As the commandant of the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, Col. Ted L. Stokes Jr. will be tasked with preparing cadet candidates to attend West Point.Whether they are fresh out of high school or entering after serving as an enlisted Soldier, cadet candidates’ year at USMAPS is designed to prepare them to meet the rigorous academic, military and physical standards of the U.S. Military Academy.It is a chance, said Stokes—who assumed command of USMAPS June 26—to lay the foundation for future success before the cadet candidates “go down the hill to USMA” and become cadets prior to starting their careers as Army officers.“I think that if this program is executed effectively—as I know that they’ve been doing—and then the follow on program downhill, you’re putting out what the Army needs, which is future leaders that are prepared to operate in the complex domains that we face today and in the future,” he said.Stokes originally enlisted in the Army as a member of the Military Police in 1995, but he made the transition to officer by attending Officer Candidate School in 1999 before being commissioned as an Armor officer. Although he is not a West Point graduate and serving as the prep school commandant may not have been in his plans, he said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Stokes said throughout his career he has worked to become a student of leader development and he was excited to become the commandant in large part for that reason.“If you want to make the Army chuckle, come up with your own plans,” Stokes said. “It’s intriguing. It’s unknown to me. It’s new and it deals with both the military education, civilian education and academics, and all the things that I think are just critically important and interesting to me.”After being on the job for only a short time, Stokes said he has realized it is akin to being the president of a small university. He is in charge of not just military training, but also the curriculum and student life for a new pool of cadet candidates each year. This summer, he has had to hit the ground running as USMAPS and West Point prepare to welcome students back in the coming weeks and work to conduct a summer training program that has been adjusted multiple times due to COVID-19.“I think (COVID-19 is) going to impact all of us,” Stokes said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the Army right now, your way of life, the environment you live in and the job that you do is getting impacted by COVID-19. It’s about how we react to it. We’re pretty flexible in the Army to reacting.”While it may be his first exposure to West Point, his tenure as commandant will not be Stokes’ first time working to educate Army leaders. He previously served as the executive officer at the School of Advanced Military Studies. It is an experience he said he thinks will pay dividends as he helps to mold and develop future Army officers at the prep school.“I think that’s very, very useful,” Stokes said. “Understanding how to kind of develop, execute, implement and refine continually updated curriculums is something that we did there. It’s obviously going to be something we do here. Interacting with civilian educators and military officers all on the same campus, the same footprint, we did that there. We’ll do that here also.”Stokes moved to New York along with his wife and youngest daughter who is in high school, while his older daughter attends the University of Central Florida in Orlando. To prepare for his new role, he said he worked to learn about the history and tradition of West Point, but he has found that there is still a learning curve.“It’s one of the first jobs where I’m not fluent in the language,” Stokes said. “I’m learning to speak West Point. It’s a whole other language, whole other world.”