Lessons from the field help West Point cadets make branch selection
September 20, 2010
- Soldiers and officers from 13 Army branches came to West Point Sept. 16-18 to orientate cadets on various Army career options.
- Many former West Point graduates represented their branches at the Junior Leader Panel.
- The West Point Department of Military Instruction has a representative from each of the Army's branches.
- The DMI representatives meet with cadets to assist as they make branch selections in November.
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 20, 2010) -- Sgt. Craig Preston, standing in front of a towering Patriot Missile Launcher Station, greeted the Corps of Cadets Sept. 16 on Thayer Walkway. Accompanied by Sgt. Ryan Winters, both with the 11th Brigade, 1-43 Air Defense Artillery Battalion out of Fort Bliss, Texas, the mission that day was quite different from the one they redeployed from six months ago. They were making the case for ADA and why these future Army officers should consider a career in that field.
While most cadets were rushing to classes, they got the attention of Plebe Sam Lowell, still years away from making a branch selection. The active-duty noncommissioned officers talked about how ADA played pivotal roles in the Gulf War, as well as Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
"But the best part of ADA is taking care of Soldiers and changing people's lives," Preston said. "As officers, they will have the opportunity to get in-depth with their Soldiers, and that hands-on experience will come pretty quickly."
Preston said platoon leaders and company commanders need to be familiar with financial issues, Family readiness and how to use their NCOs to be effective leaders. The grounds of West Point and the cadets who inhabit it were strangely unfamiliar to this veteran, but Preston said he was comfortable delivering straightforward and truthful dialogue.
"I just want to give them the information they need about the job and how things will be," Preston said. "I'm not going to lie or butter it up...as much as I want these future leaders to come to ADA, I wouldn't want someone to join under false pretense and become bad leaders because I misled them."
Soldiers and officers from 13 different Army branches came to West Point Sept. 16-18 to familiarize cadets on the variety of Army career options. To that end, the Department of Military Instruction created panels of junior officers to participate in leadership forums and branch orientation sessions which provided cadets a better understanding of the expectations placed on platoon leaders and operating in a theater of war.
Inside Robinson Auditorium, Class of 2005 graduate Capt. Terron Wharton related his experience as a 22-year-old lieutenant deployed as a tank platoon leader in Iraq during the surge. The armor officer told cadets how his unit would find themselves conducting not only armor missions but branching out to infantry and civil affairs as well. Wharton said the American Soldier is perceived as a problem-solver by the host nation populace, whether that meant figuring out how to feed a family, find a job or restore water. This is why Capt. Ian MacGregor advised cadets to educate themselves thoroughly and volunteer for any opportunity to gain additional skills. McGregor, an infantry officer assigned to the 173rd Brigade (ABN) said he lacked that experience when he deployed with his unit as a rifle platoon leader.
"Whatever your career path may be, stay proficient," said Capt. Steven Souza, who serves with the 7-17 Cavalry, Fort Campbell, Ky. "Your Soldiers will look to you for leadership and guidance...and at the end of the day, they'll look to you to make that decision."
Outside, a contingent of military police officers from Fort Drum, N.Y. held court in front of an armored security vehicle to a group of yearlings taking the Fundamentals of Army Operations course (MS200). Spc. Scott Hoifeldt described the radio systems, navigational systems and specs of the vehicle before the cadets were given the go-ahead to explore the interior.
Scott R. Swartzwelter represented the manufacturer of the Buffalo A2, a Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle used by the Army and Marine Corps, and a piece of equipment with which any future engineer officer should become familiar. He said the cadets were asking good questions about the Buffalo, which is fitted with a large articulated arm for ordnance disposal and equipped with cameras to verify the presence of improvised explosive devices.
Class of 2013 Cadet Brian Gerardi still has a few years before making a branch selection, but made use of the opportunities from the three-day event.
"My class has about two years from November to decide our branch preference," Gerardi said. "But we're constantly talking branches, especially with past graduates and firsties. A lot of it is about information gathering."
Gerardi said summer training offered plenty of branch orientation for his class to research information. Having considerably less research time is Cadet Jace Pennington, Class of 2011. In less than a month, Pennington and his classmates will make their branch selections, and he's honed in on the infantry. Having had the opportunity to listen to junior leaders, ask questions and explore different branches makes a difference, Pennington said.
"For me, I want to branch infantry," Pennington said. "It was really good to get the perspective of captains a few years ahead of us in the force. There was no sugar-coating and it gave us a good idea of what to expect."
On Sept. 18, a Combined Arms Tailgate followed the Army-North Texas football game, in a social atmosphere where cadets and community members could meet the active-duty Soldiers and explore the equipment they work with. Pre-game festivities at Black Knights Alley provided additional opportunities for Soldiers to connect with cadets and Army Football fans.
"The purpose of the Junior Leader Panel and Combined Arms Tailgate is to inform first, second and third class cadets on the duties, responsibilities and opportunities of each of the 16 branches by providing interaction with recently deployed leaders, branch representatives and USMA staff and faculty," Maj. Stan Goligoski, a DMI instructor, said.
The ADA contingent received prime real estate outside of Michie Stadium. Pennington was among the first group of cadets to check out the Patriot Missile Launcher System and got some hands-on time with the controls. He was impressed enough to consider ADA his second branch choice. For the ADA NCOs, hearing that sort of testimonial made the trip worthwhile.
"The way I saw Preston talk with the cadets about ADA, he'd make an excellent Army recruiter," Staff Sgt. Marcos Meza said, observing his colleague in action.
Meza, Preston, Winters and Staff Sgt. Steven Ramirez may have swayed a few more branch options when they allowed the entire G-2 Company of cadets to pose for photos on the missile launcher. Meanwhile, their battery commander, Capt. Carlton Jones, told the ADA story during a live interview on Army Sports Network's pregame broadcast.
"West Point does a good job of bringing back junior officers from every branch to talk to cadets," Jones said. "Of course, cadets hear it every day from staff, but it can be refreshing to hear an outside opinion, and we can tell them firsthand what a deployment is like or what we do as a staff officer or battery commander."
A former Army Football running back and graduate from the Class of 2006, Jones said it was quite surreal to participate in the Junior Leader Panel from the stage and not the audience.
"I was on the stage and I could remember myself as a cadet listening to those officers," Jones said. "Never thought it would be the other way around; it happened so quickly. Everything they teach here is for a purpose and a reason. And I've had a chance in the Army to get out and use that wisdom and knowledge. It's been all correct so far."