By Michelle SchneiderNovember 21, 2019
The intensity of anticipation and excitement reached its peak Nov. 13 at the U.S. Military Academy when 1,089 Class of 2020 cadets held a sealed envelope with their names inscribed on them during Branch Night.
The cadets were deliberately told not to open them until given the command. Until then, their hands contained the very future of their military journey just waiting to be revealed. They were about to find out which career field they are assigned to.
Once the order to open them was executed, the noise of over a thousand paper envelopes being shredded apart was followed by an uproar of triumphant cheers that filled Robinson Auditorium and lasted for minutes.
"All the hard work we've put in has finally paid off. We got what we wanted and we're ecstatic," Class of 2020 Cadet Juliana Dworschak said after finding out that her future career will be in air defense artillery, her first branch choice of the 17 career options available to cadets. Her friend, Class of 2020 Cadet Alyssa Milner, also got her first branch preference in the ordnance corps.
"It's been a long time coming. We've been waiting for this moment for 40 months now, so to see it all come together and get what we worked for, there are no words," Milner said. "I think it puts together the fact that now that we know what we got, we can focus our training being geared more specifically toward our job, what we can do with it and where we can go from here."
Inside the envelopes, a golden insignia representing their branch in the form of a pin was given to each cadet. After reading the letter's content, they turned to their friends to fasten them on their uniform lapels. Once the hugging, laughter and back pats simmered down, the cadets made their way to celebrate the night that marks the beginning of their transition from a cadet to officer.
This year's Branch Night was different from its predecessors over the last decade. Not only did cadets have an opportunity to rank their 17 branch preferences from most wanted to least, they also had the option to interview with officers in various career fields.
The Army's new Market Model Branching System paired cadets with a branch using their preferences as well as recommendations from representatives from each branch who interviewed cadets. This process is new to West Point and led to 88% of cadets getting their first branch preference.
The 17 branches fall under three categories: combat arms, combat support and combat service support. Cyber was designated as a combat arms branch for the first time this year and saw an increase from 25 to 40 slots since last year. Class of 2020 Cadet Nicholas Lunsford landed one of them and expressed confidence that this is the branch he belongs to.
"In my arc of experiences at West Point, I have come to understand the importance of the cyber realm in warfare and the true need for passionate young officers to volunteer for a branch that most people know very little about," Lunsford said. "I want to be an Army cyber officer because I want to use my skills and interests in a way that best serves the Army's mission. More importantly, I want to lead motivated Soldiers on unique missions that directly impact our nation's war fighting capabilities every single day."
Other than a self-fulfilled prophecy coming true on Branch Night, some cadets were filled with hope and excitement toward continuing the family tradition of joining a particular branch. Class of 2020 Cadet Lauren Karbler described the air defense artillery as offering amazing opportunities for newcomers and a plethora of job options in multiple fields.
"Throughout my years growing up as an Army-brat with a father that was air defense, I learned that this branch treated each other like family," Karbler said.�"My experiences with ADA throughout school and summer training have only increased my interest and love for the branch. I hope that I can channel my passion for this job as an ADA officer."
In the Class of 2020, 96% of cadets were placed in one of their top three choices and 97% received one of their top five. Although not everyone received their first choice, cadets can still look forward to Post Night when they choose where their first duty station will be located after graduating in May and completing their Basic Officer Leadership Course.
"This night was three in a half-years in the making and it means a lot that it's finally here and one more step to graduation," Class of 2020 Cadet and class president Joshua Phillips said. "We are going to get a chance to do some amazing things in the Army, lead America's sons and daughters, and I'm super excited for it."