Thursday, June 27, 2013

The March Back

The culminating event of Beast is a twelve mile ruck march beginning at Camp Buckner (the location where rising sophomores take part in Cadet Field Training), and ending back at West Point. It's a pretty challenging event for no other reason than that it takes a long time, but as it's the last major hurdle before becoming true members of the Corps of Cadets, it carries with it a sense of accomplishment that helps to ease the load. The last two miles of the march back are through post, so the streets are lined with parents and well-wishers bearing signs of congratulations. The last two miles are by far the easiest because there are not only people cheering you on and encouraging you, but there is a sense of finality to it that somehow eases any potential struggle.

Upon completing this ruck march, new cadets are brought to the companies they will spend the academic year in.There are four regiments in the Corps of Cadets, and these are numbered. In each regiment, there are three numbered battalions. In each battalion, there are the companies organized alphabetically. 1st Battalion has A, B, and C companies, 2nd Battalion has D, E, and F companies, and 3rd Battalion has G, H, and I companies. So people identify with their company by name (I am in E2, which is E company in 2nd Regiment) and by mascot (E2's mascot is the Brewdawgs).
This is a Brewdawg
So when the new cadets show up to their companies there is an event in which Cows and Firsties test the knowledge of the incoming new cadets and instill in them company spirit before they are released to their new rooms. This event has taken a lot of different forms over the many years of the academy, but these days it is simply a test of a new cadet's ability to recite the information in his or her Knowledge Book and an opportunity for the upperclassmen of the company to establish themselves in the role that was previously given to the Beast cadre.

Once the new cadets make it through this event, they are given their team leader, a Yearling (sophomore) cadet whose job is to ensure that their new cadet is taken care of and learning throughout the academic year. The team leader is perhaps the greatest ally to a new cadet who is fresh out of high school and without military experience because they are not far removed from the Plebe experience themselves.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beast Barracks

Cadet Basic Training (commonly known as "Beast Barracks") is a seven week process that turns people accepted into West Point from civilians to cadets. There are a number of cadets who served in the armed forces as enlisted soldiers before coming to the Academy, and they have to go through Beast, too because being a cadet has different facets to it than being an enlisted soldier. Cadets in their Cow (junior) and Firstie (senior) years are assigned the leadership roles during Beast, and together, they and their new cadets train in a number of skills. There are two halves of Beast, the first of which teaches new cadets how to act, speak, and present themselves in a soldierly manner, while the second teaches new cadets military tactics, the basic use of military weapons systems, and other valuable military skills such as repelling, land navigation, and the use of gas masks.

Here's the basic run-down for a day in the life of a new cadet:

-Wake up at 0500 to do physical training (PT), which is either running or calisthenics. I'm not sure which one I disliked more.

-Rapidly shower, then go to breakfast formation, followed by breakfast. While eating in the mess hall, new cadets are required to stare at the top-most rim of their plates, may only chew their food three times before swallowing, and must perform the duties necessary to set the table.

-After breakfast, briefings follow. These may be about a great number of things, from the validation of certain classes to how to live according to the West Point Honor Code which states that "a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

-Lunch formation, followed by lunch. While moving from place to place, new cadets are required to move at 120 paces per minute, must cup their hands, may not speak unless it is to greet an upperclassman, and are required to study their book of cadet knowledge while waiting. Knowledge is a very important part of being a new cadet. There are a number of different things that new cadets are required to know, such as Schofield's Definition of Discipline, How's the Cow?, and the number of lights in Cullum Hall.

-After lunch, training occurs. Often, it is required that training be conducted over the course of multiple days in one of West Point's training areas, in which case all of these things things listed will occur in the field.

-If new cadets are not in the field conducting training, Mass Athletics occurs around 5:00 p.m. (1700). This is a time where NCAA recruits may train with their teams, new cadets interested in walking on to a sport may meet and work with the coaches, and new cadets not interested in joining one of these two groups may play a pick-up game of basketball, dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, touch football, or soccer with their companies. This is always a great deal of fun.

-After Mass Athletics, new cadets quickly shower, change into their White Over Grey uniform, and go to dinner.

-The evenings are either used for more briefings or additional training time at the squad level (roughly ten new cadets and their Cow (junior) squad leader). This training may consist of practicing techniques or skills that will be learned the next day, going over things learned previously, or conducting proper weapons maintenance.

-At 9:30 p.m. (2130), new cadets are released from training to conduct necessary hygiene and then go to bed. All new cadets must be in their rooms with the lights out at 10:00 p.m. (2200).

Good Parts of Beast:
-Mass Athletics
-Rifle Marksmanship
-Chaplain's Time/Religious Services

Bad Parts of Beast:
-Daily PT
-Teargas Chamber
-Ruck Marches

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Reception Day is the day when West Point welcomes the incoming Plebe (freshman) class. This is also the beginning of Cadet Basic Training (CBT), commonly referred to as Beast Barracks (I'm going to try and avoid using acronyms as much as possible, but sometimes I can't). For me, it began with waking up a 5 a.m. (or 0500 for those military types), getting dressed in the last pair of civilian clothes I was going to wear for another three months, and grabbing a quick breakfast from the lobby of the hotel my family was staying at. The hotels in the area are well-practiced at R-Day, as they had a nice little bag full of fruit, Pop-Tarts, and a bottle of orange juice ready and waiting for me. I wonder if they know that people going to R-Day are too nervous to eat a thing.

Next came the longest car ride of my entire life. My two sisters, my parents, and kid from my area back home who was going to attend the Academy as well all just sat silently in the car. This kid in the vehicle with my family and I, we'll call him Ron, was also accepted to West Point, but he came from a poorer area of town and his parents couldn't afford to drive him up there, so my parents volunteered. I had only met him two days ago. We weren't close and I didn't expect we would ever be best friends, but so far he was the only person I knew from my class. I was going to hold on to that.

When we arrived on post (army installations are known as posts, while navy and air force installations are referred to as bases), We found a parking spot and got in line outside the basketball stadium with all the other parents and cadet candidates. Usually, the Reception Day brief is given in Eisenhower Hall, which is an auditorium large enough to seat the entire Corps of Cadets, but Ike Hall was being renovated in the summer of 2010 so we went to the basketball stadium. The way that the R-Day brief works is you all pack in to the bleachers and get a quick talking to by a Cow (junior) cadet about the trials of Beast Barracks and how being resilient will allow you to succeed and blah, blah, blah. I was freaking out the entire time. I felt like my insides were about to explode. The short brief ends with the following words "you now have ninety seconds to say goodbye to your loved ones."

Boom. Only 90 seconds? They sure don't waste a lot of time in the Army. Later I would come to find out just how inaccurate that statements was, but that's a different thing. During the 90 seconds, it was just about all I could do not to cry. I hugged my two younger sisters (my younger brother was still back home in Virginia), then my mom, then my dad, then Ron and I walked up the stairs into a room in which parents could neither see nor hear what was said to us by the upperclassmen who would be our cadre from the summer.

After that, the rest of the morning was a blur. Ron and I split up almost immediately, but I didn't have enough time to think about that while we were rushed from location to location, given equipment, clothes, a haircut that left me just about bald (think that scene from Stripes), and finally to the Cadets In the Red Sash. This is a line of four Firstie (senior) cadets who, clad in their red sashes, are standing in wait for prospective new cadets to attempt to properly greet and salute them.

The way that this works is we, the new cadets, are standing in front of the Cadets in the Red Sash with our backs turned to them, lined in one of four rows. The Cadet in the Red Sash that to whose row you are assigned will then tell you to about face (which means turn around, but in a military way), and approach his line. His line is a piece of tape approximately one foot in front of him. He will instruct you to "step up to my line, not on my line, not over my line, not behind my line, step up to my line." This is an incredibly terrifying experience for a kid straight out of high school who never got seriously yelled at. I had played football for a long time, but I was always relatively good at football and, even when I did mess up, no one was too hard on me. This was different. I was sent back from the Cadet in the Red Sash six times before finally getting it right. Each time, the cadet had some new jibe to throw my way. Nothing he said was overly demeaning, but his tone was not one I was accustomed to and neither was failing.

After finally getting through the Cadet in the Red Sash, I reported to the First Sergeant (the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in a company), and then I was taken to my room. From there, I donned my White Over Grey uniform, which consisted of a white button down shirt and, you guessed it, grey pants. From there, I put away all of my brand new equipment, uniform items, and miscellaneous stuff that was issued to me. I was just about to start making my bed when I realized that there was no way I was going to do it right. I had heard about bed standards at West Point, and I knew that I had no idea how to achieve them. Fortunately, not too long after that realization, another new cadet from my squad came into my room. It turned out that this guy was a Prepster, meaning that he had spent the previous year at the United States Military Academy Prep School (USMAPS). He knew all about beds, and was more than happy to help me make mine. Life is so much easier when you're making friends and giving and receiving help from them.

After my squadmate and I made my bed and talked for a while, we were all brought out of our rooms to drill for our upcoming Oath Ceremony, which would be held on the Plain (the area where cadets parade) in front of all the parents. The ceremony went smoothly, and I actually managed to catch a glimpse of my mom and dad. That made everything I had done that day immensely easier to bear, and would later help me get through the remaining seven weeks. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What's This All About?

My experience as a West Point cadet is far from over. I am currently a Cow (junior) here at the Academy and that means that I've got a little bit more time left. But I've got some stories. These are tales of shenanigans, tomfoolery, and general absurdity. In my two and a half years here I've experienced greater triumph and defeat than ever before in my life, and I think that I can provide a good picture of what the life of a cadet looks like.

I don't plan on skewing facts or smudging details. If something that happened to me or one of my friends provides either good laughs or a lesson, I'd like to share it. Obviously, there is potential to incriminate myself and others here, so I will do my best to eliminate those lines of storytelling. For context, I am a middle class, protestant, 21 year-old white male from a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

The opinions I provide here are not indicative of what the U.S. Army or its affiliates think or feel. They are simply my reflections on events that occurred in my life. I enjoy the army, and proud to represent it, and have never regretted joining.