WEST POINT, N.Y. -- "Cadet Candidate! Walk up to the line! Walk up to the line! Walk up to the line!"

A young man wearing black shoes, socks and shorts with a white T-shirt and carrying a barracks bag stuffed with clothes walks toward the line painted on the ground and reports to a U.S. Military Academy cadet wearing a red sash.

It's a high-stress environment as the cadet candidate puts down the barracks bag, salutes and attempts to report.

"Can you not walk up to a line'" the senior cadet bellows. "You missed the line! Go back and do it again!" Some cadet candidates repeat the process five or six times before getting it right.

And if that isn't enough stress, the young men and women are under the observation of Army Secretary Pete Geren.

Geren visited "R Day" at the Military Academy here June 29. It was the first day for the Class of 2013, and like every class at the academy since its founding in 1802, the cadets got their first taste of life as a "plebe" - a first-year cadet.

"I wanted to come up here and see the process," Geren said during an interview. "It's part of the tradition of West Point, and I wanted to experience that. It helps me better understand those traditions and culture of the academy and the officers who come from here."

Geren met with parents, cadets, cadet candidates and military personnel who helped to process 1,304 young men and women into life at the academy.

The process starts with a briefing at Eisenhower Hall to welcome candidates and parents. An Army officer tells parents what to expect and invites them to tour the campus while their sons and daughters in-process. Cadet Stephanie Whitaker takes over the podium and tells the cadet candidates what to expect. She ends her presentation with, "You have 90 seconds to say your goodbyes." With that, she hits the stopwatch function on her wristwatch.

R-Day begins the process of changing civilians into cadets. They are measured for uniforms, given identification cards, shorn of their hair, assigned to companies and taught to march. At 5:45 p.m., the candidates march to Trophy Point for the Oath Ceremony, with their parents watching.

Geren observed the process and also met with parents and candidates.

"The parents are proud, but they are also very nervous," he said. "But you have to hand it to the young men and women who have volunteered for this experience. There were the most applications for positions at the academy this year than ever before.

"I get annoyed at people who say the economy is the driver in this and in recruiting," he continued. "The Army has made its recruiting goals, and the number of applications was up before the economy crashed."

The West Point cadets are impressive in another way, the secretary said. "The United States is at war, and they know it," he said. "Yet they still step forward. We are a fortunate country to have such people."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16