In what is symbolized as the first major milestone post Acceptance Day for the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2024, the plebes celebrated Plebe Weekend Friday and Saturday.
Unlike previous years, the class with the motto, “Like None Before,” embraced that slogan moniker as they rejoiced their significant marker without the accompaniment of their parents, family, or significant others in what is usually known as Plebe-Parent Weekend. However, the pandemic, unfortunately, cut out that element and the plebes reveled in their milestone just among themselves throughout the weekend.
Plebe Weekend encompassed a handful of activities to include the Plebe Review, the National Defense Service Medal ceremony and the Wyclef Jean concert. However, the most significant event that kicked off the weekend was the Plebe Banquet.
The banquet incorporated the annual unveiling of the class crest while guest speaker retired Col. Gregory D. Gadson, USMA Class of 1989, gave an inspiring speech to the attendees.
A Crest “Like None Before”
Class of 2024 Cadet and Class Crest and Ring Chairman Sayana Lopes introduced the crest, which has gone through rigorous drafts since the beginning of the academic year from the crest committee and advisors, as it was unveiled for the first time to a thunderous roar by the Class of 2024 and academy leaders.
Lopes addressed the audience as she explained the motto inscribed on the crest, “Like None Before,” as a symbol of a promise that the class will always remember to honor those who came before them while forging a better path forward to those who will come after them.
A part of the crest included an oak leaf in the eagle’s mouth, which is meant to honor the Class of 2024’s 50-year affiliate, the USMA Class of 1974.
“The oak leaf in the eagle’s mouth was designed in a style that mirrors the oak leaf that is seen on the Class of 1974’s crest,” Lopes said. “The mirroring embodies the unity and legacy that the Class of 1974 has with us, which we will honor and carry forward.”
The other main elements of the crest include the Athenian helmet and a star shaped like a rose compass, which Lopes said helps remind them of the history and legacy they now share with West Point plus two other important pillars.
“The helmet represents the goddess of warfare and wisdom, Athena,” Lopes said. “The helmet serves as a reminder that while at West Point, we are at the perfect crossroads of those two pillars and every day we are striving to embody those two pillars through our pursuit of academic achievement and service to our country.”
Lopes added that the star shaped like a rose compass below the helmet is meant to pay respects to those who came before them and, “The compass reminds us to stay the course and stay true to our values.”
The last elements include the eagle, which represents bravery; the American flag, which represents freedom; and the cadet and officer swords that represent the class’ future transition from cadet to Army officer.
“These historical symbols ground our crest and represent the long history of officers who came from West Point,” Lopes said. “May we respect and expand that legacy.”
The crest unveiling received positive reactions from the Corps of Cadets’ plebe members, including Spenser Haslem, Plebe Weekend S-3 (operations) officer, and Tyson Welch, the Plebe Weekend deputy commander.
“It definitely looks good,” Haslem said. “I am glad that the chairman, Sayana Lopes, and her staff put a lot of thought into it.”
Welch added, “I like the oak leaf the most because it pays homage to our 50-year affiliate, Class of ‘74. Remembering those before us that paved the way is vital to West Point’s emphasis on tradition. I know it meant a lot to see their mark on our crest since they have an essential part in our continuing development.”
The Long Gray “Family”
There is no denying that retired Col. Gregory D. Gadson has gone through an arduous experience following an IED incident during his deployment in Iraq in May 2007. The results of the blast led to the loss of both his legs and severely injured his right arm. Yet, the 26-year Army veteran, including another eight years after the explosion, found a way to overcome through the help and support of his Long Gray Line brethren.
Gadson explained how grateful he was by the character he built through West Point and was able to find that strength when he went through the most difficult moments of his life following his injuries. Those moments were not spent alone because the members of the Long Gray Line had his back.
“I didn’t do it by myself, it’s this Long Gray Line that was with me the entire journey,” Gadson, a former Army West Point football player, said to the plebes. “That is what I want to impress upon you that you will forge a lifetime of friendships, of love and camaraderie that is matched by few things.”
Gadson described his experience after the IED blast as he began to lean on his comrades’ support. The support started the night of the explosion as USMA Class of 1991 graduate William Huff, a former Army football teammate, accompanied him from Baghdad to Landstuhl, Germany, to be by his side for as far as he could go on that journey.
His wounds were so severe that he was not expected to live, however, USMA Class of 1991 graduate Bradley Woods was there to help in the initial fight.
“He recognized me as a former Army football player, and his optimism, his fight is what saved my life,” Gadson said. “Giving me more than 120 pints of blood while dying six times (and getting resuscitated), he just wouldn’t give up.”
Former ‘89 classmate, Chuck Schretzman, helped take Gadson off the MEDEVAC when he arrived from Andrews Air Base to Walter Reed Hospital, and would remain by Gadson’s side until he came out of his coma.
“(Schretzman) was the first person to hear my first words after coming out of my coma,” Gadson said.
Then, during his recovery period, USMA Class of 1987 graduate, Dr. Paul Pasquina, another former Army football teammate, would be responsible for Gadson’s recovery as his physical medicine and rehab doctor. Gadson mentioned Pasquina helped, “Extend all resources in every challenge that ultimately enabled me to continue to serve another eight years after I was wounded.”
Gadson wanted the Class of 2024 cadets to understand that this same scenario is what they are a part of now, the West Point family, and it will help when they come to a crossroads in their lives.
“This is what you have joined. This is what you are a part of. You have what it takes to overcome any adversity that falls before you,” Gadson said.
Haslem felt the powerful story and reflected on his thoughts by knowing years from now is when you may truly know the meaning of the Long Gray Line.
“The big takeaway is that the Long Gray Line is a ‘big family’ that we will continue to rely on after graduation and for the rest of our lives,” Haslem said. “Making sure we help others around us and foster this family culture with grads because we will never know when we will need help.”
In discussing that circle of life and close relationship of the Long Gray Line, Gadson mentioned that seven plebes in the Class of 2024 were offspring from his ‘89 classmates, while 56 total plebes were sons and daughters of the cadets he crossed paths with during his years at the academy from the classes of 1986-92.
“This is part of the depth of the Long Gray Line that you are just beginning to understand what it’s about,” Gadson said.
One of the most important parts of his speech communicated the commitment they had to raise their right hand to support and defend the constitution and our way of life and how West Point can help achieve that goal.
“Very few responsibilities are as important as the one to lead with dignity and respect, to lead with character, to lead with integrity,” Gadson said. “Those never can be compromised and that is why this institution stands to build, to fortify, to educate, to prepare you to be successful in leadership.
“It is not easy, but you have taken this path that is not easy to prepare you for what won’t be easy,” he added. “But it’s your character, it’s your talent that will get you through those tough times.”
Gadson reflected on the plebes’ motto, “Like No Other,” as the class dealt with three R-Days and a pandemic that they have no control over, which makes them a class like no other has experienced from the start of their cadet careers.
“None of us have control over life, if we did it wouldn’t be hard,” Gadson said. “This mettle, this process, this institution that you’re a part of is to prepare you for what you cannot control. It’s not about complaining about (it) — it’s about embracing it, it’s about owning it and turning the tables to what you want it to be — and that’s what character gives you and that is what you’re building on here.
“That’s the process you’ve begun and it’s not a process that will stop when you leave here,” he added. “It’s a process that hopefully you take to the very end (of a successful life).”
Welch took Gadson’s overall message to heart about the importance of flourishing when life may not be in your full control.
“You can’t control what life does, and you can’t live like tomorrow’s guaranteed,” Welch said. “I am a firm believer in destiny and that everything happens for a reason. These words speak volumes, along with his experience of being an officer from West Point.
“It’s understanding that things are out of your control and tomorrow is not guaranteed are essential values to relish,” Welch added. “Therefore, you should put full effort into everything you do.”
The Last Words from Plebe Weekend’s Class Leaders
Haslem and Welch were chosen as plebe class leaders for Plebe Weekend as 12 plebes, including Brigade Commander Rosaleen Petrella and Command Sgt. Maj. Carly Woelfel, earned the distinction of leading their classmates through the weekend to mirror what the firsties do as part of the Brigade Staff throughout the academic year.
Haslem’s job as operations officer involved disseminating the information the plebes needed to know for the weekend while also helping make corrections at drill to prepare for the review and ensuring the overall operations ran smoothly.
Welch’s job as deputy commander was essentially assisting the brigade commander with any duties she needed him to step in to do, which was finding potential holes in various staff shops to ensure there were contingencies in place if required.
The firsties did help the plebes in the process to succeed as leaders.
“Most of my guidance came from the firstie brigade deputy commander, who really helped me get acclimated with the position,” Welch said. “(It) has given me a lot of perspective on how the Corps of Cadets operates.”
As the weekend ended, which included an extra day off Monday from classes, it gave the plebes a chance to relax a bit and reflect on the non-stop ride that they have been on since their arrival in July, minus winter break.
“This (past) weekend has been relaxing … this is an important weekend for us because it can be really easy to get bogged down by a relentless schedule on top of COVID and plebe restrictions,” Welch said. “This (past) weekend was a good reminder to appreciate that we have come very far since R-Day, and we should acknowledge that.”
Haslem concluded, “It feels relieving. One semester (and a half) down, with six and a half to go. It reminds you of how close we are to getting out into the big Army. But, overall, it was a great learning experience (as a plebe class leader) and I am glad everything worked out the way it did.”