Thursday, March 27, 2008


Thus far in this blog I’ve explored several aspects of the United States Military Academy. I’ve looked at its history, and discovered its deep traditions; I’ve investigated the mission statement, and what it means to those who have the responsibility to live it; I’ve looked in to the stressful daily lives of West Point’s cadets, and understood how strong a person must be to endure the everyday challenges that present themselves at the academy. However, in order to better understand and accept the United States Military Academy, there is another (somewhat enormous) question that must be asked, and that question is, why on earth would anyone want to attend this school? The fact that I even need to ask this question is a demonstration of my ignorance. Thousands of people have attended, and are currently attending West Point, and clearly they’ve all had reasons to do so. Therefore, the time has come to investigate these reasons, and the only accurate way to do this is by going straight to those who have them, mainly the West Point cadets.
For this blog, I spoke with a cadet (who again will remain nameless in order to protect his privacy) who explained his motivations for attending the United States Military Academy. According to the cadet, he attended West Point because he was under the impression that the military would challenge him in three aspects of his life: the physical aspect, the academic aspect, and the spiritual aspect. While most colleges focus primarily on developing academics, the military was appealing to him because it would build him as a well-rounded character. It’s no secret that West Point is challenging both academically and physically, but I was confused about the spirituality aspect of which he spoke. He explained that West Point is known for the strength of its ethical code. It also has a high percentage of Christian students and multiple active church groups. Therefore, according to this cadet, West Point boasted an all-in-one reputation, which was enough to get him involved (Anonymous).
The cadet I interviewed raised some extremely valid points. West Point can certainly offer a challenge to anyone who wants it. It’s difficult for me to relate to someone who’s constantly looking for a way to challenge themselves to the extreme. Personally, I like to be busy and challenged. I enjoy a healthy level of stress and I love working hard. I don’t like my classes to be a waste of time, and I always push myself as hard as I can during my workouts. However, that comes from me. I’m not a fan of someone standing over my shoulder and telling me to work harder. I work as hard as I can for the benefit of myself only. However, understanding that there are other people in the world who have different lifestyles than me is crucial to leading a relaxed life. My first step toward making sense of the United States Military Academy will come from my ability to think outside my own comfort zone. I need to remember that people, like the cadet I spoke to, have different motivations in life. The cadet I interviewed wanted to push himself as hard as he possibly could in every aspect of his life, and that’s why he was at West Point, and I know I’m learning when I can honestly say, that’s a good reason.


Anonymous, Telephone interview. 27 March 2008.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Military Life

The transition from civilian life to military life is challenging. Incoming freshmen sacrifice most of their summer to take part in Cadet Basic Training (CBT), also known as “Beast Barracks.” CBT is described by West Point’s website as “challenging, stressful, physically demanding and rewarding” (“West Point Admissions: FAQS about Military Training”), an experience several steps up from the average college orientation. Alright, so what’s it like to actually attend CBT at the United States Military Academy? What is a normal day like? West Point’s web site doesn’t mask the fact that military life is intense, but in order to get a better understanding of just how intense this so-called “Beast” is, I interviewed a cadet about his summer training experience. In order to protect his privacy, his name will be omitted from this blog.
According to the cadet, during the summer the day began at 5:00 in the morning. Around ten of 5, you could hear the upperclassmen in the hallways checking to make sure no one was up ahead of time. He said people would always try and get up fifteen minutes early, in order to get a head start on the day, but if the upperclassmen caught you then they’d yell and send you back to bed. As soon as the clock hit 5:00, the halls went from silence to pandemonium. The upperclassmen would instantaneously begin yelling, and kicking in and banging on doors. He said that once they played Marilyn Manson loudly as a wake-up tactic. The new cadets were given two minutes to get on the wall, and within these two minutes they were expected to make their beds, shave, and get in uniform. These unrealistic time demands were what prompted so many to try and wake up early. The particular cadet to whom I spoke usually aimed to wake up at 4:40am. Following their rapid wake-up, the new cadets stood and awaited further attention. If it was a Formation Day, they would stand until the 5:20am flag raise, and then they would proceed to physical training (or PT). PT consisted of either running or muscular/strength/endurance training that would last for approximately 1 hour before breakfast. Following PT, the new cadets returned to their rooms, where they were given five minutes to shower, change, and be back on the wall. They then marched to the mess hall, where ten minutes were allotted for breakfast. However, according to the cadet I spoke to, whether the chain of command actually let you eat for those ten minutes was entirely up to them. The body of the day was taken up by a variety of military trainings, briefings, placement tests, and issue points (the picking-up of West Point assigned objects and clothing). Also, as transitioning members of the military, the new cadets needed to learn how to march and drill. Lunch was placed somewhere during the day, and was similar to breakfast. At night, the new cadets were allowed a half hour of “personal time.” However, this time was almost always used to catch up on things you weren’t able to complete during the day. Lights were out strictly at 10:00pm, but according to my interviewee many new cadets spent some time in the dark writing letters to their families and friends with a flashlight (Anonymous).
During my conversation with the cadet, I was surprised at how strongly his words effected my emotions. Hearing the intensity of his daily life during the summer caused me to feel anxiety on his behalf. The above-described routine doesn’t even include accounts of actual military drills and training, such as handling/firing a weapon, rock climbing, or field training. After hearing his recollections, I am more convinced than ever: those who are in the military deserve our complete respect, regardless of our political views.
Thus far in my blog I have learned that military life is exhausting, stressful, and challenging. So why do it? What is it that calls people to serve? Is it a sense of duty? Family pressure? Patriotism? In my next blog I plan so explore the question of why people attend the United States Military Academy.


Anonymous, Telephone interview. 25 March 2008.

"West Point Admissions: FAQS about Military Training." United States Military Academy. US Army. 25 Mar 2008 .

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Mission Statement According to a Cadet...

It is impossible to get an accurate view of the United States Military Academy completely from outside its walls. Therefore, in order to obtain well rounded information regarding the school I spoke with an attending cadet.
William Guinther is a freshman, or “plebe” at West Point. He has been in attendance since July 2nd, and has participated in a variety of courses and extracurricular activities. In addition to surviving six weeks of Cadet Basic Training over the summer, he has been a part of West Point’s varsity swim team, water polo team, and scuba diving team. He has dealt with rigorous academics and hazing by upperclassmen, and feels overall that West Point has been, and continues to be an intense experience. During our conversation, I asked him specifically about West Point’s mission statement, and how it plays into his life. He began by impressively reciting the mission statement word-for-word, a task that even the most theatrically-savvy would struggle with. The first aspect of the mission statement that he addressed was interestingly the order of words. He found it notable that West Point’s goal to “inspire” was last on the mission statement list, after “educate” and “train.” Cadet Guinther said that the United States Military Academy wanted people to arrive at the school already inspired. You were supposed to come knowing that you wanted to become part of the military. He noted that at West Point, inspiration takes a back seat to education, where at civilian colleges; the reverse tends to be the case. He went so far as to say that West Point does inspire you, just only in one direction. Cadet Guinther also mentioned that at West Point, those in attendance are told that their major does not impact what they will be doing in the military. It is more important that cadets acquire critical thinking skills that can then be transferred to their service in the army. Personally I found this particular mindset similar to that of a civilian college, where learning applicable life skills is more important than memorizing vocabulary words.
I then asked Cadet Guinther whether or not he thinks that in general West Point achieves its goal as outlined in the mission statement. He said yes, and that the school is based upon a doctrine of slow immersion into a military lifestyle that begins on day one. CLDS (Cadet Leadership Development System) begins the moment freshman walk on to campus, and concludes with graduation. The four years at West Point are spent gradually building higher military expectations with lower supervision, a system that thus far seems to be creating strong military leadership. Despite the foreignism of West Point’s mission statement, based on my conversation with Cadet Guinther I have to believe that it serves a purpose (Guinther).


Guinther, William. Telephone interview. 04 March 2008.