WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Simone Askew was in elementary school when she attended her first Navy football game. As the Naval Academy midshipmen marched onto the field, Askew asked her mother what it took to lead a formation like that. Little did she know back then that she'd proudly be leading a similar, yet rival contingent just a few years down the line.
While the once self-proclaimed "diehard Navy fan" has since changed her Academy allegiance, it's clear that Askew's dedication to service has been embedded since childhood.
A LEADER OF FUTURE LEADERS
On Aug. 1, the Fairfax, Virginia native was selected as the brigade commander, or the "First Captain," at the U.S. Military Academy, the highest ranked cadet at West Point. Askew is the fifth female and fifth African-American to ever receive the title and the first African-American female to hold the rank.
In addition to leading the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets onto the Army-Navy football field, the First Captain acts as the liaison between the Corps and the administration and is at the top of the pyramid of cadet commanders who make up West Point's cadet chain-of-command.
Her selection was made by Academy leaders, including the USMA Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr. and the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Steve Gilland, and the Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Cindy Jebb. After making the selection, Gilland went to deliver the news to Askew at Camp Buckner, where she served as the regimental commander of Cadet Basic Training II.
"Simone truly exemplifies our values of Duty, Honor, Country. Her selection is a direct result of her hard work, dedication and commitment to the Corps over the last three years," Gilland said. "I know Simone and the rest of our incredibly talented leaders within the Class of 2018 will provide exceptional leadership to the Corps of Cadets in the upcoming academic year."
Askew said the commandant's words meant a lot to her.
"It was comforting to hear that he had faith in me," the Class of 2018 Cadet said. "It spoke volumes, not only for the leadership of the Academy, but also for the support I will have going forward from all the officers, NCOs and cadets here at West Point."
Soon after, Askew found out that her CBT II Executive Officer, Cadet John Montgomery, was awarded the position of Brigade XO for the academic year, allowing the teamwork they've developed over the summer to transcend throughout the rest of the school year.
"Through this detail, we have built a relationship that I didn't want to end on Aug. 14 when we marched back (to West Point to end CBT II). So I'm blessed to have him with me on Brigade as well," she remarked. "He and I are like brother and sister, we're so close."
In addition to having a cohesive leadership team, Askew said that the motto of the CBT II detail was "As One," a unity-focused objective that she will carry out throughout the academic year.
"When I was giving the brief (for CBT II), I had all the new cadets stand up and turn and look at the battle buddy in front of them," she said. "I explained that you need to watch that individual's back in the areas they can't see behind them and dually trust that the person behind you is watching your back and protecting you as well."
As the First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, Askew will be prioritizing that 'As One' mentality.
"It's something that I've internalized as a leader," she said. "Understanding that our training and our performance is not for our rewards, but it's also so when it comes down to it and bullets are flying, that you're prepared to save your battle buddy."
Having respect and looking out for other people has been deep-rooted since Askew's childhood, her mother Pam Askew noted.
"I've worked hard to instill the importance of integrity and respect for others and respect for yourself," her mom explained in raising Askew and her sister, Nina. "It was more important that she was honest to me and to other people. I've always tried to show that to my kids."
Askew's selection as First Captain was a fulfilling moment for her mother as well.
"It's very exciting," Pam Askew remarked. "I'm very proud of her and I am also looking forward to her completing her year where those who will be beside her and work with her can look back and say that she was a great First Captain."
Her mother also tried to facilitate her kids' passions -- their extracurricular activities, sports and academic aspirations were always at the forefront of her priorities. Because of this, Askew's lengthy résumé covers all facets of the U.S. Military Academy's four pillars of military skills, academics, physical skills and character.
Askew is a graduate of Air Assault School, an EXCEL Scholar, a member of the Phi Alpha Theta Honorary National History Society, a recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Military Leadership, holds the highest female Recondo score during CFT II for the Class of 2018, was the co-founder of the Joint Service Academy Mass Atrocity Prevention Symposium, the cadet-in-charge of the Elevation Initiative and the President of the Cultural Affairs Seminar in 2017.
Oh, and she's an International History Major with Honors.
HISTORY MAJOR MAKING HISTORY
As First Captain, Askew is simultaneously making history while studying history--an academic discipline that has allowed her to think deeply and question preconceived notions.
"Being a history major has taught me is just to question the one-sided story and ask yourself, 'I'm so convinced that this is right, but it might not be right,' and I think that applies not only to academics, but to leadership, the military arena and even the physical arena," Askew said.
Further, her studies have allowed her to understand more about herself.
"I love to learn but that love is motivated by the reality that I don't know everything," she noted. "So my approach as a leader and a follower is to ask as many questions as possible."
Over the course of the academic year, Askew will have the opportunity to ask those questions -- to West Point's superintendent, commandant and dean who all will be mentoring Askew through one of the most challenging years of her life so far. She'll also have the Corps of Cadets as her battle buddies.
"I have been poured into by so many amazing people -- officers, cadets, family, friends -- just teaching me things or providing encouragement or showing me the right path," Askew said.
One of those people is one of Askew's mentors, Pat Locke, a graduate of USMA's first class to admit women, and an African-American woman herself.
"Simone is the most driven, hardworking, humble person I've ever met," Locke said of the new First Captain. "Right now, our battlefields are so complex and if you look at Simone, you see America in her, and not only that, you see the type of leadership we need today."
As Askew begins her journey as First Captain, she knows she's got an Army behind her to mentor her and stand beside her.
"How I see this position and selection is by no means an individual selection," Askew said. "It is all the community, it's a community of not just African-Americans, not just females, not just cadets, but people striving for change in the right direction, people striving for honor and duty and all those things that we uphold as cadets at the U.S. Military Academy."
This December, Askew will lead the Corps of Cadets onto the Army-Navy field and fulfill her childhood dream. Maybe she'll even catch the eye of a child in the stands, much like her younger self, and inspire them to lead.