WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Freedom is not Free.
This phrase is especially true at the U.S. Military Academy, which has trained officers to lead America's Soldiers into combat since 1802. In Cullum Hall, brass placards line the walls listing the names of the men and women of the Long Gray Line who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedoms upon which the country is built.
As they prepare to begin their own time at West Point and set forth on a path that will inevitably lead to the battlefield, the members of the Class of 2023 have taken the weight of that history and the legacy of sacrifice upon their shoulders and offered to carry it.
During a ceremony Sunday evening during their last night at Camp Buckner for Cadet Basic Training, Freedom is not Free was unveiled as the motto for the Class of 2023.
Then Monday, the black banner they marched behind during the final stretch of the March Back announced the motto to those gathered to cheer them on.
The carrying of the motto is not a one-time event that is then cast aside. It is the phrase that sets the tone for their time at the academy and their career and life beyond the banks of the Hudson River.
"It speaks to why a lot of us are here," New Cadet Jakob Lane said. "Freedom is in fact not free. I know that most people around me came here to lead Soldiers into battle and fight America's wars. Sometimes, there's a price to pay, and that's why it's not free. I think it resonates well with a lot of people."
The class voted on the motto during Cadet Basic Training. At the end of the year, they will unveil a class crest featuring the words and at the beginning of their last year at West Point each member of the class will receive a ring with the words engraved on the side to carry with them throughout their lives.
"It's really meaningful to me, because before I came here I didn't really understand what life was like in the Army," New Cadet Olivia Skelton said. "Now just going through our version of basic training, I realized that freedom, really, there's a cost for it. You have to work hard, Soldiers do, to keep that freedom the rest of the nation enjoys. It really holds a new meaning to me and I really like it."
Monday's March Back marked the completion of the six weeks of Cadet Basic Training that followed Reception Day on July 1. The 1,187 new cadets will now go through reorganization week before officially joining the Corps of Cadets during the Acceptance Day parade Saturday.
With a month and a half completed, the members of the Class of 2023 have 45 and a half months remaining at West Point to become leaders and prepare to serve as platoon leaders in the Army. During that time and beyond, they will work to uphold the motto they have chosen to take as their own while honoring all it means and the weight of those who have gone before and paid the cost of freedom.
"I just think it's a way to stick true to the core values of West Point-Duty, Honor, Country -just like all other cadets have," New Cadet Liam Reff said of living up to the motto. "I feel like no matter what your motto is, it relates back to the core motto of West Point. Make sure you always complete your duties, you always serve with honor, you act with honor and you treat others with honor. Your motive is always for the betterment of the country."