maj. Brian Forester, Varsity men’s team head coach, prepared the tribute to Carpenter and Brown. Carpenter’s wife, son, parents and siblings were all present for the ceremony.
Women’s Coach Jen Kiesling, Lt. Col. Matt Kemkes and Melissa Sims contributed to the tribute for Leonard. Kemkes was a classmate and close friend of Leonard, who was the godmother of his daughter. Kiesling, affectionately known as “Coach K,” has been with Army Crew for more than 20 years and is the only coach remaining with the program since Leonard was part of the team.
With painful winds off the Hudson whipping snow drifts into the faces of the huddled crowd, it was a particularly brutal afternoon to run. Leonard would have thought it perfect, Sims, her friend and teammate, said.
“When I was partially carrying the Golden Oar during the run I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God, this is so Jaimie.’ The weather is completely awful and it was a tough run but she was all about that. She would have loved it; absolutely thrived in it because she would have excelled in it.”
Sims, who works for the National Parks Service in Philadelphia, said when she saw the event flyer posted on Facebook there was nothing going to keep her from attending.
“I knew right away I had to be here; I cut a work trip short to be here,” Sims said. “Yeah, I was absolutely coming to this.”
Sims said her team had also wrote names of fallen graduates on their shells but didn’t appreciate the significance. That this team decided to honor its graduates in such poignant and respectful fashion, Sims said was very “West Point.”
“Like so many things we do here, it shows how we’re all connected to the Long Gray Line,” Sims said. “This was amazing.”
Sims said when old grads say, “The Corps Has,’ it usually means they disagree with the way things have changed at West Point. The saying doesn’t apply at all to this.
“I have faith. This absolutely shows that things are getting better,” Sims said.
Among the USMA senior leaders participating were Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. and Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor.
“This was very meaningful for me and for all the cadets to show how we connect the Long Gray Line throughout time,” Trainor said. “These cadets show their commitment to service and honor those who’ve gone before them, and it’s so heart-warming for me to see how they’ve developed their character, and that has clearly been demonstrated by this experience here today.”