Transient barracks housing cadets during pandemic
By Brandon OConnorMay 6, 2020
While most of the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy have been home since leaving for spring break in March, 21 cadets remain at the academy in the transient barracks set up to house those who were unable to go home.The majority of the cadets staying in the transient barracks are foreign exchange students who were not able to go home during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Capt. Dymitri Dutkanicz, the tactical officer overseeing the transient barracks. Other cadets had already chosen to stay at West Point during spring break and then made the decision to remain at the academy instead of traveling. Some cadets have also returned to the academy if their situations at home were untenable to continue taking online classes.The cadets have been living in MacArthur Long, where a single floor has been setup as the transient barracks. The cadets have access to a gym that is frequently disinfected as well as common spaces where they can spend time together while socially distanced.“Overall, I think it’s been going very well for the cadets,” Dutkanicz said. “Our priority remains giving them an environment where they have all the resources that any other cadet would have to do their academics. We try to work on physical fitness and interactions with the staff and faculty as well as their faculty sponsors as much as possible to give them some opportunities to interact with people outside of the barracks and get some support from the West Point community as well.”The majority of the cadets’ time is spent in their rooms, but they have physical fitness formations Tuesday and Thursday mornings and eat their meals together in the mess hall. To help keep the cadets safe, new social distancing guidelines have been put in place during meals where only one or two cadets eat together at the same table, Dutkanicz said. Formations have also been spread out and physical fitness is done in small groups with distance between participants.“Initially, we were eating alone in our rooms and just getting food here, but that’s not how you eat in the Army,” Class of 2020 Cadet Marco Garcia Garcia, who is serving as the platoon sergeant for the transient barracks, said. “So, we transitioned to the mess hall with the social distancing, but we have that social interaction. That way we keep everyone with good mental health.”Garcia Garcia initially traveled home to Colombia with the Department of Foreign Languages for spring break, but after they arrived back at West Point the travel restrictions changed which didn’t allow him to return home. He had to spend 14 days in quarantine due to his foreign travel, but said he is happy he is at West Point because it allows both him and his family to be sure he is safe and well-cared for during the pandemic.Class of 2021 Cadet Israel Koker-Thomas, who is from near Atlanta, had originally decided to stay at West Point during spring break to focus on academics and after cadets were told to stay home he chose to remain at the academy for the same reason.“Given the situation with online learning and all the resources that I would be missing if I did leave, I figured staying here would be better for me as far as completing classes and just having more material being readily available to actually complete my classes,” Koker-Thomas said. “It’s been working pretty well for me since I’m an (information technology) major. Most of our classes have to do with programming or networking on virtual labs, so it’s not really been too much of a struggle for me to transition or for teachers to transition all of our assignments and projects on there.”During their stay in the transient barracks, the cadets have received support from the sponsors they were assigned plebe year as well as the West Point community. Koker-Thomas said he has been able to go to his sponsor’s house for meals or time to relax away from the barracks. They also hosted him for Easter.Garcia Garcia added that the West Point community has supported them by bringing snacks and drinks. They have also welcomed cadets who may not have had a close relationship with their official sponsor and opened up their homes to them.The cadets in the transient barracks also worked to foster a sense of normalcy in their lives by holding a plebe recognition ceremony for those still on post. They were not able to shake hands as they typically would, but Garcia Garcia said they still wanted to congratulate the plebes on almost making it through their first year.