The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., is looking for a few good Soldiers.Soldier admissions officer Maj. Brian Easley has 85 slots for active-duty Soldiers and 85 slots for reserve-component Soldiers in every class. But he can't fill them-something he finds "heartbreaking," especially because he knows there are many young Soldiers who would excel at West Point and become great officers.
One of the hardest parts is convincing Soldiers, who must be single with no dependants and between 17 and 23 years old, that they might have a shot at getting in to a school that has educated presidents and four-star generals. Easley targets Soldiers who have high Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and General Technical test scores, reasoning they would also do well on the SAT or ACT.
"It's a very challenging academic environment, so we wouldn't want to set any Soldier up for failure," he explained. "The challenge for me is to find Soldiers who could come here and be successful.... What you see from this small minority group within the corps-they only represent about 10 percent of their class-is that they tend to bubble to the top. My own theory is it's because of their maturity, their prior experience in the military, some of their leadership."
There are also so personal details:
Her first reaction when arriving at the academy, however, was that she wanted to return to Iraq, as West Point is a shock academically and socially, the prior-service cadets all agreed. Although basic training at West Point is run by cadets who are usually years younger with no real experience, it's harder than one might expect, and also quite humbling.
"You go from being an E-5 to being basically a nobody and it's tough. You have to exercise humility. You have to have the goal in mind of graduation. You have to be focused on that and understand that you're going to have to pay your dues just like everyone else," said 2nd Lt. Tyler Gordy, class of 2010, adding that it took about four months for him to adjust...
But it was also difficult to deal with combat memories while at West Point, he (another cadet) continued. No one from his unit was there to understand why he might be sad on a particular day, and combat veterans have the usual reintegration challenges in addition to schoolwork. Cook agreed; she doesn't sleep well and, thanks to several mortars and improvised-explosive devices, doesn't like loud noises. She said the counselors at West Point are more equipped to deal with college-student anxiety than combat veterans and that many of her fellow cadets simply don't understand. They can't.
"Because they haven't been there, they don't really understand combat," Cook, who is involved with the prior-service club, said. "They don't understand it really can affect people.... PTSD is always a joke.... It's always about how weak these people are. I just wish they could see some of the things that I've seen, or go to the places that I've been and know the people I know, and understand it's not a joke."
It's a different army and a different West Point than those I knew over 20 years ago.