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Public Affairs : R-Day and the art of communication

R-Day and the art of communication

Story and photo by Mike Strasser

Assistant Editor

WEST POINT, N.Y. (July 3, 2013) — If ever made into a movie, the script for Reception Day would need a scene similar to this:

INTERIOR, Classroom—Early morning
WIDE ANGLE ON: A group of new cadets, red-faced and flustered, enter a room where several cadre members stand waiting for them.
CAMERA PANS TO: The upperclass cadets unleash a flurry of commands and never cease until the new cadets leave the room. “Move all the way down the line, new cadet. Do not step on the green tape, new cadet. Set your bags down and face the board, new cadet. Where are you from new cadet? Pull your knowledge book out and start reading. Hold it out with your left hand and place your right hand behind your back, new cadets. Do you understand, new cadets? Drink water, new cadets. You do not need to ask permission to drink water. Stay hydrated. Don’t lock your knees, new cadets. I don’t want you to pass out.”

CLOSE UP: A bead of sweat trickles down the forehead of a new cadet. Welcome to R-Day.
Scene ends.

Clearly the cadre for the Cadet Basic Training detail had their lines memorized on Reception Day Monday. There was no howling or screaming like manic drill sergeants of yesteryear. Instead, their command presence took a dignified approach—with a loud, authoritative tone sometimes laced with a little irony to ease the stress.

“New cadets, you’re not one-strapping it. This isn’t 21 Jump Street.”

That was Class of 2015 Cadet Maris Moreno in the Thayer Hall classroom when she saw new cadets slinging their duffel bags over one shoulder instead of using both straps correctly.

In the litany of commands new cadets hear throughout R-Day, she was looking for something that might resonate.

“... No new cadet expected to hear a movie reference in the middle of R-Day,” Moreno said. “I hoped that it connected with them and eased their nerves just enough that they would correctly follow the command without overthinking it.”
Class of 2015 Cadet Maris Moreno keeps a watchful eye on the new cadets during Reception Day July 1.

Stressors are inherent on R-Day, and throughout CBT for that matter. That’s why someone who might have just graduated high school as a valedictorian or scholar-athlete will toss a bag into a yellow bin when they were just instructed to deposit it in the blue one.

“In any position of leadership, I’ve learned that communication is crucial to getting things done,” Moreno said. “I thought back to my CBT experience and made note of things that I liked versus things that I thought didn’t help me. I believe that proper communication builds motivation and discipline in new cadets and that is why we have stepped up and away from the old-school strategy of demeaning yelling.”

It still allows cadre to get the point across in other ways while maintaining a stern tone with concise commands, she said.

Moreno, a squad leader for Company C, 1st Platoon, 4th squad, found more than one occasion to go off-script. As they moved up and down the line, demanding the new cadets to move with urgency while sorting their duffel bags, one cadre member directed them to help their classmates out if they were finished.

Moreno followed with: “If you receive help, make sure that you say thank you later.”

Afterward, she explained the reason for that seemingly random aside.

“During the time in Thayer, I realized how often we order new cadets to act in a robotic, meticulous and responsive manner,” she said. “As much as we are molding these new cadets into plebes, we are the base to future officers’ careers—we want them to be good people with a moral compass. Etiquette, manners and politeness are characteristics that all should hold, and sadly they are quickly overlooked. That’s why I included the ‘thank you’ order.”