As Capt. Jack Christoffersen arrived at the West Point gates in February, the old feeling from his cadet days returned and his heart began to beat faster.
It was his first time being back since graduating from the U.S. Military Academy with the Class of 2014 and nearly 10 years since he had begun his cadet career on Reception Day. This time, instead of arriving at the academy to begin Cadet Basic Training, he was at West Point for a pre-deployment survey as a member of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, which would be serving as the task force overseeing Cadet Summer Training.
“Seeing how much work and effort from so many people goes into (planning Cadet Summer Training) was pretty incredible, and I don’t think I really appreciated that as a cadet, because I was just trying to get through it every day,” Christoffersen said. “I didn't realize there’s people dedicating hours and hours and hours to making sure that water buffalo is full, and the ammo is here so you can just pick it up and go shoot.”
The full task force of more than 1,000 Soldiers arrived at West Point from Fort Polk in June and has spent the last two months leading cadets through CBT and Cadet Field Training during a compressed training schedule. Christoffersen, who is the company commander for Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, is one of eight West Point graduates who have returned this summer to help lead summer training.
Throughout the summer, his company has been running Basic Rifle Marksmanship mostly for CFT cadets, and during the one-day course taught to new cadets during CBT. They have overseen the entire process from the initial train-up to the cadets qualifying on the range by taking the new Army Rifle Qualification Test.
As a company commander, his one-on-one interaction with cadets has been limited. Still, he has leaned on his experience attending West Point to make sure his Soldiers are prepared to train the members of the Class of 2023 going through Basic Rifle Marksmanship.
“I remember the task force when I was in summer training,” Christoffersen said. “I remember the positive experiences I had, and I remember the negative experiences I had. I’m able to tell that to my Soldiers. The impact that you make on this cadet, he’s going to remember in five or 10 years when he's a captain or company commander … So, you have to be professional and I can attest to the fact I remember the people who were unprofessional and who weren’t.”
First Lt. Jack Lucie had made a much more recent trip to West Point compared to Christoffersen as he just graduated with the Class of 2018 and then spent time after graduation serving as an athletic intern with the wrestling team. Despite his short time away from West Point, when the opportunity to serve as a member of the task force came about he jumped at it and volunteered for what was originally planned as a four-month mission before being shortened to two months due to COVID-19.
“I’m pretty passionate about the United States Military Academy and West Point,” Lucie said. “I still have a lot of friends that go here, and my brother is a rising firstie (senior). So, I really wanted to come back and help these guys out.”
Lucie, who is a plans officer for 3/89 Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, served as a platoon trainer during CFT this summer. His job was to work with the cadet cadre and help develop future officers as they learn how to be platoon leaders.
“I’m not actively training them because they have dedicated lane markers and instructors for each block of instruction that they go through,” Lucie said. “But during their downtime, I’m teaching them classes about anything that they might want to learn. They have a lot of questions about the big Army and what’s different from what you experienced at West Point.”
His shared experience of having gone through CST and graduating from West Point enabled him to quickly build a strong relationship with the cadets he is overseeing, he said.
That relationship then helped create an environment where he could teach and mentor the cadets who will be in his same shoes in the near future. The biggest thing he said he worked to instill is how they should interact with their platoon sergeants and other noncommissioned officers once they begin their Army careers.
“A lot of them haven’t had a lot of NCO interactions,” Lucie said. “(West Point is) very officer heavy and field grade officer heavy at that like majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels. So, they get really used to speaking to high ranking officers, but their interaction with E-5s and E-6s is very minimal. So, kind of explaining to them how you interact with those guys has been a large chunk of my conversation with them.”
First Lt. Maylon Robertson, who graduated from West Point with the Class of 2017, has spent his summer serving as the executive officer for 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, which is running the various call for fire ranges during CFT.
His role has given him the chance to speak with almost every Class of 2023 cadet taking part in the training and answer any questions they have about West Point and life after the academy. That has included questions about picking a branch, the cow loan they can receive during their third year and more.
“For the most part, we’re just trying to impart some type of field artillery knowledge that they can use when they choose their branching decision,” Robertson said. “When they ask their questions, I’m just trying to help them be a little more positive about things than I was when I came through here. It’s easy to fall into the cynicism monster when you’re here.”
For each of the West Point graduates serving as members of the task force, it is a chance to see the other side of training they went through themselves and also work to make an impact on future officers following the same path they did in the recent past.