By Michelle Eberhart (USMA West Point, Public Affairs)February 11, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 11, 2016) -- The United States Military Academy at West Point Class of 2018 celebrated Yearling (sophmore) Winter Weekend Feb. 6 at Washington Hall.
The wintry tradition recognizes the first three completed semesters of the sophomore class as it celebrates its first formal banquet. The event included guest speakers Cadet Christopher Bingham, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., and Maj. Gen. James Rainey.
Class of 2018 President, Bingham, addressed his class as by reminiscing the memories they have made together thus far. "Battles, we started this journey more than a year and half ago," Bingham began. "Our being here tonight is further proof and celebration of our perseverance as individuals, but more importantly, as a class."
Bingham spoke about their Cadet Field Training this past summer and the runback with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. Bingham also recalled meeting Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno. "The smile on his face as he was included in hundreds of selfies is still fresh in my mind," Bingham said of Odierno. "It speaks to what makes our class special."
As Bingham concluded his speech, he told his classmates that they must make the most of the two and a half years they have left at West Point. He also proclaimed his class motto, "With Strength we Lead."
In continuation, Caslen began with the same mantra, "With Strength we Lead" and reflected on the remembrances he shares with Bingham. "Memories you'll have that will last a lifetime with friends, and friendship of a brotherhood and sisterhood that's growing deeper than your own blood brothers and sisters," Caslen said of the Corps. "One thing for sure, the Class of 2018 is strong, you are doing well, your academy's leadership could not be more proud of you for what you have accomplished and your azimuth is headed in the right direction."
Caslen then introduced Maj. Gen. James Rainey, the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Rainey began his address by joking that he was "flattered" to be the speaker of the 837th night dinner for the Class of 2018. The laughing subsided and he spoke honestly to the class about war and life on the battlefield leading platoons.
"I want you to understand something that I'm going to say here tonight," Rainey said. "I believe that when you graduate and you're commissioned, you will enter an army at war."
"Look around, there's a reason we have an Army," Rainey continued. "For some people, there's no way this is going to end without the United States Army taking the fight and ending it."
The class listened intently as Rainey spoke about the three expectations that Soldiers, commanders, leaders and the country have for the Cadets as they are commissioned as second lieutenants. "The first thing is character. That's non-negotiable," Rainey said. "What do you do when no one's watching? And what do you do when the whole world is going to be watching you on the battlefield one day? That's what your character is about, it starts with Army values."
Rainey said that the second trait is competence. "You have to be able to lead, to train, to fight and sustain your platoons," Rainey said as he broke down the four components.
He emphasized being skillful in each facet while they train Soldiers to be teammates.
"The third thing, the last thing--you got to be committed," Rainey said boldly. "You've got to be all in. When you're a leader of our men and women, our Soldiers, in and out of combat, it is a profession. It is a full-time profession, because when we fail, people die."
After speaking about the importance of character, competence and commitment, Rainey asked the audience to close their eyes as he presented them with a difficult situation. He told them to imagine being platoon leaders coming back from their first tour of combat, sitting in a living room across from a set of parents.
"The mom is crying, she's got her face in her hands, she can't even talk, her world's ended," Rainey said. "Now let's imagine their dad, that Soldier's father, looks you in the eye and says 'hey, all I want to know is, did you do everything you could to keep this from happening?'"
Rainey told the crowd to open their eyes. "I'm telling you, I care about you," Rainey said. "You've got to be able to answer 'Yes' to that question, you've got to be able to say I did everything I could. War is horrible, it's a tragic loss of life, but I did everything that I could."
Rainey's honest and heart-felt speech resulted in a standing ovation amongst the audience.
Bingham, who has been deployed before, said afterward that Rainey's speech was "awesome and inspiring," and "hit home with many of us."
Bingham presented Rainey with a class saber on behalf of the Class of 2018.
The night ended at Cullum Hall as the class celebrated with the Benny Haven's Band.