Decorated veteran leads West Point Corps of Cadets
September 3, 2009
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Since 1872, the U.S. Military Academy has selected one firstie to lead the Corps of Cadets as its brigade commander or First Captain. The names of the First Captains are etched on plaques outside a room in Eisenhower Barracks documenting the history of the position.
Sometime before graduation, Tyler Gordy will add his name just under Ben Amsler, last year's First Captain, to the plaque.
He'll forever be linked with the likes of Douglas MacArthur; Robert Woods, the man who lettered in football at West Point and Navy; Pete Dawkins, winner of the Heisman Trophy, Rhodes Scholar, class President and "Star Man;" Vincent Brooks, the first African-American First Captain; and Kristen Baker, the first woman to hold the position.
A successful run as the "King of Beast" during Cadet Basic Training and his selection to the top position forced a change of plans for the Newcastle, Calif., native. "I was supposed to go to Spain this semester to a university in Granada," Gordy said. "That is what I wanted to do."
But, with all plans, sometimes things change. Gordy's road to West Point began as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
In an interview with the Fort Monmouth, N.J., Public Affairs Office during his time at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School, Gordy said his decision to enlist was forged by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "When the terrorists attacked on 9/11, I felt it was my time to answer the call for my generation," Gordy said.
His natural ability as a Soldier and leader was soon evident to his command.
Maj. John Stroh, III, Gordy's company commander with the 101st, said Gordy was one of the top marksman in the battalion. But it was his ability to lead that set him apart.
"He was able to enforce standards and train others even when they were his peers or outranked him," Stroh said in an e-mail. "He was not a yeller (or) screamer, but a calm, collected and quiet NCO-completely professional."
Gordy deployed with his unit in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq.
During his yearlong tour, he was battle-tested and began to forge the resume of a top-notch infantry Soldier. While on patrol in Mosul, Gordy said he noticed a man eyeing his two-vehicle patrol with contempt. When he looked away, out of the corner of his eye he saw the man had thrown something toward the humvee.
"I turned to the NCO sitting next to me," Gordy explained, "and said, 'hey, I think that guy just threw a rock in the Humvee.'" Before he could finish the sentence a hand grenade exploded inside the vehicle.
Gordy jumped from the vehicle, ran into a courtyard and heard "six or seven" more explosions. Running to consolidate with the other Soldiers, Gordy heard one of his buddy's call to him. "I couldn't help him, he was in the middle of the kill zone," he said of the Soldier who was missing parts of both legs.
During this time, he remembers thinking about how much he was sweating, and when he looked down to see he, in fact, was bleeding from shrapnel wounds to his legs, one arm and face. Gordy, unfazed by his wounds, linked up with another Soldier then headed to the point of the attack.
The two set up a perimeter and found themselves in the midst of a firefight. The two returned fire giving other Soldiers time to put a tourniquet on the injured Soldier and remove him from further danger.
For his actions that day, Gordy received the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor device.
He also attended sniper school while deployed and helped his unit to a second-place finish at the 2005 International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga.
It was during his time with the "Screaming Eagles" that the idea of applying to West Point was first broached by his battalion commander. "He basically said there would be doors, in and out of the Army, that would never be open to me because I am not a West Point graduate," the former high school football player said.
Gordy said up until that time he was planning on leaving the Army, but started thinking about West Point.
A Soldier applying to West Point through the Soldier Admission Program needs a letter of recommendation from his company commander and Stroh, Class of 1999, says it was a no-brainer to write a letter on Gordy's behalf to his alma mater.
"I saw a young man with tremendous potential for future service to our nation," Stroh, now an instructor in the Dept. of Military Instruction, said. Gordy received an appointment to the prep school and spent a year there focusing on academics.
When he entered the academy in June 2006, this former NCO had to check his ego at the door. "I had to relearn humility," Gordy said.
After completing "Beast Barracks," Gordy questioned whether or not he had made the right decision in coming to West Point. He turned to a mentor, retired Col. Roger Donlon, who he had met at the prep school, for assistance.
"I reminded him that he was bringing a lot to the table by virtue of his military experience (combat) and his family values," Donlon, the first Medal of Honor recipient during the Vietnam War, said. "I told him to 'hang tough' and 'suck it up!'"
Gordy has persevered through his time here. Now, as the First Captain, he is focused on making life better for the cadets. Although, he is quick to point out it isn't just him working toward that goal, and it is all the commanders working down the chain of command that help take care of the Corps.
"I lead four people, and those are the regimental commanders, and I rely on those four people to lead four more and so on," Gordy said. He credits his staff and regimental commanders with getting some additional privileges for the Corps during the recent Acceptance Day weekend.
"When the Corps performs well and they do well, we want to reward them." he added.
Firstie Elizabeth Betterbed, the deputy brigade commander, said those who selected Gordy for the job got the best candidate. "There are a lot of qualified cadets, but from my point of view he is, in a lot of ways, head and shoulders above the rest of us in terms of maturity and organization," the Fox Island, Wash., native, said.
Stroh said that everyone he has spoken to that knows Gordy from his time with the 101st is not surprised by his success here. "When they hear about his achievements here they say, 'Well, I'm not surprised! He's going to be a great platoon leader.'" Stroh added.
And that is all Gordy, whose younger brother, Kyle, is a member of the Class of 2011, wants to be in the near future.
"My mom may still care (about me being First Captain), but my Soldiers won't care," the 2002 graduate of Lincoln High said. "The only thing they will care about is if I care about them. I came here to be a platoon leader and go back and work with those guys (Soldiers). Being with those guys on some hilltop in Afghanistan making their life, somehow, just a little bit better (is what I'm striving to do)."