FORT HOOD, Texas - Sydney Stewart, a junior at Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas, ventured to this sprawling Central Texas post, July 20, to speak with recent United States Military Academy West Point graduates about their experiences in school.
While on post, Stewart was also able to observe Col. Chad R. Foster, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, give a brief, visit the Warrior Skills Training Center and Close Combat Tactical Trainer, eat lunch at Theodore Roosevelt Dining Facility and try her hand at piloting a flight simulator. Stewart was accompanied by retired Maj. Gen. R. Michael McDougal and her grandfather on her tour.
“The Central Texas community has given so much to the Soldiers and families of this installation over the years. In this case, we had an opportunity to return the favor to the community in a small way by serving as a resource for this talented young woman from Hutto High School. Our goal was to help her learn more about the United States Military Academy at West Point and to provide insights about the larger opportunities of military service,” Foster said.
For many high school students considering an academy, their opportunity to receive first-hand knowledge is almost exclusively limited to a one time college visit to the campus. For those without the financial means to make the trip, this opportunity can be nonexistent. This is why the chance to speak one-on-one with a recent West Point graduate is absolutely priceless.
“I think it is important that high school students have insight into West Point, (or other) military colleges, to provide a good understanding of what their future could potentially look like. It is important to comprehend that by choosing this route, their college experience will be exponentially different than their peers in high school,” 1st Lt. Brigid Tracy, a West Point graduate, said.
Tracy met with Stewart to provide an opportunity for her to ask questions and try to develop a thorough understanding about what an education at an academy entails, and what the military service commitment looks like. An eight year service commitment in a combination of active or reserve status is required after graduation.
“Going to an academy is, what I call, a lifetime obligation to the United States. Some do their years that are required and then they go into the civilian workforce, but the academies are built for leaders,” McDougal said. “You don’t go into the academy and all of a sudden become a leader. You have to show leadership prior to being accepted.”
Admission into the academy is extremely competitive, a prospective cadet must have the academics, extracurricular activities and leadership skills to be accepted. Candidates are also scored in physical fitness. Final years of high school, coupled with the college application process, can be stressful or overwhelming for students. This is where mentorship comes into play and really helps to alleviate some of the weight load.
“Speaking from personal experience as a West Point graduate, I can attest that the Military Academy is not for everyone. The physical challenges, military discipline and academic rigor can be daunting to a young person. However, the chances of success increase exponentially when an individual goes into the process fully informed about those challenges. Information and advice about these things is what a mentor can provide,” Foster said. “At Fort Hood, we have many academy graduates, as well as others who were commissioned through ROTC and Officer Candidate School. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be actively engaged in assisting talented young people in making informed decisions about military service. If we help even one individual achieve his or her goals, that makes the effort worth it.”
During her tour, Stewart also met with a recent West Point graduate who is an aviator assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Assault Helicopter Regiment. Stewart got to ask general questions about life as a cadet, as well as more specific information about her interest in aviation and what that could mean for her at an academy.
“Mentorship is incredibly valuable in the Army. For a prospective West Point cadet, a mentor can help guide you through the complex application process and help prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead. A good mentor will be able to give personal advice from both their mistakes and successes to encourage any prospective cadet in their own journey,” 1st Lt. Monica Sowinski, said. “At West Point, they will have to make big decisions about the branch of the Army they would like to serve in or which Army post they would prefer. It is important to hear a mentor’s perspective when faced with these important decisions.”
Sowinski said that anyone who is considering West Point should remain focused on their goals, even if the journey may seem arduous.
Stewart’s meetings and tour around Fort Hood are what will be the beginning of an expanded effort to provide more guidance and mentorship for prospective cadets in the Central Texas area.
“I hope to expand this effort in the coming months, but there is still a lot of discussion and coordination needed to determine the best way to proceed. This type of effort is nothing new to Fort Hood,” Foster said. “As guidance counselors, teachers, and other key leaders in the school districts identify young people who are interested in the military, there is a role that this installation can play in helping those individuals to make informed decisions about their future. This is about mentorship.”