By Brandon O'ConnorSeptember 14, 2018
By Brandon O'Connor
The Army is changing, but as the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy prepare to become the next generation of Army leaders, they are getting ready to face that challenge head on.
During the annual Branch Week at West Point from Sept. 10-14, the cadets have had the chance to learn about each of the branches open to them upon graduation and how they are adapting to the changes currently facing the Army. After 16 years of warfare in the Middle East and with the constantly growing importance of electronics in the Army, the challenges facing this generation of cadets are different than any before.
"The Army is in a transition right now. We have fought wars in a certain way for the last 16 years and we are facing threats that are near-peer," Capt. Kimberly Kopack, who spent the week at West Point introducing cadets to the Air Defense Artillery branch, said. "We are facing threats with capabilities that rival the United States. Gone are the days when we had complete air superiority. Our job is to protect our geopolitical assets from aerial attack, missile attack and surveillance … It is as easy as going on Amazon and buying a drone and people can have surveillance on our troops."
Air Defense Artillery has been forced to change its tactics in recent years as drones have become more prevalent in both military operations and civilian life. That constant change and their growing role in the Army is part of Air Defense Artillery's pitch to cadets who are figuring out their branch preferences during Branch Week.
"Air defense is the future of the Army and a lot of the Army is realizing that," 2nd Lt. Daryl Newton Jr., a short range air defense platoon leader, said. "What Air Defense does is, we protect geopolitical assets and anything we are directed to protect we can protect with different ranges of artillery. We protect the skies. A lot of the Army is realizing they need that to fight."
To enable them to accomplish their mission, Newton said cadets considering joining Air Defense Artillery must be open minded and willing to work in a branch that is changing as the world around it does.
The biggest change to the Army's tactics and the current state of affairs led to the creation of the newest branch open to graduates-- Cyber --and the chance for cadets to get in on the ground floor of a brand new field that plays a critical role in the Army's future.
"I think more and more of what we use in the Army is electronic," 2nd Lt. Dale Lakes, an analytics support officer in the Cyber Branch, said. "We obviously are in the business of finding and killing the enemy and creating effects on the enemy. Cyber is another way to do that. Because so much of the Army and the world is using cyber technology that means those effects we can provide to the Army will have a great impact."
Class of 2020 cadet Liam Furey, who is considering branching Cyber, said the biggest issue he has found is that Cyber is so new that even the professors at West Point who are technically Cyber haven't spent much time in the field actually doing the job of the branch.
Branch Week at West Point is the time when cadets like Furey can meet with the branches, learn more about them and see how the branches are changing to meet the future needs of the Army.
"It is not just a 9-to-5. Something like cyber security, you need to be learning on your own and going home and being very passionate about the field," 1st Lt. Alexander Molnar, a computer network defense manager, said of Cyber. "One tactic that might be useful today might not be in six months. If you are not learning on your own or pursuing advanced education you start to fall behind. One thing that is very exciting about the branch is it changes so much, you are always on your feet and you're always facing new challengers. It is not something you learn once and then go stick it in a book."
Branch week also gives cadets a chance to look below the surface of the branches and see how much more there is to them than their name may suggest.
One of the biggest displays of the week belonged to the Engineers as they looked to highlight the scope of career paths open to a cadet as an engineer. It was one of the many chances for cadets to learn more about the opportunities open to them after graduating.
"We are a highlight of the diversity of the Engineer Branch. There is so much in the Engineer Branch. It is one of the outstanding things that you can go out, be in the Engineer Branch and then go back into combat engineers for instance,"1st Lt. Caleb McNeill from the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment said. "When I commissioned, I knew of the divers, but I didn't know the extent to what the divers were doing. I didn't know about the geospatial stuff, the bridgers, everything support-wise the Army needs, but the engineers are going to be there in some capacity."