By Sgt. 1st Class Brian HamiltonJune 30, 2015
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 30, 2015) -- In 2014, close to 21 million students enrolled in the more than 5,000 undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States.
Of that, only 4,591 attend a renowned school overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York.
A school so prestigious that Forbes magazine voted it the 23rd top school in the country.
A school so acclaimed that then general of the Army, Omar Bradley, in his 1978 Founder's Day speech said, "For 176 years the Long Gray Line has met the needs of our changing society while remaining an impregnable bastion of those ideals upon which our country was founded."
That school is the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Every year, typically on the last Monday in June, about 1,300 future members of the corps of cadets gather at Thayer Hall under the guarded eye of the superintendent, or SUP, USMA faculty, and a company of officers and noncommissioned officers from the Army Reserve's 104th Training Division (LT).
That Monday is when future cadets arriving at West Point are given uniforms, buzz haircuts, and their initial taste of the Army.
That day is R-day and for future cadets, cadre and parents alike, it's an eye opener.
"It's a long way from Tupelo," said Will Ikerd with an obvious stressed look on his face.
Ikerd, hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, was there along with his wife to witness their eldest son join the other 1,267 future cadets on their first day at the heralded Academy.
Neither has any prior experience with the military, but Will says the academic excellence and the opportunity to have a son serve the country were selling points.
For most, R-day is a time of angst and anxiety, but for others on the opposite end of a revolving door for the first time, R-day is a chance to relive what they once experienced from a different perspective.
"This is my opportunity to see what I went through during my first year from the other side," said Cadet Paul Delimerski, a foreign exchange student from Moldova now in his third year at West Point.
"Everyone goes through the same thing," Delimerski said. "It's just nice for me knowing that I made it through and now get to see it from this side."
For the cadre of the 1-391 Training Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 104th Training Division (LT), supporting this traditional welcoming of the new class of future cadets, R-day is their first opportunity to interact with the future leaders of the Army before they ship out to integrate with the force.
"I've had some interaction with cadets at Joint Base Lewis-McChord but not like this. It definitely gives you a different perspective seeing cadets in a setting like this as opposed to having them serve with you out on the line," said Sgt Miles Logan, an instructor performing his first West Point mission as a Reserve Soldier.
And yet, Lt. Col. Johann Gomez, 1-391 Training Support Battalion commander, sees R-day from a totally different perspective.
"It's fairly chaotic. We had close to 1,300 civilian kids who are away from home for the first time, trying to process into the Army that we're responsible for, and all before noon. You've got a lot of concerned parents and a lot of traffic that goes along with that so it's a lot to take in for our guys," Gomez said.
Gomez, the newly appointed unit commander, added that preparation is key to performing the mission.
"This is a unique mission. Most of it is pretty basic, but pretty important at the same time. We practice and rehearse to make sure everyone knows the standard and then go through a dry run in preparation for the cadets. This is the first interaction these young citizens will have with the Army and Army Reserve and we have to be correct."
Gomez's troops facilitate the first week at West Point by administering the Army physical fitness test, height and weight measurements, as well as ensure the first week of in processing at West Point is seamless and efficient.
"When you actually look at it, this a pretty critical mission that most people don't think about. But this is the first look at the Army and more importantly the Army Reserve that these kids will get. It's up to us to make sure that impression is a good one," Gomez said.
And so with the R-day activities behind them, Gomez, Logan, Delimerski, and even the Ikerds can all sit back and take in the parade of future cadets as they partake in the oath ceremony on the plain, knowing that the class of 2019 has arrived and is ready to leave their mark on the great American institution, which is the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.