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 .

1 comment:

grad said...

Interesting Blog. Good representation of the academy and generally insightful comments. As a graduate of West Point I felt one of your comments regarding a cadets desire to be challenged needed some additional context. You spoke about the cadets motivation to challenge himself and wrote while you respect that desire "I’m not a fan of someone standing over my shoulder and telling me to work harder."

The goal of the academey isn't to have someone "yell at you to work harder" but to put cadets in stressful situations to see if they can handle them appropriately or learn to handle them so they can deal with the high stress demands of being an Army officer. Will a cadet decide to help out a classmate even if it makes him late for formation and means he will get yelled at. Will he/she think of himself before others or learn to understand selfless service. Will he/she sacrifce there integrity over a trivial matter or tell the truth and bear the consequences. So, I think your comments are close to th e mark but there is a little more to it then working harder because someone is yelling at you. The "yelling" is just one of many tools used over 4 years to fulfill on the academy's mission statement

Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your blog
West Point Class of 1995