A line of cars flowed through the parking lot by Buffalo Soldier Field over three days carrying with it approximately 1,225 new cadets, nearly 400 each day, from across the nation who were taking a huge leap into unknown territory on Reception Day, Saturday through Monday, at the U.S. Military Academy.
During the three-day R-Day, West Point accommodated public health guidelines to stagger the new cadets and their families to safeguard their health and welfare. Parents embraced their sons and daughters, with some fighting back their tears while trying to keep their composure. Others couldn’t contain their emotions while saying their goodbyes.
“I’m so happy and proud to see my daughter accomplish her dreams. It makes me so overwhelmed with pride to see her come this far,” Lorena Fuentes said in Spanish as tears rolled down her face. “She picked the (U.S. Military Academy) because she loves her country and I wasn’t fully aware of what choice she was going to make for her future, but this is the choice she made and she decides what’s best for her future.”
The Fuentes family gave their hugs and said their farewells watching Genesis Fuentes prepare herself to join the line of new cadets who would soon board a bus taking them to Eisenhower Hall to begin their initiation to West Point.
“My biggest driving factor in joining West Point was my love for this country and just wanting to give back for everything the country has provided not just for me but all of my family members,” Genesis said. “I know my life would be completely different without living here in America, so I really want to give back and serve our country.”
New cadet Sean Healy believes the challenge of getting past R-Day and the next 47 months would make him stronger mentally and physically, and if it weren’t for his father providing him with the support and courage he needed, he does not know what path he would have taken in his life.
“West Point is such an amazing institution, and it makes me proud to come here and serve my country, it’s just an amazing honor and my dad helped me realized that,” Healy said. “My dad pushed me and motivated me to always achieve excellence and what better way to do that than serve my country.”
As they waved goodbye to their parents and boarded the bus, the time to answer the nation’s call began. For the new cadet’s actions throughout R-Day would speak volumes and showcase the humbling beginnings of what it means to embark on the journey of becoming part of the “Long Gray Line.”
For that to happen, the task was placed on the Cadet Basic Training detail I cadet cadre to prepare the new cadets for their new journey.
“The cadet leadership has spent two weeks setting up all the protocols and procedures necessary to make sure that we’re inspiring the idea to serve,” Class of 2022 Cadet Donovan Hinton, the Cadet basic Training detail I commander, said. “We’re helping the new cadets understand what character commitment means and what Duty, Honor, Country means because it’s here that they’re going to get the foundational military experiences and competencies that are going to build them to become future leaders of character.”
Reception Day is divided into four phases: the planning, the reception, the execution, and the inprocessing of new cadets as they integrate into their assigned companies.
During the first phase, the bus took them to Eisenhower Hall to show their vaccination proof card. Afterward, if they were vaccinated, the cadet leadership ordered the new cadets to go to the auditorium to watch an in-brief video on what the academy expects of them.
The new cadets that are unvaccinated received an antigen test. If the test showed negative results, unvaccinated new cadets wore their masks in the auditorium.
Once this process was completed, the new cadets were shuttled to Thayer Hall. Upon arrival, they proceeded to the third floor to report to their first issue point and received a physical fitness uniform and dress shoes.
The men and women changed from their civilian clothes into their issued PT uniform. As they proceeded up to the halls of the fourth floor, the strident shouting from cadet leadership disoriented the new cadets filling them with a heightened sense of urgency.
Each new cadet reported to their perspective company on the fourth floor based on the alphabetic letter they received on a card. Once they entered the classroom, cadet leadership briefed them on administrative details to underscore the importance of applying sunscreen, eating and regularly drinking water to prevent heat casualties.
Navigating through the thick, sweltering summer heat with the dress shoes they were issued made the challenge of moving to each station cumbersome and uncomfortable.
“Coming to West Point is the best way to serve the country that I love,” New cadet Jordan Burns said as he stood in parade rest waiting to enter his new company. “While at West Point, I want to major in systems engineering because I believe it’s broader than mechanical engineering, and I would say the hardest aspect of R-Day for me, so far, would be running around and lugging my bags in these dress shoes.”
In the classroom, the cadet cadre leadership provided the new cadets with energy bars and drinks, Meals Ready-to-Eat rations to consume later for lunch, and a new cadet knowledge handbook, among other items. Additionally, new cadets were taught how to identify cadet and Army ranks and address cadet cadre adequately.
Afterward, the barbershop was the next stop. There, new cadets received haircuts.
Following this, they proceeded to the north area outside of the Cadet Mess Hall where they performed challenging tasks such as changing civilian clothing and miscellaneous items into a big green flight bag under a time hack. Subsequently, the new cadets were taught how to perform common drill commands.
Soon after, R-Day culminates when they report to the cadet in the red sash. The cadet in the red sash asks a series of questions in a frantic manner to teach the new cadets how to adapt to stressful situations. If they fail in responding accordingly, they will be ordered back to the line and try again.
“I would say the hardest part about R-Day so far is getting acclimated to everyone yelling at me,” New cadet Giovanni Biondo said.
This portion is meant to instill the importance of failing and learning from the mistakes as a cadet develops a growth mindset. Once they have answered all the questions correctly, they report to their first sergeant and decompress at their barracks.
“A lot of times we can get knocked down and think one or more failures define who we are, but by having that one mentor to be there for you and say, ‘it’s OK, you can fail, and you can reflect on what it feels like and realize that by moving forward and understanding what inspired you to come to the academy in the first place, you can continue on to improve and become better every day,” Hinton said. “It’s OK to fail. That’s what the academy is trying to get every cadet to understand. And it’s through that positive reflection and understanding where that failure lies that we’re able to improve and move on to become better leaders.”