West Point, N.Y. (Nov. 13, 2018) -- The past 42 months at the U.S. Military Academy have led to this moment for the Class of 2019. Tomorrow, the 1,020 members of the class will receive their branch notifications of where they will start their careers in the Army.The cadets have spent more than three years learning about the branches from mentors, four different branch weeks and through the various activities at West Point. In September, they made their preferences known ranking the 17 branches, 15 for women who didn't opt into infantry and armor. Now, nestled in a plain white envelope will be a card and pin announcing their branch designations.When she rips open the envelope and pulls out the card, Class of 2019 Cadet Madeleine Schneider is hoping to see a golden pin with crossed lightning bolts behind a sword marking her placement in the cyber branch. Schneider, a computer science and math major, said she has been working for three years for this night throughout every aspect of her time at West Point."I think I am going to be so excited," Schneider said of opening the branch notification envelope. "If I do get cyber, I have spent the last three and a half years preparing for it because I am a computer science and math major. Everything I have done, including my Academic Individual Advanced Development, have been geared toward wanting to be a better cyber officer if I did get the branch. I feel like it will be like all the hard work paying off if I opened it and saw cyber."Out of the available branches, Schneider said she ranked cyber as number one followed by military intelligence and quartermaster. If she receives one of those choices, she will be among the more than 94 percent of Class of 2019 cadets who received one of their top five branches.Cadets are placed into branches through a talent-based branching system which takes into account their preferences, but also the talents they have demonstrated during their time at West Point through academics, physical training, evaluations and more."The number one part of it is the needs of the Army," Maj. Jared Sunsdahl, the USMA accessions division chief, said. "The Army has a mission of what they need to fill and cadets have talents. If you are not good at something and you think you want to go infantry, but your talents don't align with what infantry wants and infantry is telling you, 'Hey, you have a very low PT score and are not what we're looking for,' that is not a good talent match. We are looking at talent matches over how much a cadet wants something."During the branching process, West Point is required to place a certain percentage of cadets into the six combat arms division -- infantry, armor, aviation, engineering, field artillery and air defense. In past years, 70 percent of cadets were required to be placed in one of those six branches. This year that number was increased to 75 percent which equals about 50 extra cadets being placed into combat arms branches.Once branch details, where a cadet is loaned by his or her branch to a combat branch to start their careers, are added in, 81 percent of the Class of 2019 will be placed in a combat arms branch, up from 77 percent last year. This includes 214 members who received infantry not counting the branch details, the largest allocation, and 150 who were placed in field artillery."The reason the Army did that is they are looking at West Point cadets being the core of the Army," Sunsdahl said. "The Chief of Staff is looking at getting West Point cadets into those combat arms branches because of the amount of exposure they get to those branches, the amount of training they get and the resources we have here to align cadets to those branches."While the additional combat arms spot nearly wiped out spots in finance and chemical forcing harsh realities for cadets who preferred those branches, for Class of 2019 Cadet Dionte Reed the change was welcome news. The top of Reed's list was dominated by combat arms branches with infantry ranking one, field artillery ranking second and armor ranking third. The changes meant that he now had an even greater chance of getting one of his top choices."Thankfully, infantry and field artillery have the most slots, so between those two I am pretty much guaranteed either one," Reed said. "I think I will be stoked and ecstatic. I want to lead Soldiers. I want to be in combat arms. I want to be where the fight is and both of those branches allow me to do that."As they are going through the branching process, cadets at West Point have the benefit of being in a completely immersive experience. They are able to learn firsthand what the branches are like through branch week and summer programs, but the greatest benefit may come from the mentors available to them. Throughout the faculty at West Point, cadets can find Soldiers who serve in each of the 17 branches, which enables them to ask questions and learn about the branches from men and women who have served in them."An infantry officer can tell you about their job," Reed said. "You can go from person to person and they'll each have something different. When you asking about that, you can see the basic picture of an infantry officer, the personalities and the culture of the branch. Every branch has a culture."
Whether they receive their first choice or not, when the members of the Class of 2019 open their branch notification envelopes tomorrow it marks one of the final steps in their journey to becoming leaders in the Army."I believe this whole heartedly, it really does not matter which branch is in that envelope," Col. William Ostlund, the head of the Department of Military Education, said. "Each one of those envelopes represents 40 American sons and daughters, a platoon's worth of Soldiers, that now have a leader in the pipeline to eventually stand in front of them. That is what I hope the cadets take from their hard work and all our combined hard work. That envelope means something. The Army recognizes they are now in the pipeline."The Branch Notification Ceremony will start at 7 p.m. tomorrow and can be livestreamed on the USMA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WestPointUSMA/.