All about the plebes
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 26, 2014) — Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke saw the excitement on the faces of the cadets as they vacated the barracks to begin spring leave. Then he saw the smiles on the faces of the plebes, who were also watching the upperclassmen leave.
That’s when the Class of 2017 took charge. As customary, the plebes are responsible for hosting and conducting operations during Plebe-Parent Weekend for hundreds of family members and guests. They take ownership of events like the Cadet Review and the banquet, while playing tour guide and subject matter expert on all things West Point for the weekend.
Besides the tours, the open houses and social functions during Plebe-Parent Weekend March 14-16, Eisenhower Hall Theatre opened up to the hundreds of plebes, family members and guests for special briefings from academy leaders.
Here are some of the key points made during the briefings:
Lt. Col. John Cross, the U.S. Corps of Cadets regimental tactical officer for 1st Regiment and advisor to the Class of 2017, first addressed where the plebes started before highlighting what’s next.
“To be a good leader, first you have to be a good follower,” he said. “So all of your sons and daughters have been, for the past semester and a half, what we call members of squad. They’re learning how to be good followers and take orders from team leaders, the third-class cadets or sophomores; and finding out if they’re doing well in the eyes of their squad leaders—the juniors, or cows here at the academy. And of course, they’re being led by the first class cadets as their platoon leaders, company commanders and company first sergeants.”
Col. Nick Mauldin, brigade tactical officer, briefed the audience at Eisenhower Hall Theatre on Mess Hall initiatives, the mission of the Brigade Tactical Department and leader development through Cadet Summer Training.
Cross said that as the plebes are observing the leadership from the upperclass cadets, they’re taking notes on what works and what doesn’t so when they become team leaders following Cadet Field Training they will be ready to help lead the Class of 2018.
“The great thing about the four years at West Point is that it’s what I refer to as a leadership laboratory, they get to figure out what works and what doesn’t in an environment where lives aren’t on the line,” Cross said.
This summer will be spent in Cadet Field Training, or simply “Camp Buckner” in the common vernacular. CFT is designed to accomplish several BOLC-A tasks, pre-commissioning requirements, as well as continuing to develop leadership skills.
On the Class of 2017
On R-Day, 1,202 new cadets were admitted from 15,407 applicants to undergo the rigors of Cadet Basic Training. The class strength is currently at 1,154 cadets, with 568 making the Dean’s List and six being named pentathletes for scoring 4.0 across the board in the academic, military and physical programs.
About 150 cadets will start summer training early to meet those requirements and then serve as opposition force members during Cadet Leadership Development Training. A Special Forces Team is said to be responsible for this training.
Parents were reassured that their cadets should earn about two weeks leave this summer before returning to take on the duties of team leaders for the Class of 2018. Cross also spoke of the opportunity before and after CFT for cadets to attend the highly-sought after Air Assault School at Camp Smith or Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga. Roughly 900-1,000 cadets across the Corps attend the former with a mobile training team, Cross said. Years ago, he said, this training was exclusive to only the junior and senior classes, but today, about 30-40 percent of the Class of 2017 will be able to attend military training off post, besides CFT. Tactical officers determine the cadets who’ve met the physical and military standards to attend the highly-sought training schools; they should know by the end of March if they’re going.
Inside Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center, family members could learn about some of the clubs sponsored by the Department of Military Instruction and receive information about Cadet Summer Training, the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition and other military training.
There was plenty to see at the U.S. Military Academy during Plebe-Parent Weekend, especially as families reunited with their cadets, but also lots to hear. Academy leaders briefed hundreds of family members and guests on what the Class of 2017 has experienced so far and what's ahead in the months and years to follow.
Besides the four training requirements conducted each summer for the class, Cross briefed on competitive military individual advanced development, or MIADs, like Pathfinder School and Special Forces Assessment and Selection. Jim Dalton, the registrar and USMA associate dean, spoke about the academic opportunities like the semester abroad program, research projects and such.
CHOOSING A MAJOR
It’s no secret, Dalton said, that the next semester will be the most challenging for the Class of 2017. With the additional responsibility of leading plebes, it is probably the most rigorous academic semester in their time at West Point. Daily math (calculus) and language is added to their course load and they need to begin thinking about choosing a major.
“The first Friday in October is generally the date we require them to declare a major,” Dalton said. “When they make that decision, it’s not locked in concrete yet…so there is a chance to change it by the end of the year.”
The average cadet will take 30 courses in the core, plus 10 to 18 more specific to their major. The academy has 37 majors and Dalton advised cadets to explore all options, even if they’ve already determined their interests early.
“Now is the time to search for the major, and some have started that process,” Dalton said. “Think outside the box. You came in thinking you wanted to do ‘x.’ Well I challenge you to also explore ‘y’ and ‘z.’ That drives what courses they will take the rest of their careers at West Point.”
Dalton said the dean of the academic board will address cadets on majors, and departmental open houses will allow them to examine and ask questions to reach those informed decisions. Cross said cadets sometimes pick a major based on post-academic goals, which is not always an ideal method.
“Sometimes they’ll sell themselves short and maybe pick a major that isn’t their strongest suit or maybe something they didn’t want to pursue whole-heartedly,” he said. “They’re looking at their class rank and if they want to branch Infantry they might pick a major they can get good grades in rather than something that would challenge them more.”
Dalton mentioned a firstie who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and is pursuing medical school.
“He’s probably going to be an orthopedic, and that’s a good match,” Dalton said. “When they have these unique goals, that’s the time to start talking to faculty about how to get there. That starts here.”
Sometimes that also requires additional help, which is available even after the semester ends.
The Summer Term Academic Program in June is established for cadets needing a course refresher, but there’s also a voluntary STAP for cadets doing well, and can attend if seats are available. Dalton said although summer is designed primarily for military training, cadets can request a voluntary STAP prior and taken before summer training. Those who volunteer are generally engineering majors, or cadets wanting to enter the Medical School Program and who aren’t Chemistry and Life Science majors.
“We beat Navy all the time,” Col. Nick Mauldin, brigade tactical officer, said asked when Army would win against its sister academy. Cross mentioned the Corps’ company athletics program which swept the U.S. Naval Academy in four sports during the brigade championships last fall at West Point. The West Point Pistol team bested opponents from the U.S. Naval Academy in February during the annual Army-Navy Shootout.
“But we’re working hard to get that big one in December.” said Cross, an officer representative for Army Football, also citing the new coaching staff and re-energized attitude.
In fact, a day after that briefing, the Army Women’s Basketball team earned a ticket to the NCAA tournament, an achievement no other service academy is able to claim this year. Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., during his briefing, took also pride in USMA being ranked first by The Princeton Review for most accessible professors. West Point is the only service academy to earn Rhodes Scholarships; Class of 2014 Cadet Calla Glavin and Erin Mauldin were names Rhodes scholars for 2013. Additionally, the Class of 2014 has two Marshall scholars, eight Rotary Scholarship finalists, two Fulbright Scholarship and two Naval Postgraduate School Graduate Research Fellowship finalists and one National GEM Consortium Fellowship.
In 2013, the Directorate of Cadet Activities’ competitive club program yielded 8 national champions, seven conference champions and a winning percentage over Navy of 90 percent. In the Class of 2017, 265 cadets participate in corps squad athletics—22 percent of the class. Among them are nine Patriot League Academic Honor Roll recipients.