(Editor’s note: Farm and Dairy readers first met Weston Boose in July 2008, as we started a multi-part series on his first year at the U.S. Military Academy. Boose, the son of Terry and Marylisa Boose of rural Norwalk, Ohio, has now graduated from West Point, and author Judy Kocab was there, as she was at the start. You can see links to the entire series at the end of this story. You can also scroll down to see photos from Boose’s four years.)
WEST POINT, N.Y. — May 26, 2012, was a hot, humid day for the graduation ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Perhaps during the speeches or waiting their turn to receive diploma, some of the 972 graduates let their minds wander to another day 47 months before.
The temperatures also soared on a day just as important in their lives. It was June 30, 2008, “R-Day”, Reception Day, when almost 1,300 youths reported to West Point to begin an arduous year.
They had to know that during the first summer, with Army basic training, and then the following academic year, they would be thoroughly physically and mentally challenged.
One candidate waiting, Weston Boose, of rural Norwalk, Ohio, seemed calm, not revealing any nervousness. He carried only a small bag with running shoes, a few other required items and certain expectations. He knew the first weeks would be difficult for new cadets, to determine their resilience under pressure and show them how they could go well beyond what was previously thought possible.
The summer basic training, unofficially called “Beast Barracks”, was demanding in many ways. They were no longer the sports stars, outstanding scholars or hometown heroes, but equal “new cadets.” The marches lengthened to 12 miles. There were a multitude of military skills to master — marksmanship, drill, grenades, orienteering, patrol. Even the gas chamber taught them to trust their equipment and function in undesirable conditions.
Reaching the major milestone of finishing basic training, the cadets faced the next challenge — the start of the academic year.
Besides a heavy college course load, the Thayer Method of instruction is used at West Point. Instead of sitting in large auditoriums listening to an instructor, cadets are in classes of 10 to 20, with mandatory attendance and daily participation. Cadets are expected to study the subject material on their own before class and come in with questions.
In addition, the plebes (freshmen) had upperclassmen inspecting uniforms, rooms and about every action taken. Plebes also had to be ready to recite required knowledge or news headlines requested by any upperclassmen.
The following May, the plebes were “recognized” as “upperclassmen, released from the many extra duties, restrictions and strict supervision.
Since Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as superintendent of the academy 1919-1922, decreed that “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields; on other days, will bear the fruits of victory … ” every cadet is an athlete. Everyone participates in an intercollegiate or intramural sport.
Weston Boose chose “Sprint” (lighter weight) varsity football for four years and was team co-captain during his senior year. One highlight was when, with his brother Joel on the team, Army beat Navy in Sprint football at Annapolis.
Another memorable experience was when cadets were challenged in a football game by some alumni from the Class of 1962. Besides being nervous about competing with older gentlemen, they were playing against some generals, although the senior officers did play “full tilt.”
Summers were the time for further military training. The “yearling” cadets participated in advanced infantry training. The third year began with opportunities to travel to different forts to learn about the different branches of the Army.
Weston trained and qualified in air assault, which included rappelling from helicopters. During his last summer, Weston was assigned to “shadow” a first lieutenant with a military police platoon in Kansas. Though still a cadet, he was considered an officer by the soldiers.
An academic assignment took Weston to Australia, where he was part of a multinational project related to his major as engineering psychology.
Leadership skills, a primary focus for these soldiers-in-training, are developed over the four years at West Point. The corps of 4,000+ is managed by the cadets themselves with oversight by Army officers.
The first year is in learning how to follow orders and experience the different leadership styles of upperclassmen. Responsibility is increased, from mentoring at least one plebe during the second year, to various leadership positions to the ultimate goal of being ready to be an Army officer in charge of many soldiers.
For Weston, it was being squad leader, responsible for 10 plebes in his third year and finishing as platoon leader overseeing the welfare and training of dozens. He found the assignment in Kansas shadowing a lieutenant for an M.P. unit to be an eye-opening, intimidating experience, to be totally responsible for the lives of so many, especially when the officer needed some surgery and Weston had to take over command of the platoon.
A new officer learns quickly the wisdom of respecting the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) in his command, often veterans of 15-20 years.
“You can demand respect as an officer, but really, to be effective, you need to earn the respect of those in your charge and prove worthy to be in that position,” Boose said.
Graduation day was the culmination of many miles marched, orders taken, courses struggled through and accepting multitudes of regulations and restrictions. They had made many sacrifices to reach this goal, to receive their diploma and second lieutenant bars from alumni, U.S.M.A. Class of 1962.
Of those youths signing in on the 2008 R-Day, for a variety of reasons, about 300 did not stay until graduation day.
At one point of the ceremony, as the names of the graduates were read, there was a brief standing ovation as the name was revealed of the “class goat”. This title is given to the cadet with the lowest ranking in the class. Classmates each donate $1 as a way of thanking him for keeping them from that dubious honor. It is an ‘honor’ shared by some great officers, such as Gen. George Patton.
After the commencement formalities, the graduates met with family and friends for private commissioning ceremonies. In places on post of special significance to them, alone or with closest classmates, they took their oath of office as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, promising at least five years of military service to the country that had provided their education at West Point.
For his commissioning, Weston joined some of his classmates at Shea Stadium where they had spent so many years as teammates for the Sprint football. His father, Terri, and mother, Marylisa, placed the insignia of his new rank on his shoulders.
It was an emotional moment for Marylisa. “As I am pinning second lieutenant bars on this young man now taller than I, my thoughts went to the little boy about 4 years old, wearing cowboy boots and shorts,” she said. “Now he has grown up and I could not be more proud.”
After a furlough, the new second lieutenants will scatter across the globe to attend training in their specialties such as artillery, engineering or aviation. A few will go on to medical school or other graduate studies.
Weston will report for further training for tank operations and maintenance and then assignment in Georgia. He did not speculate beyond that.
One thing for sure was that in a year or so, besides captains and majors, he would be accountable to a new wife, Colleen Steele of New Jersey.
Read earlier installments in this 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
And a final commentary from author Judy Kocab.