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West Point, New York
June 29, 1998
A slim pamphlet published by West Point gives the following details about the United States Military Academy Class of 2002: Twelve thousand four hundred and forty applicant files were opened by the admissions office; 2,245 young men and women received congressional nominations (the first competitive hurdle) and met the academic and physical requirements of West Point. Twelve hundred and forty six were admitted.
Of these, 74 percent ranked in the top fifth of their high school class. None were in the bottom fifth. Sixty-four percent scored above 600 on the verbal portion of the SAT; 78 percent scored that well on the math portion. Two hundred and thirty-three received National Merit Scholar recognition, seventy-eight were valedictorians, 732 members of the National Honor Society; there were 224 Boys or Girls State delegates, 222 student body presidents, 191 editors or coeditors of school newspapers, 556 scouts. Of these, 139 were Eagle Scouts (men) or Gold Award winners (women). One thousand, one hundred and twenty-one of them — a whopping 89 percent — were varsity letter winners; 774 of them were team captains.
They are accomplished, educated, healthy, and willing to forgo much of what makes college life fun, including summer vacation. Today is their first day at West Point, and most of them are having trouble just walking and talking.
In the concrete and blacktop expanse called Central Area, a young man puts his left foot forward, on the command of the upperclass cadre member who is teaching drill.Inexplicably, his left arm swings forward. Since this eighteen-year-old learned to walk, probably around 1982, he's been doing it one way: left foot, right arm. The right foot comes out; the left arm does, too. Not today.
It's not that he isn't trying. His face is set, intense with concentration. He sweats, moves his lips as he repeats the commands. He doesn't look around, although he is a little disoriented. This day is meant to be disorienting
"We want them to feel a little like Dorothy did when she landed in Oz and said, 'We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," says Brigadier General John Abizaid, Commandant of Cadets.
Cadet Basic Training, also called CBT, also called "Beast Barracks" or simply "Beast," takes up most of the summer before freshman year. Six and a half weeks to learn how to look, walk and talk like soldiers; to begin to absorb — or be absorbed by — the military culture; to learn soldier skills, everything from how to march to how to fire a weapon; to learn how to obey.
There is a great deal to take in, and like so much of the West Point experience, it is accomplished pressure-cooker style. It shocks the delicate sensibilities of these teenagers who, for the most part, have led privileged lives in the wealthiest nation on Earth. It is this shock, as much as the fact that today is the beginning of the greatest adventure of their young lives, that makes R-Day memorable.
Four seniors — "firsties," in West Point jargon — stand on the low step outside Bradley Barracks, a six-story, L-shaped granite box that forms two towering sides of Central Area. Three of them are men; one of the men and the one woman are black. They wear the summer dress uniform called white over gray: white hat; pressed white shirt with gray epaulets and the black shield that marks them as seniors, or first class cadets; gray trousers with a black stripe running down the outside of each leg; leather shoes shined to a threatening luster. Each cadet also wears, as a badge of office, white gloves and a red sash that wraps around the waist. Thick tassels hang exactly over each cadet's right rear pants pocket.
This is "the cadet in the red sash," every West Pointer's first, unfriendly, welcoming committee.
A gaggle of new cadets lines up in four haphazard files. Green tape on the ground marks lanes, and they readily comply with the unspoken instruction to stand between the lines. At the top of each lane is the word "Stop," spelled out in the same green tape. Then a no-man's-land of a few feet and another line, behind which stands a burly senior wearing the red sash around his waist.
"New cadet," the firstie says in a voice meant for command. He raises one gloved hand, fingers extended to a knife-edge and aimed at the new cadet's nose.
"Step up to my line." He points at the line just inches from his gleaming shoes. "Not over my line or on my line but up to my line."
The new cadet steps forward, glances down, and aligns the toes of his shoes with the tape. The instructions come rapid-fire from the firstie, who punctuates every sentence with, "Do you understand, new cadet?"
No one pauses to acknowledge the moment, but something important has just taken place.
An hour ago most of the youngsters trying so hard to get to the line...not-on-the-line-or-over-the-line-but-to-the-line...were civilians, the majority of them just recent high school graduates. And even if they didn't report to West Point with baggy jeans, exposed boxer shorts, and skateboards, they were a lot closer to the denizens of MTV than they were to soldiers.
Yet here they are, in the first few minutes of a career that will, for some, last thirty years — and for others thirty hours — and not only are they doing what they're told, they're trying to do it right. They are all, to this point at least, willing participants in a long endeavor to turn them into soldiers and leaders of soldiers.
A few of them may even be aware of the significance of this moment. Many of them have...Duty First. Copyright © by Ed Ruggero. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted September 29, 2006
This book was absolutely amazing. As a hopeful candidate for the United States Military Academy, this book made me STRIVE for West Point even more. Although I am only a sophomore in high school, I am constantly pushing myself to get the best grades that I can and do as many activities that I can do. This book helps you realize if you TRULY want to apply to USMA and dedicate yourself to this nation, and will let you know what you may be up to if you choose to attend there.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2011
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