July 21, 2010
Mr. Rogers’ Bloggerhood – Guest Blogger Wyatt Frasier
On occasion I like to have a guest blogger come and give a unique perspective on higher education. This blog will focus on a particular service academy and an experience one of our Utah students had visiting it. Wyatt Frasier is entering his final year at Bountiful High and shares his experience at the West Point Military Academy.
This month has been filled with flying back and forth as I’ve visited the three service academies to decided on which one I’ll want to attend. I will blog on all three, but I will start out with West Point.
I spent the first week attending Summer Leaders Seminar (SLS) at West Point, also known as the U.S. Military Academy, also known as Army. This was a program that had 4,000 kids apply, but only 500 were accepted. Ranked as the #1 college in America by Forbes magazine, West Point immediately sets itself apart as the best institution on paper, especially with the majors offered there. Not being a math lover, I want to major in foreign relations, economics, or a foreign language. Even before I went on campus I thought West Point to be at the top of my list.
View from the Hudson River
When I visited though, I was even more impressed. Set on the Hudson River an hour out of New York City, the campus is by far the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Trees covered the entire campus, with the river being set below you. The buildings were all amazing architecturally, and the statues of military heroes covering the campus were similarly incredible. There is a joke at the academy that the lawn, or the place where the cadets march, is the second most expensive piece of real estate in America. The first is the White House. My sister put it best when she said that the whole campus looked like a castle.
Washington Hall (dorms) stands looking over the lawn (marching & parade grounds)
SLS exceeded expectations as well. The program was more or less to show you a scaled down version of Beast Barracks, or the summer Plebes (freshman) spend at the academy before their fourth class year begins. Just like Beast, the Seminar is detailed (organized and carried out) by Cows (juniors) and Firsties (Seniors). The officers at West Point have little to do with the Seminar, just like Beast. One important thing to realize with the academies, is that if an Upperclassmen reprimands you as a freshman by giving you push ups, flutter kicks, etc., the upper classmen HAS TO DO THE PUNISHMENT WITH YOU. The movies you see with kids getting yelled at while they do work is totally fictitious. And at West Point, most upperclassmen will let you be if you don’t do anything too stupid or dishonorable. Even during the year, the actual administration has little to do with overseeing day to day routines, as the upperclassmen are expected to lead the freshmen by example. At the Seminar, we had 5 platoons with about 8 squads in each (militarily inaccurate). You did most everything with your squad or your platoon, which is the case with the academy as well.
Dwight D. Eisenhower stands in front of the library
We arrived to have the cadets who were detailing yelling at us and giving us instructions designed to make us fail. For example, a cadet would instruct you to drop your bag, so you’d set it down. The cadet would then ask if he told you to set your bag down, so you’d pick it up. The cadet would then ask if he gave you permission to pick up the bag. He would then say, pick up bag and proceed to DROP the bag. Although this type of psychological game takes a toll, you realize the cadets have nothing against you and are preparing you for high pressure situations. We then had a crash course in marching, PT (physical training), military rank, and how to properly make your bed and wear your clothes. We then met up with our squads and went to formation in front of the dorms. In the military, you have a 12-man squad, led by a sergeant (enlisted man). There are 4 squads in a platoon, which is led by a lieutenant (officer). Several Platoons then make up a company, led by an officer, and several companies make up a battalion. At the academy you are organized the same way, with cadets assuming the role of sergeants, leading the underclassmen.
The next morning we did the CFA, or candidate fitness assessment. This is something everyone who wants to get into the academy must pass. It includes basketball throw, pull ups, 40 yard shuttle, sit ups, pushups and a mile run, in that order. You must get certain values to pass the test, something you must do to get into the academies. I passed and have that out of the way for my application. The rest of the day was filled with a speaker and a cadet panel with our platoon, asking questions to the cadets who were leading us.
The next three days went as follows: Wake up at 5 and go to formation. From there you would go do PT, which was about an hour long with lots and lots of pushups (250 one day), sit ups, flutter kicks, dips, air squats, etc. Or one of the days we did a 3 mile run, which wasn’t hard as we paced it slow and ran it in marching columns. After this we’d shower and go to formation (we went to formation and walked in marching columns everywhere) to go to breakfast. This was served family style, with everyone standing until they’re told to sit, and then the food is passed around your table of 12. We would then go and have a speaker, the Dean, Superintendant, or Colonel over admissions. After that we would attend class. The class was preselected and had 18 kids in it. They were taught by actual professors at the academy and were top rate. I had English, then Social Science, then History (we actually went to constitution Island and toured old revolutionary forts!) At the academy, the student to teacher ratio is about 16:1, with major classes being about 8:1. Classes at West Point CANNOT EXCEED 18 kids, and rarely go over 6-7 for your major. After 3 hours we would go to lunch and then go back for three more hours. After this we would play intramural sports like ultimate, dodge ball, etc. followed by dinner. This would be followed by squad leader time, so we tour we would tour the library, go to Grant Hall (The closest thing to a student union) and hang out, etc.
Thursday there was military day! This was the most fun out of anything. We woke up at 5:30 and went to breakfast, after which we got on buses to go to nearby Camp Buckner, the camp where Plebes spend most of their Beast Barracks doing drills, obstacle courses, shooting, etc. For us, we started with doing some woods marching, then getting to check out some armored vehicles like Hummers, Abrams tanks, and Howitzers. We then went and did Army combatives, which was challenging but fun. The combative pit is manned by NCO’s, the kind of guys you see in movies yelling at guys telling them they’re worthless. These guys DON’T have to do punishment with you, and won’t hesitate to punish you for even the slightest infraction, like itching your nose while they’re demonstrating. We started out running about a mile around a pit, continually diving into a pile of mulch and throwing it into the pit, just for fun ! Then we learned combat moves, how to properly choke someone out, and how to pull arms out of sockets. After the combatives we went to a bayonet course where we learned basic bayonet moves, and then went on a 1/2 mile obstacle course through the woods using the moves. Tiring but fun, learning to use bayonets was pretty cool. After this we did two obstacle courses. The first was team building, so you had to figure out how to get over, under, around things, etc. using the few objects provided you. The next course was more confidence building and had odd obstacles you would never try in a million years if you thought about it too long. After this, we were done, having spent 10 hours in the woods. We drove back, showered, and had a final massive dodge ball game of platoon vs. platoon. (So there were 3 games total, as 500 kids in a dodge ball game would’ve been a mess) After this we had pizza, bought by our sergeant, sergeant Mahon, and went to bed.
The next morning we all said goodbye, knowing some of us may see each other the next summer at Beast. But the experience was a great one and made me decide that the academies were definitely what I wanted to do!
If you want to know more about West Point life, I would recommend reading Absolutely American by David Lipsky. Although it is slightly sensationalized, it gives a general idea of what life is like at the U.S. Military Academy.