Commentary: Few can accept rigors and responsibilities of U.S. military academies

By JUDY KOCAB

The article about the graduation of Weston Boose from the U.S. Military Academy concludes my series of articles about this young man going from rural Ohio to the challenges of West Point. While Weston has been the one featured, he is representative of all students at all of the military academies.

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Commentary

Most of these young men and women begin their military careers only a few weeks out of high school. They come with varying backgrounds and numerous accomplishments, class presidents, scholars, star athletes and Eagle Scouts. Each class comes with more than a thousand stories.

Yet on that momentous day, when first reporting in to a military academy, they enter as equals, into an unfamiliar, often unpleasant, world. Especially during the first months, every aspect of their lives is dramatically changed and controlled.

There are grueling physical training regimens, and mentally, they are pushed to understand and remember copious amounts of military information and skills. In all facets of their beings, they are challenged to exceed every comfort level and limitation imagined.

After surviving the first demanding summer, they face more of the upperclassmen to scrutinize their every move. The academics are very daunting because, in addition to heavy course loads, the cadets are not spoon-fed information, but must learn to teach themselves — a skill invaluable for an officer.

Besides academics, military instructions and other duties, cadets must maintain physical fitness and participate in intercollegiate or intramural sports. Upperclassmen are given increasing responsibility for the welfare and training of other cadets. There are never enough hours in the days.

How often in those years, do they think of how different the experience would be at an unfettered, “normal” college? There would be freedom to drive, to date, set their own schedules, to party and definitely not have to worry about predawn physical training.

So why do they compete to gain admittance? Why do they stay and voluntarily endure these sacrifices?

There are many reasons given to attend a military academy. However, the common one must be their dedication to serve their country. What else would justify the rigors of those four years, the obligation of five years’ minimum active duty service, to face the likelihood of long tours away from families, and of combat assignments?

Those who attend, but not graduate, should also be commended. The cadets and families know what an accomplishment it is just to be the one in 10 applicants accepted. There are many reasons that only about three-fourths of the freshman class stays and graduates. What takes great courage, especially after a year or two, is for a cadet to realize and admit that being a military officer is not for them. All, however, come away with experiences that will benefit them and our society.

In an ideal world, such military schools would not be necessary, but we do not live in such a utopia. The wisdom of George Washington is still relevant today: “If we desire peace, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”

It is crucial for the defense of our country that these young men and women are so motivated to become officers, not just trained in military tactics, but as leaders of integrity.

Our nation is then fortunate to have military academies rich with history, traditions and values for these patriotic youth willing to hear the call to duty.

(The author writes from her farm in Ashland County, Ohio.)


Read the complete series:

Part I: Ohioan accepts the West Point challenge, July 29, 2008
Part II: West Point Reception Day turns civilians into cadets, Aug. 5, 2008
Part III: Acceptance Day at West Point, Sept. 25, 2008
Part IV: Made it to Christmas! A plebe’s life, Feb. 5, 2009
Part V: Ohioan makes it through first year at West Point
Part VI: Former Ohio 4-H’er joins the ‘long gray line’ of graduates from the U.S. Military Academy

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