Infantry Ball honors its own, welcomes firsties
Story and photos by Kathy Eastwood
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 11, 2015) — The West Point National Infantry Association welcomed the Class of 2015 cadets who branched into the “Queen of Battle” during the annual Infantry Ball Feb. 6 at Eisenhower Hall.
Many of the 226 firsties to branch Infantry were in attendance to experience the traditions at the ball. The most notorious of which is the punch bowl ceremony and the making of the grog. The grog consists of 10 ingredients representing all the major battles fought by infantrymen since the Revolutionary War and is presented to all for the toasts.
There is also the awarding of the Order of Saint Maurice medallion, which is awarded to those who served the Infantry community with distinction and the Shield of Sparta, awarded to a spouse who has contributed significantly to the Infantry.
Three servicemembers received the Order of Saint Maurice, retired Capt. Sean Parnell, Maj. Thomas Nelson, Mathematics instructor, and Maj. Walt Gray, Department of Military Instruction instructor. The Shield of Sparta medallions went to Lt. Col. Libby Schott, Danielle Weis, Kara Lesinski and Jessica Green.
Another tradition of the Infantry Ball is the Operation Keep up the Fire program, which began at West Point in 2003 to introduce cadets to the Infantry and to create a legacy for the past, present and future of the Infantry and its tradition.
“We send notifications to West Point graduates, Association of Graduates, staff and faculty to donate an Infantry crossed rifle, a note and a photograph to present to the new Infantrymen to introduce them to the legacy of the Infantry,” said Lt. Col. Eric Weis, deputy director of the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic. “I think we are the only branch that does this.”
A Class of 2015 cadet enriches the traditional grog which consists of 10 ingredients all representing various Infantry missions during the Infantry Ball Feb. 6 at Eisenhower Hall.
USMA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. places the Order Of Saint Maurice medal on retired Capt. Sean Parnell. Parnell, author of “Outlaw Platoon,” was also the guest speaker at the ball.
The guest speaker at the Infantry Ball was Parnell, author of “Outlaw Platoon.” Parnell was an Army Ranger, combat infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and 10th Mountain Division. Parnell’s platoon remains one of the most decorated Army units since the 9/11 attacks and Parnell was awarded two Bronze Stars (one for valor) and a Purple Heart.
“I would not be here before you today if it wasn’t for the men I served with, not just the men in my platoon, but the men in my battalion,” Parnell said. “They saved me on the battlefield a number of times and I have been surrounded and taught, coached and mentored by a company of heroes.”
“I’ve been out of the Army for five years, and it’s been a bit of a challenge,” Parnell added. “I went from a place in my life where everyone listened to everything I said, now I have a beautiful wife and three children, and now I am at a place where no one listens to what I say.”
Parnell spoke about the warrior legacy in the Infantry and referred to the origin of the branch with 77 men who began the Infantry tradition. The 77 consisted of middle age or older men and few fighting with sons, cousins and brothers during the Revolutionary War and that spirit continued through all the wars Americans fought.
“They, the 77 faced over 400 best trained and most feared Soldiers,” Parnell said. “And when the British appeared before them, the 77 didn’t flinch. These few men made a stand and refused to be bullied and intimated by an oppressive regime.”
“These infantrymen were the first to die for the cause of American freedom and independence,” Parnell added. “On Lexington Green that April morning, they refused to be daunted by impossible odds, they made their stand. Their bravery became the symbol of the tradition of selflessness that stretches across centuries to you here in this room. Our history isn’t just filled with examples of that devotion, but it largely has been written by it as well.”