Small in stature, reserved and soft-spoken with a big smile from ear-to-ear are things that will pop out at you when you meet Class of 2021 Cadet Evan Walker for the first time. However, she may not necessarily be someone you would think of to lead nearly 1,500 new cadets and cadet cadre during Cadet Basic Training.
Three years ago, during her CBT as a new cadet, her squad leader brought up the fact she was so meek and quiet.
“Looking back to when I was a new cadet, my squad leader told me, ‘Walker, you need to speak up sometimes, you are just in the middle, you’re kind of reserved,’” Walker said. “When I was a plebe, it was the same thing throughout the year.”
However, first impressions aren’t what define people. All people have layers to them and Walker is no different as there is a fighter inside her, and she is aggressive to make her mark. Her mark was set when she found her voice as a squad leader during Cadet Field Training last summer.
“I got to practice my leadership philosophy (at CFT) and see the value of just being a leader in general,” Walker said. “Getting to practice what we had been learning up to that point, that’s really where I said, ‘I like leading people,’ and I think I handled my 10-person squad well. So, I said, ‘OK, let’s go onto the next step.’”
From there, Walker went on to be her H-2 Company’s academic year first sergeant, which allowed her to cut her teeth more in a leadership role and experienced leading 130 people in a different setting.
“I went from a tactical setting to the academic side, which is more standards and discipline as far as being a cadet,” Walker said. “But that is definitely where I feel I experienced the most growth as far as falling into the leadership position and mentality.”
Being a strong leader comes from positive reinforcement of leading from the front, but also, it is confidence gained in all aspects of not just leading but in every endeavor in one’s life. Walker said her belief in herself grew out of being a member of the U.S. Military Academy boxing team.
“Confidence has been the biggest thing (I developed from boxing) as well as mental toughness and grit,” Walker said. “If you can get into the ring and take potentially a hit to the face — that takes courage — and the train up is very rigorous and pushing yourself to the limits.”
Three members of her family — cousins Egbezien Obiomon (USMA ‘18), Ejakhianaghe Obiomon (USMA ‘19) and Ebakoliane Obiomon (USMA ‘20) — were all members of the boxing team as well with Egbezien and Ejakhianaghe each winning individual national championships twice. Walker’s hope is that she can follow her older cousins’ footsteps as she came close her sophomore year by being a national runner-up in her weight class.
“That is the goal right there (to get national champion),” Walker said. “I’ve got to do it this year.”
Nevertheless, before that task can be achieved, there are still many other responsibilities at hand before that, including leading the Class of 2024 and the cadet cadre during Beast this summer. However, the road leading to being CBT commander was rocky due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which put flux into the possibility of her sticking as the CBT commander.
Walker said she learned in March, before spring break, she would be CBT 1 commander after opening her envelope with her 2nd Regiment friends, but it wasn’t quite what she envisioned for her summer detail job.
“I was nervous because they said you didn’t get exactly what you wanted because I wanted to be a sergeant major,” Walker said. “I opened the envelope and I was speechless. I didn’t cry, but I was emotional. It was an awesome opportunity, especially Beast 1, when the new cadets first come to West Point.”
Then, COVID-19 happened. The shake-up began where CBT, usually six weeks long in two, three-week details with separate commanders and cadet cadre groups, got shortened to four weeks and one detail. On May 20, Walker and other Cadet Summer Training perspective cadet leaders received a call back to learn if their details changed or if some were lucky enough to keep their original summer leadership positions.
“I was nervous again because everyone was getting calls from their (regimental tactical officers) and I was central time and it was 5 p.m., really late already,” the Rowlett, Texas, native said. “I hadn’t gotten a call and was thinking, ‘oh, no, that’s not good,’ and then I received a call from a brigade tactical officer and he said, ‘hey, you get to be Beast commander still,’ and I said, ‘oh, my gosh!’”
Becoming CBT commander was just the start of the demanding work ahead. Considering the original Cadet Summer Training/CBT plan was scrapped on four occasions, preparing for CBT training in a COVID-19 environment was the burden of the members of the CBT detail as they started arriving in late June. Even ordinary things, like R-Day, took on a different appearance.
“Usually it’s one R-Day, and we had to have four, actually today’s (July 23) number five as we’re bringing in our last two people, late arrivals,” Walker said. “It was a slower process with some things, additional spacing, supplies with our S-4, our resources and having to stretch those out.
“Cleaning supplies get used more frequently, mask distribution, so things that normal Beast really didn’t have to deal with and we usually model off in the years before, instead we kind of had to blank slate some things—it took some creativity,” Walker added.
As the Class of 2024 integrates into the academy, the CBT cadet cadre and regimental leaders have gone through much trial and error and have learned as they have gone along, Walker explained. She said they are trying to own the situation and utilize all the white space and fill in those spaces in the training schedule when they can with things the new cadets weren’t going to experience this summer.
“When outside, you’ll see (the new cadets) doing squad movements and intro level to patrolling that they weren’t going to do this year, but we are jump-starting them by preparing them as best we can for next year at Cadet Field Training when they will actually get that training,” Walker said. “I think it’s been a lot of us taking what we have learned and inserting it into the open spaces to best prepare them.”
With it being a shorter detail, Walker said time is of the essence and the key to this summer is getting the new cadets to learn how to be cadets, standards, discipline and customs and courtesies. With that, Walker has been overseeing a tight ship as commander and ensuring things are getting done within the accelerated pace.
“The biggest thing is making sure the companies (nine total) have the resources they need, whether that is communicating to the staff or communicating to me,” Walker said. “So I can delegate to the staff on the things they need to get their daily training done, as well as looking at morale and safety with putting the COVID mitigation procedures in place.”
Walker’s day-to-day mission involves looking ahead at what training they have, ensuring the cadre is receiving information in time to plan and issue out warning orders. Overall, she said her mission involves overseeing everything and making sure new cadets are not missing out on too much training.
Overall, it has been an intense experience from the two weeks leading up to the first R-Day as company and platoon leaders focused on troop leading procedures and the regimental staff focused on operations prep. Within the chaos, Walker learned about herself, especially when it comes to peer leadership, which she found to be a challenge after jumping from being a Trust NCO last semester to being a CBT commander.
“I didn’t have any subordinates (in that Trust NCO role), so jumping from no subordinates to now being in charge of over 1,530 people or so, it’s been a big change,” Walker said. “But as commander, I’m spending my time supporting all nine companies and making sure they are functioning and have the guidance they need to meet my intent.
“As cadets, our leadership is more hands-on as we are taught to be platoon leaders, and these operation-level roles are things we don’t get any experience on until we are actually in it — so my biggest challenge is adjusting,” she added. “I’m a firm believer that you have to tailor your leadership to the people you are leading and the environment you are leading in, so it’s the overall adjustment of the regimental level.”
Walker doesn’t get much of a chance to mingle with new cadets because of her post, but she does that through her company commanders, who then lead through their platoon leaders and sergeants down to their squad leaders to make sure everything is running well.
“It is making sure they are providing the guidance, the attitude and atmosphere to inspire the new cadets,” Walker, who is an operations research major, said.
As the new cadets get started on their field training exercise and head toward ramping up the summer with March Back, Walker offered some advice before the new cadets officially become cadets Aug. 15 at Acceptance Day.
“Failure is OK as long as you learn from it,” Walker said. “I was a perfectionist coming into the academy, and I really hadn’t experienced failure until survival swim where I was failing the entire class, then I finally passed the last lesson.
“But that was the first shock to my system, that West Point is definitely going to find something that you are not good at and kind of hit you in the face with it, but as long as you learn from it and grow from it, and I found out I’m more mentally tough as a result of the experiences I’ve had here,” she added. “The new cadets need to know they are on their own journey and that failure is OK.”
The second and last piece of advice Walker spoke about is to be true to yourself, don’t change your identity.
“Many times, when new cadets get here, especially during CBT, they think, ‘I have to forget everything I’ve experienced and everything that I am prior to this,’” Walker said. “It’s not like your ditching your old identity, but you’re just adding layers and additional roles as a cadet and as a Soldier — you are still you. Don’t forget who you are and where you come from.”
And when the summer detail is all said and done after March Back Aug. 10, what does Walker hope is achieved in having a successful summer?