WEST POINT, N.Y. (July 1, 2010) -- Last week, he was an Army noncommissioned officer, but today, Mark Cox is a new cadet at West Point. Not yet a plebe in the Corps of Cadets until he completes Beast Barracks, Cox is among 17 combat veterans and nearly 50 active-duty military who made the decision to distinguish themselves as future members of the Long Gray Line.

Cox enlisted in the Army as an intelligence analyst and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While serving in Afghanistan, he was selected to train the Polish army's international security assistance force cell for their deployment. Col. Patrick Hogan was his task force commander in Afghanistan, and strongly endorsed Cox's decision to enter West Point.

"(He's) smart, articulate, motivated, committed and strives to excel at everything," Hogan said.

Cox was promoted into the NCO Corps while deployed and mentored one of his Soldiers to be selected for the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School during his own application process.

This was the first time he heard about West Point's Soldier Admission Program, which offers admissions each year to 170 military members from the active duty component, Reserve and the National Guard from every branch of the armed forces.

"It was a hard choice to exchange my NCO saber for the officer sword, but being an NCO is about leading Soldiers," Cox said. "Now with the potential to be an officer, I will be doing the same thing just in a different capacity."

Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Chatelain, 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment Intelligence NCO-in-charge, served with Cox in Afghanistan, while he was an operations and plans analyst in Qatar.

"Cox will be one of the hungriest students (at West Point) because he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth," Chatelain said. "He feels it's his duty not to fail this great opportunity placed before him."

Chatelain describes Cox as an accomplished problem-solver and one of the few he knew who "gets it" after reading intelligence reports others would gloss over.

"Cox is extremely focused and I have no doubt academically he will excel," Chatelain said. "In every course I challenged him in, he excelled."

Chatelain went so far as to guarantee Cox's work ethic and intelligence will place him among the top of his class. While attending the NCO Academy at the Warrior Leaders' Course in Grafenwohr, Germany, Cox made the Commandant's List and missed being named honor graduate by .03 percent.

"I have no doubt he will be a first-rate officer and go as far as he wants to go," Chatelain said.

Among the prior service cadets in the Class of 2014 is David Offutt, who also took advantage of West Point's Soldier Admission Program.

A military brat whose father is a 20-year Marine Corps veteran, Offutt was attracted by the prestige and honor that comes from graduating West Point.

"People who come from West Point carry on a tradition, as far as their success and capabilities go, of serving in the Army," Offutt said. "So I chose West Point because I thought it would not only help my career, but help me develop as a person along the way."

Offutt enlisted in the Army in October 2008, where he sought and found the discipline he craved, coming from a military family. Though he didn't choose to follow in his father's footsteps as a Marine, Offutt said his family, especially his father, was entirely supportive of his decision. Offutt earned the distinction of scoring in the top one percent of the Army in the general technical knowledge test, which measures verbal and mathematical competency.

"I didn't know at the time that it was such a big deal, but looking back I guess I can say I'm pretty proud of that," Offutt said.

He served as a pharmacy specialist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where his senior supervisor, Col. John Spain, said, "He is among the most proficient technicians in a (military occupational specialty) that requires attention to detail and the need to question unusual orders to provide quality care."

Offutt enlisted in the Army with the hopes of entering the medical field and, now at West Point, he seeks to continue that career path.

"I've had a lot of opportunities to see and work with Soldiers who have been wounded from their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan," Offutt said. "Not only do I want to meet my professional goals at West Point, but I want to leave a lasting impact as far as the people I'm with. I want to make sure they journey with me the entire way. I don't want to leave anyone behind."

While attending a reception and command briefing prior to reception day, these combat veterans and prior service military members were reminded that while entering West Point means shedding the rank they once wore, the training and experience they've accumulated will still be invaluable to them and their fellow cadets.

"I know going into R-Day I just need to be humble," Cox said. "I may possibly have more experience in the Army then they do, but I need to be able to learn from each one of the cadets of how West Point works. I know I have to come in with an open mind and learn as much as I can."