Traditionally, when a new class of cadets arrives at West Point, more than 1,200 individuals come through the gates on a Monday during Reception Day and begin the process of their 47-month journey. This year, as seen a month ago with the graduation of the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2020, traditions have taken a backseat to a new practice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic running rampant through the United States.
Consequently, as the initial 1,238 new cadets’ streamed into the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School to begin their in-processing as the USMA Class of 2024, it also included R-Day being stretched out over three days instead of one. More than 400 new cadets arrived each day Sunday through Tuesday (July 12-14) with the Oath Ceremony taking place on The Plain Wednesday (July 15).
Generally, new cadets would arrive at Eisenhower Hall, however, USMAPS was used this year as an initial entry point. This allowed for screening each new cadet for COVID-19 and also kept a buffer zone from Central Area, the new cadets’ living area, to make sure they were COVID-19 negative before they began receiving their initial equipment issue, getting sized for their uniforms, receiving haircuts and assimilating into their Cadet Basic Training company under the cadet cadre’s guidance.
Even with the extra buffers and precautions put into place for everyone’s safety, the apprehension didn’t quell an electric atmosphere of new faces and minds brimming with enthusiasm wanting to make their mark in the years ahead.
New cadet Nial Murphy, a 19-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, made his decision to come to West Point relatively late because his campus visit to
the academy was supposed to happen in March, but was canceled due to COVID-19. However, with a little convincing from his family, he chose this as his best educational and career path.
“It’s a very prestigious school, it’s known nationwide,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and ability to have 100% job placement and free tuition. I really want to be a better person when I graduate, so that helped in the final decision to come here.”
Murphy said he plans to be an English major and to one day go to graduate school either in law or business, conversely, he sees majoring in English as a gateway to being a stronger leader.
“English is very important for developing writing skills and being able to communicate effectively,” Murphy said. “All of which is a very important part of being a good leader.”
Another new cadet had a small taste of what the Army was like by joining the Army National Guard in his hometown of Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. Peter Wang, 19, was inspired by his father, James, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, to enlist first and to then chose West Point. After receiving a nomination from his commander along with a principal nomination from his state’s senator, Wang has not looked back and is now looking forward to the task ahead.
“I’m looking forward to the process of the change from civilian life to military life,” Wang said. “I’m excited to learn new things because I know it is different from regular basic training, and I’m excited for everyone to transform their lives into a new form that they never thought they’d see including myself.”
Wang, who hopes to major in civil engineering and try out for the Army West Point Skeet and Trap team where two friends from North Dakota are currently on the squad, said one of the biggest things that inspires him is that he will, “stop short at nothing to give my best to pay back everything that has been given to me.”
As he was beginning his R-Day Sunday, Wang reflected on some of the good advice that was given to him to make sure he will get through the next four weeks of CBT, also known as Beast Barracks, and then the full 47-month journey.
“Just keep a level head,” Wang said. “There is going to be a lot of stress, a lot of different things that you’re not going to be able to see a possible way through, but keep focused, keep attention to detail and get things done.”
During the process to get to West Point, 18-year-old Sarah Fazzolari from Coltsneck, New Jersey, found great inspiration from her parents who were both members of the New York City Police Department. It was their service to community and country that made Fazzolari believe she had the wherewithal to give West Point a shot for her future endeavors.
“My mom has really inspired me, she was at (ground zero) on 9/11, so I’ve had personal passions for the military and security,” Fazzolari said. “Just watching her and her career, protecting New York City, I thought I could do it in the military and protect America. With that, I believed West Point would be the best path to help me achieve my career goals.”
Fazzolari, who plans to major in international affairs and wants to branch military intelligence one day, hopes to be an inspiration to others as she becomes the first member of her family to go to West Point.
“I think it is great because I also have a little sister, too. I can be a trendsetter for her,” Fazzolari said. “As a girl, I think it can be inspiring to girls younger than me, especially at my high school, and inspire a bunch of people who didn’t know much about (West Point) before I came here.”
As Fazzolari, Murphy, Wang and the more than 1,200 other new cadets settle into R-Day and beyond, they will lean heavily on their initial training and proper conduct practices from the cadet cadre who will lead them.
The train up for the cadet cadre was not always easy with a few hiccups along the way, but as Class of 2021 Cadet Bryson Stephens, CBT regimental assessments officer, said, they planned and prepared for everything that can and will happen.
“There were multiple hiccups, but that is just part of being in this position,” Stephens said. “We went through this before, but not as leadership, so we thought we’d come to all the conclusions but, of course, there are things other people had mentioned that we didn’t think of.
“Again, there were some hiccups, but as the assessment officer, that is what I am here to do is to evaluate these different stations and mitigate different congestion and trying to make the best and smooth transition to different things on R-Day,” he added.
Stephens reflected on his R-Day and felt he had a smoother transition because he went to USMAPS prior to West Point, which allowed him to have a nugget of knowledge as to what to expect on his R-Day.
“It was just a fantastic experience for me to see the people I knew and getting to help the people who never had an understanding (prior to coming to West Point), motivating them, encouraging them and telling them this is just temporary. You get through this and you will be a cadet soon,” Stephens said.
As Stephens said, his experience at USMAPS helped him adapt faster into his CBT summer at the academy, but what words of advice would he give the new cadets who are beginning the process now?
“Listen. Listen and just take everything in and remind yourself this is just temporary to work through things,” Stephens said. “Learn who you are as a person and just try to grow through this experience.”
Part of growing in the experience is learning under pressure, and one of the seminal moments comes when a new cadet reports to the Cadet in the Red Sash. The new cadet has under five minutes to learn a paragraph of words which in turn they must say verbatim to the firstie in the cadet company they are joining—a part of the importance of instilling discipline and sparking pride in one’s company into the new cadets. On Sunday, a moment happened when Class of 2021 Cadet Morgan Ammons went face-to-face, with a slip of plastic in-between, as a CBT Alpha Company cadre member with new cadet Dylan Ammons, her sister.
There probably aren’t records of this exact moment happening in any of the annuals of West Point, but it did create a lifetime memory for the older sister even if they weren’t the first to do it.
“The experience of welcoming my sister into CBT and watching her go through the same experience as I had was lifechanging,” Morgan said. “The Cadet in the Red Sash is a big event during CBT, so to make my sister’s R-Day memorable and sharing in her experience is something I am glad I could do for her.”
Morgan said she prides herself on setting a good example for her younger siblings, so seeing Dylan want to follow in her footsteps, “puts a smile on my face.”
“I am extremely proud of her and know she will do great things here at the academy,” Morgan said.
As the first day came to a close, the new cadets obviously had time to think about what they got themselves into, but for Murphy, who said serving in the military is one of the most honorable of professions, it is beyond one day, it is a lifetime of service and making people proud that is at the forefront of his mind.