Wednesday, February 13, 2013

R-Day

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. 

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