By Sgt. Vincent Fusco, West Point Directorate of CommunicationsFebruary 26, 2009
A 50-year connection was made Friday in the tradition of teaching cadets the professional military ethic. Members of the U.S. Military Academy's class of 1960 met with the class of 2010 cadets to discuss the roles of commissioned and noncommissioned officers.
Eight 1960 alumni-some visiting with their 50-year class for the first time-sat in on a block of instruction centered around how new officers interact with NCOs and combat-seasoned Soldiers at a new assignment.
Part of the instruction was viewing "Outside the Wire," an interactive DVD produced by WILL Interactive, Inc.
The DVD is an experiential learning tool that presents personal interaction and combat situations. Periodically, the video stops to present possible solutions to a given problem.
Based on what decisions the cadets make, each situation plays out until it ends either in a good or bad outcome.
Through "Outside the Wire," the cadets saw their first important decisions as platoon leaders aren't those on the battlefield but those made in first meeting their platoon sergeants. The scenario showed that making the right first impressions with their sergeants can build character within the team.
"One of the first things you will do (at your new assignment) is read the environment," retired Col. Vic Letonoff said in his discussion with the cadets. "Do you have a platoon sergeant who is strong with his Soldiers' Or do you come into an environment with weak NCOs'"
They learned that most of the Soldiers in their platoons already will have combat experience when they assume responsibility. This was promoted in the class as a source of team-building strength and not intimidation.
"When there's experience in the platoon, it's way above what you have," Letonoff said. "You're going to be looking forward to learning from that."
In watching how the new officer interacts with the experienced platoon sergeant, cadets could see the impact of their decisions as future officers.
They affect not only the platoon sergeant but the Soldiers of that platoon as well.
"I learned that building trust with your NCOs is an essential part to being a leader," Cow Bryan Kantner, of Company A-1 from Hyde Park, N.Y., said. "It is also very important to use your NCO's knowledge and experience to help make sound decisions for the platoon."
The Army has declared this year the Year of the NCO, and as such, cadets continue to learn the importance of NCOs throughout their academic classes.
Letonoff was impressed with how "Outside the Wire" showed the class with point-and-click simplicity how the professional military ethic works in real-world situations.
"With the interactive stuff you can (make decisions), then go and show the ramifications," Letonoff said. "I wish we had more of this kind of thing (as cadets)."
The cadets also enjoyed learning firsthand from an officer who, like they will in the future, earned his commission from West Point and was assigned to a platoon full of war veterans.
They could easily draw the parallels between what Soldiers such as Letonoff did with World War II and Korean War veterans and what they will soon do with Global War on Terrorism veterans.
"I think having (Col.) Letonoff really added to the class and made it much more interesting and engaging than most other (professional military ethic) classes," Kantner said. "As cadets, we like to hear about the experiences of old grads so that we can be more prepared to be platoon leaders when we graduate."
While recognizing how teaching methods have changed and made learning easier for cadets, Letonoff finds that the basic principles of military ethic remain the same: Officers and NCOs increase the strength of their Soldiers by training as they fight and fighting as they train.
"The Army is a lot of little things getting done well," Letonoff said. "In 50 years, it hasn't changed a bit."
Letonoff and his classmates have been impressed with the level of dedication in their 50-year class cadets.
He was present at their affirmation ceremony last August and felt moved when those cadets connected to that long gray line by giving their commitment of service to their nation.
"I knew we were in good hands," Letonoff said.