Made it to Christmas! A plebe’s life

(Editor’s note: Weston Boose, a 4-H’er from rural Norwalk, Ohio, and son of Terry and Mary Lisa Boose, is starting college life at the U.S. Military Academy. This is the third in an occasional series by contributing writer Judy Kocab on Boose’s first year in the academy, where the battlecry of “Duty. Honor. Country.” still rings.)

By JUDY KOCAB
Contributing Writer

(Part III of an occasional series)

NORWALK, Ohio — The young man seemed to be a typical college student, tall, lean, self-confident. Weston Boose, of rural Norwalk, Ohio moved about the room with ease, talking with family members and friends, teasing his younger brother, Joel.

A small group had gathered for an unofficial swearing-in for Weston’s father, Terry, as a new member of the Ohio House of Representatives. The official ceremony would be at the statehouse in Columbus in two days and Weston, as well as many of the others, would not be able to attend.

Taking advantage of the two-week winter break, Weston had spent most of that time with family in Florida. Too cold for the beach, the days were mostly visiting relatives and playing board games.

Within 24 hours of the oath ceremony, however, Weston was traveling, not just back to a college in New York, but returning to “another world”. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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Rules, and more rules

Since West Point serves to prepare leaders for war, it cannot function with a casual atmosphere. From 06:00 until Taps at 23:30 hours, there is not a minute to spare. Even before breakfast formation, the cadets must have their rooms in spotless condition. There is a barracks arrangement guide of 72 pages that dictates everything from shoe alignment under the bed to how the towels are folded, that books are to be on the shelf in descending order of size and the exact contents of each drawer.

While getting ready in the predawn, plebes must also check the Internet to be up-to-date on the latest world news, ready to discuss events when asked by upperclassmen.

Some of the fourth class cadets (freshmen, plebes) sound out the countdown of the minutes remaining until breakfast formation as well as the uniform prescribed for that day. The cadets must know all the uniform components and combinations — it takes a 44-page guide to explain what to wear, when and how, down to the color of the socks.

Uniforms are paid from a monthly paycheck, which cadets also use to pay for textbooks, personal computers, equipment, travel and living expenses. Meals are in a cathedral-size mess hall large enough to feed more than 4,000 cadets at a time, within half an hour.

Since Beast (basic training) is over and the plebes were “accepted” into the corps, plebes no longer have to eat in silence while staring at their plates, though they may still have meal duties such as “beverage corporal” or to recite “knowledge”.

In the classroom

West Point offers an education comparable to an Ivy League or a Tier I academic institution. A liberal arts curriculum now balances the engineering courses with the physical, behavioral and social sciences.

At the military academy, classes are certainly not “laid back.” Being in the small classes of 10 to 20 students can be an advantage if individual attention is appreciated, but a definite disadvantage if not prepared. Every cadet must not only attend every class on their schedule but is expected to participate in each session and is evaluated frequently.

Those accepted into West Point are among the best students in the country, but the academic expectations are challenging even for these excellent students.

As long as a cadet is showing effort and initiative, there is a strong support system for them. All plebes (freshmen) take the same subjects, so they can help each other. Professors are available for AI (Additional Instruction), and each of the 32 companies consist of cadets of each grade level, so group studies and tutoring are easily arranged.

Honing physical skills

All plebes take courses most colleges do not offer, let alone require, such as survival swimming. While females have self-defense instruction, boxing is considered a rite of passage — dreaded to the point of illness by some, but taken by all men. Weston admitted that once into boxing, “it was a blast.”

These classes are not just to provide offensive and defensive skills but to build confidence and show cadets that they can persevere in spite of physical threat or injury.

In addition to the physical education classes, competitive sports play an important role at West Point with the intent of giving every cadet a chance to build character, fitness, leadership, and corps spirit as well as have fun. Weston is with the Sprint football team, which trains all year and plays in the fall.

Learning the art of war

Besides academics and athletics, plebes have a seemingly unending amount of military information to learn. One month, the topic may be the armaments of a certain tank with specifications of size, range, advantages, etc.

Military history is emphasized, with discussions and tabletop exercises to explore theories and planning options that can be critiqued and then applied during summer maneuvers.

In between academics and athletics are drill periods and parades, duties such as delivering company laundry and cleaning common areas.

Social life is not quite like other colleges, especially for plebes since this first year allows for few passes and little freedom. For them, relaxation is often just hanging out in the barracks watching a movie or working out at the gym.

Civilian vs. military life

Going back after the break, Weston admitted, will be somewhat difficult because although he’s now used to the many demands, there will be the change of cadre, new subjects and professors.

Cadets sometimes think about how much easier and fun it would be to go to a civilian college, but feel that going through tough times has created special bonds and given a great sense of accomplishment.

Like any youth, they make their own fun. There was one “cow” (junior) who was making life more difficult for the plebes than expected or needed. So one day, when he was away, they moved “his room” (the entire contents) and set it up out on the paved area between the barracks. It is reported that he was cited for “his room not being adequately swept.”

How have the last six months changed him? Weston feels he is more obsessive-compulsive, but his father, Terry, says his son is “much more calm, positive, disciplined. Not a lot bothers him and he tries not ‘to make waves’.” His mother, Mary Lisa, quickly adds that now he is folding his own clothes.

Weston says he does not regret dealing with so many challenges, explaining that he had thoroughly researched West Point and knew what to expect, that it would not be easy. He credits much of his being able to cope with a good family upbringing and the leadership of his strict Norwalk St. Paul high school football coach, John Livengood.

“Most of us realize that the sacrifices will pay off,” he said. “We made this choice.”

Still, Weston can tell you exactly how many days until spring break.

Read other 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 V: Plebes graduate from the Long, Gray Line, May 21, 2009

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