From the moment they arrived at the U.S. Military Academy, the Class of 2024’s experience was destined to be different from any class before.
Their arrival on Reception Day was delayed and split across three days in July because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their Cadet Basic Training program was shortened from six weeks to four in order to accommodate the change. The training itself was also modified from previous years. Monday’s March Back, which marked the end of CBT, took on a different look as well as 1,099 members of the class followed a nine-mile route around West Point instead of rucking from Camp Buckner like previous years.
It was a continuation of a tumultuous year for many of the members of the class who had their senior years of high school interrupted by the pandemic causing them to miss out on key events such as prom and graduation.
Instead of being deterred by the adversity they have faced at the beginning of their 47-month experience, the new cadets chose to wear it as a permanent badge of honor.
As they prepared to step off from the West Point Golf Course for the final leg of March Back, the class unfurled a black banner on which bright gold letters announced the motto they will carry with them for the rest of their lives — Like None Before.
“That’s the one I voted for, because we’re definitely different,” New Cadet Samuel Hein said. “We’re all coming out of this whole pandemic. It’s like none before. We’re just unique, and we’re going to take the experiences that we’ve learned from in our past and become better people and great leaders in the Army for the future.”
The three words were unveiled for the first time Monday, but over the next four years, they will become a part of the class’ crest and eventually be proudly displayed on the side of the class rings that designate a member of the Long Gray Line. New Cadet Rich Juin said the class’ motto is “ambiguous,” but it also challenges the Class of 2024 to continue to lead in new ways as the world changes before their eyes.
“It basically gives us a challenge because the Army has always persevered in difficult times,” Juin said. “I feel like all the world’s in relative chaos right now. I feel like for our generation we can be a sort of spearhead for them and just show that we can still function despite these times.”
The first step in becoming leaders was spending the four weeks of CBT learning how to be followers. From the moment they arrived at West Point on R-Day, the new cadets were taught how to take orders and were guided through the transition from civilian to cadet and eventually to Soldier after 47 months.
“I hope that I’ve grown a lot,” New Cadet Chloe Doubrava said. “I don’t quite see changes within myself just yet. I definitely have gotten stronger. I’ve lost some weight with those MREs. But I think that CBT rounds out people and changes them in a way that will make them better teammates, better people, more compliant and better followers in the world. That’s kind of what we need before we become good leaders.”
The lessons were instilled in them even though CBT was different than a typical year. After four weeks of training, Class of 2021 Cadet Evan Walker, who was CBT commander this summer, said she wanted the new cadets to know she was inspired by all they accomplished despite the unique challenges of training during a pandemic.
“I'm actually just planning my little closeout speech to them and making them aware of how amazing they did,” Walker said. “We actually just accomplished the unthinkable. Amidst the pandemic and everything that they left prior to this not really getting any closure from their senior year, they still received quality training and had the same Beast as me, basically. They’re all just so proud and happy, and it makes me really happy.”
Hein said his favorite — and also least favorite — part of CBT was the gas chamber, fondly known as the House of Tears, where new cadets learn to trust their protective equipment if they encounter a chemical attack. Although having to go through it himself “sucks,” Hein said he enjoyed seeing his classmates’ reactions to the gas. For Juin, it was learning to rappel that stood out and he said it was the training event he was most excited to tell his family about when he is able to talk with them again.
Doubrava said she enjoyed the challenge and adrenaline rush of the grenade training exercise as they learned to use new weapons throughout CBT.
“At the very end, when you’re able to throw the actual grenade, that's a deadly weapon in your hand,” Doubrava said. “But you have enough self-control and enough knowledge to be able to handle this weapon carefully and well. I think that’s a lot of growth. It changes people to have these rifles in your hand all the time. To have access to grenades. To have access to bayonets, just like chilling in your room.”
After a CBT like none before, the Class of 2024 will enter an academic year that is also expected to be vastly different than previous ones. Because of the changes, Juin said he expects the class and the cadet companies will become incredibly tightknit as they work together to overcome challenges, something that has already begun during their summer training.