(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 fifth and final article 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.)
(Part V, the final installment of an occasional series)
WEST POINT, N.Y. — It became a scarce commodity, fleeting, as there was never enough of it to do all that was expected.
But minutes also could seem like hours in the gas chamber or during an inspection. Hours could feel like forever when doing physical training, completing long marches or drawing night guard duty. Last summer, weeks until the end of basic training may have been an eternity away and the end of the first year, an impossibility.
Weston Boose of Norwalk, Ohio was among the other new cadets who reached the third step in this odyssey — being accepted and then surviving basic training, which unofficially is called “Beast Barracks.”
They were formally accepted into the Corps of Cadets and now referred to as plebes — cadets, but still about the lowest form of life on post, now apprehensive about having to deal with college studies and 3,000 upperclassmen “watching over them.”
To continue at West Point, time management had to be learned quickly. Students who could do well in high school without much effort had to kick it into a higher gear. At the U.S. Military Academy, attendance at every class is required. Cadets have to study the material before the class, then come in with questions, as opposed to being in a large class and be given information. They have to be ready to participate in every session, and are graded often.
Weston, carrying a full college credit load, admits it was tough, but added, “The professors are great. As long as you are making the effort, they will help with AI (one-on-one additional instruction), even giving their cell phone numbers to be more available. The academic part of the year has gone fast.”
Outwardly, the buzz haircuts have grown out since last June’s Reception Day, and the plebes surely are more physically fit.
Weston’s mother, Mary Lisa, is impressed with the obvious camaraderie not seen in high school where it was macho to not smile, not touch. Among fellow cadets, there is a special feeling after going through such trying times that lifelong friendships are formed.
Every plebe must track and be able to recite the “Days,” or how many days to certain events such as the annual Army-Navy football game, second class ring night and the 100th night until graduation. These dates are used as goals to reach, then, as each passes, cadets can look forward to the next. The months, the events, passed.
For many the “Gloom Period” between Christmas Break and Spring Leave, accentuated by the gray buildings, uniforms and cold winds blowing down the Hudson River, can seem endless. But Boose and his fellow plebes persevered.
Each of the 32 companies at West Point has an Army officer to guide the cadets. Maj. Ryan Keating of Boose’s D-2, can perceive the internal changes.
“At first, it can be overwhelming, facing challenges never encountered before, such as boxing or combatives. ‘Can I do this?’ They face down their fears and learn they can handle things.
“They acquire humility, a critical quality in a leader, because they come in as ‘cream of the crop’ and here they are on the bottom of the totem pole,” he added.
More confidence was evident in the new cadets by the Plebe Parent Weekend in March. With the upperclassmen away for the three days, the plebes took over all roles and responsibilities for every level of organization, including the review parade and daily activities of 1,000 classmates.
There was an obvious pride in most of the plebes as they showed families and friends the West Point campus, explained what they have been doing for those long months, where they have lived and struggled.
Keating also sees a sense of urgency in the class of 2012 — in preparation for the combat missions they know are in their future.
But it will take all four years to develop their leadership abilities, he added, for a cadet to go from taking orders to influencing others, especially peers, to want to do what he or she decides.
Class of 2011 Cadet Corp. Diane Leimbach laughs at the thought of being called a “cow” (second class, junior), but recalls that during “reorgy week” (organizing for the academic year) “the plebes had the look of fear on their faces. As the months passed, they relaxed some, learning how far to go with the upperclassmen, still professional but like a ‘big brother/sister’ attitude.
“As the second semester progressed, you could tell that they were starting to get it, to start thinking ‘leadership’, how they would be an example for the plebe they would mentor next fall.”
Terry Boose, Weston’s father, relates that the time has gone by much faster than he thought it would.
“I am very happy with it,” he said. “I was skeptical, as any parent, if my child could stick with the challenges, how it would affect them. But Weston is very positive, more mature, more dedicated.”
The plebes are awaiting a few weeks of leave time before night navigation and tactical maneuvers are on the agenda. After that, some new “yearlings”, will participate in Airborne (parachute jumping) while Weston and others will be in training for Air Assault (rappelling from helicopters). Then there will be an early return for conditioning for football.
The pictures of the new cadets on R-Day taken 325 days ago showed confusion, dread and a “what did I get myself into look.”
About the time this is printed there will be a special ceremony where the soon-to-be graduates promote the underclassmen. The plebes will finally be “recognized” as human beings, fellow cadets. They will be allowed to stroll down a hallway instead of hugging the walls.
Upperclassmen who have yelled at them for so long and addressed them only by surnames or “Hey fourthclass” will shake their hands and use the given names.
On May 23, about 1,000 new second lieutenants will change from cadet gray into their green Army officer’s uniforms.
Even as they join the 65,000 graduates of the “Long Gray Line”, last-minute plans are being made across the United States by another group of young men and women anticipating R-Day 2009.
The West Point Class of 2013.
(Judy Kocab is a freelance writer who lives on a farm in Ashland County.)
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
(And, in June 2012, we returned to the academy to report on Boose’s graduation in our final installment.)