By Michelle Eberhart (USMA West Point, Public Affairs)June 16, 2016
West Point, N.Y. - One thousand rising high school seniors were given the opportunity of a lifetime as they participated in the Summer Leader Experience (SLE) at the United States Military Academy at West Point from May 28-June 10.
Separated into two weeklong sessions of 500 Cadet candidates each week, the high school juniors got to see if the U.S. Military Academy was the right pick for them.
Not only do the Cadet candidates go through a vigorous application process, but after applying to the program, they must be selected among 6,000 other candidates.
Ultimately, 1,000 are selected to participate in the experience.
"They're really getting a broad overview of what it means to be a Cadet and some of the training that we do here," Class of 2017 Cadet Jonah Mills said. "They're all moving into their senior year in high school and this is an experience to see if this is for them."
Throughout the week, the Cadets are exposed to an intensive West Point experience including academic courses, physical instruction and military training.
"They're seeing the academic side for the first three days of the week and then Thursday we have Military Day and we're out at Camp Buckner and they're doing real field training," Mills said. "We've been doing PT during the week so in the mornings we wake up and do the physical training, we work out, we do a run, so they've kind of seen all three sides of West Point--the military side, the physical side and the academics."
By the end of the week, the Cadet candidates usually have made up their minds.
"West Point is my number one choice right now," rising high school senior Isabella Montanaro said. "I've always been in love with the whole idea of serving and being in the military. Coming here, I'm sold! I love it."
Montanaro said that coming to West Point gave her a heads-up on what to expect when applying or coming for R-Day. She also said that she's been granted some new opportunities.
"I think firing the M-249's, the machine guns, was my favorite part," she said. "I've never shot firearms before so it was really cool."
Jack Haverkate from Fayetteville, North Carolina enjoyed shooting weapons as well, but said the camaraderie was the highlight of his trip.
"All of us back home are big fish in a small pond but when you're here, it's just so humbling to be around a group of people who are as motivated and intelligent and smart and determined as you are to make it here," Haverkate said.
Haverkate found out about the program online and said that nothing would get in his way of making it to West Point, even his Air Force Academy family.
"My dad's an Air Force grad and my sister is in the (Air Force) Academy right now, but I felt like I needed something different and I feel like this week has cleared up my decision," Haverkate said. "I'm Air Force born and bred and I know everything about it, and I like a challenge, it just seems to be what Army is all about."
Of the 1,000 Cadet candidates participating in SLE, it is estimated that 40 percent will return as plebes in 2017.