By Mike Strasser, West Point Directorate of Public Affairs and CommunicationsAugust 11, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 11, 2010) -- Brushing aside the sweat, bug bites and desire to sleep, a company of new West Point cadets peered through the darkness sometime between nighttime and dawn. They may not have immediately recognized the three stars of their new superintendent who joined them on a 10-mile ruck march in late July, but he's working on that.
"I started from the back of the formation and moved to the front, and I'm pretty sure I had the opportunity to speak to the vast majority of those 164 great cadets who were moving along with purpose under that heavy ruck in the middle of the night," Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, Jr. said of the Cadet Basic Training company. "I just came away so inspired by their commitment. They were fired up and could see the end of CBT coming pretty soon."
Since taking command nearly three weeks ago, Huntoon has been logging miles around post becoming reacquainted with the environment he first encountered as a cadet in 1969. Whether it's grabbing a quick lunch at Grant Hall or running with the Yearling Class from Camp Buckner at the end of Cadet Field Training, Huntoon said he and his family are enjoying this time of acclimation.
"It's hard in an environment like West Point not to learn something from every aspect of this community; whether it's spending time with a family at the bowling alley or having lunch with the cadets in the mess hall," Huntoon said. "Very quickly I feel like I'm assimilating back to my previous time here."
Class of 1973
When Huntoon entered West Point, his introduction to the officer corps came from a recently-redeployed Vietnam veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Capt. Robert F. Foley had lived all the values of a U.S. Army Soldier and, as a tactical officer, he instilled them into the Corps of Cadets.
"I couldn't have been more fortunate than having him set the example, lead from the front and enforce standard," Huntoon said. "I've had the opportunity to work for him on four separate occasions over my career, and he continues to inspire me in a way that is not uncommon for graduates of this institution."
Huntoon, along with 938 newly-commissioned second lieutenants from the Class of 1973, had a few noted "firsts" at West Point. They were the largest graduating class in its then 171-year history. They were the first and largest class to attend Airborne School during summer training (all but 200 from the class were airborne qualified). They were the first class in a decade to graduate during peacetime. And true to the "Go Army, Beat Navy" spirit, the Class of 1973 enjoyed exceptional success as they witnessed Army Football defeat Navy three out of four years.
His father, a career Army officer who served as an infantryman and military intelligence officer, had some influence on Huntoon's decision to enter the academy and branch infantry.
Huntoon served in the 3rd Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Va., a unit he would later command. After serving with the 9th Division at Fort Lewis and the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany, he attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and later became the deputy commandant. Huntoon served with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., during Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm.
"I grew up moving from post to camp to station, and that's all I've ever known," Huntoon said. "And I've loved it; it's been a wonderful time. I think infantry has some unique, remarkable qualities, especially because it's about taking care of people, leading Soldiers; and I've been very fortunate to serve as an infantryman."
Developing Leaders of Character
While much has changed in the span since he graduated, Huntoon recognizes the routines, traditions and values that are still alive at West Point and continue to mold future officers.
"It's all part of this business of creating balance in the lives of our cadets so they are best prepared to be the leaders of characters we need in this very difficult, contemporary operating environment," Huntoon said. "So it's the simple things -- that same focus on teamwork and discipline that you see in physical training, the same attention to detail in building relationships, which over the long haul can make a difference as an officer. Those things are timeless."
From 2000-2002, Huntoon served as the deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. In 2003, Huntoon pinned on his second star and was assigned as the 46th Commandant at the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa., and twice served in the Pentagon--first as director of Strategy, Plans and Policy, Army G3; and then as Director of the Army Staff. Having worked at other institutions of learning, Huntoon cited certain common denominators inherent in developing leaders.
"But West Point is unique...it has a unique student body for sure; one whose curriculum is tailored to prepare them for a lifetime of service as officers in the U.S. Army," Huntoon said. "It has a remarkable staff and faculty; of course, a historic infrastructure, and it has the most remarkably committed graduates perhaps of any of these Army institutions."
Whether developing future leaders at Carlisle Barracks, working inside the Pentagon or commanding troops at Fort Bragg, Huntoon is convinced that the Army values are inherent in every leader of character that has crossed his path.
"I mention the Army values because those are the same core values for cadets, captains, for senior military leaders across the board; and I've certainly seen that firsthand at the Pentagon," Huntoon said. "I think the only remarkable and self-evident difference, frankly, has to do with the scope of responsibility for junior and senior leaders. But the same elements of moral courage, candor, compassion and professional confidence certainly are essential for either a second lieutenant leading a first platoon perhaps in a combat situation or a senior staff officer serving in the Pentagon.
Is it possible to sum up the West Point experience in a 420-character Facebook entry or a 140-word Tweet' Huntoon certainly hopes more people try. The social media phenomenon is evident throughout West Point from the thousands logging in daily to read the latest Facebook entries from the USMA, Black Knights, West Point Parents and others. The West Point experience is shared by cadets worldwide telling their stories on Army Strong blogs or through virtual photo albums on Flickr.
"I think social media is essential right now," Huntoon said. "I think it's awfully important to use every opportunity to communicate with our (extraordinary) audience. We have an obligation to tell the story of what's happening in the U.S. Army today -- the sacrifice, courage and selfless service of these great young men and women committed to the nation in this time of war. Storytelling should begin here at West Point where there's also a great story to be told."
On the horizon
Huntoon looks forward to getting back into the classroom and plans to instruct MX400, West Point's Capstone Course for Officership. Teaching is one way, Huntoon said, of supporting the Corps of Cadets, and he encourages the West Point community to share in that endeavor.
"We need everyone who works here to sponsor a cadet, cheer a cadet or find some way to continue to develop these youngsters in all their classes," Huntoon said. "Whether it's at an athletic event, a club sport or some activity outside the military academy -- we need to show support and help in their development and create the interaction that makes this truly a 24/7 experience in the 47 months they are here. They'll come out inspired and, just as importantly, we'll be just as inspired by their own commitment to service to our nation."
Huntoon said both the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff have expressed interest in focusing attention on the professional military ethic, and the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, located at West Point, will be critical in communicating that message.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for yet another center of excellence here at the USMA to demonstrate that in addition to our principal focus on the Corps of Cadets, we have other centers at West Point that have a direct purpose in supporting the U.S. Army," Huntoon said.
As West Point's commanding general, superintendent and a graduate, in a larger sense Huntoon prides himself also as an Army dad. His eldest deployed with the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker) to Iraq, and now serves as a captain in the Reserves. Another is a first lieutenant currently serving in Afghanistan. Huntoon and his wife Margaret still have two children close to home, with his youngest son completing his final year before graduating West Point, and a daughter attending O'Neill High School. So when it comes to developing the Army's Officer Corps at West Point, Huntoon has the past, present and future in mind from the perspective of a general officer and a father.
"These are the most magnificent young men and women of the United States," Huntoon said. "I'm inspired by their commitment to serve the nation in time of war, and I just look forward with a sense of humility and pride to serve with each and every one of them."