It's the best-kept secret in the Army.

Soldiers between the ages of 18 and 23 can dust off their combat boots and hit the books at one of the country's top academic institutions (Forbes ranked it #1 in 2009). The United States Military Academy at West Point offers 45 academic majors to cadets (with no dependants) who aim to serve as Army officers.

"We call it a 47-month leader development program. They get an amazing education here, they get commissioned as an Army officer ... it's a great experience," said Maj. Brian Easley, Soldier admissions officer at West Point.

The scenic campus sits on the Hudson River, just 40 minutes from New York City, and offers perks like a wireless campus (all incoming freshman are issued a laptop computer), a leading-edge library (voted one of the top 10 in the country), a world-class fitness facility, coffee shops and the opportunity to immerse in foreign cultures via their semester-abroad program.

Some cadets stick to an early morning physical training workout, but West Point's first scheduled event is a breakfast formation at 7 a.m. Hour-long classes take place in the morning and afternoon, with variable study hours set aside for homework. Then it's on to athletic sports, with cadets choosing between college intramurals, competitive club sports or an Army (NCAA) team.
Congress allots 170 admission slots to active-duty Soldiers, who receive a $450,000 education by graduation day, fully funded by the government. Add to that a $950 monthly paycheck, and the opportunity for graduate scholarships (like the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, England), and your Army career could reach new heights.

Even though 170 slots are reserved for prior-service cadets, few in the Army apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. West Point selected 11 Fort Bragg Soldiers for the 2011 academic year, more than any other post in the Army. Of this number, four are confirmed for their freshman year at West Point (the rest will attend preparatory school, a year-long program designed to reintroduce Soldiers to an academic environment).

"Because (Soldiers) come into the basic training program - cadet basic training - with knowledge of the Army and an understanding of the things they are learning, Soldiers immediately establish themselves as leaders," said Easley, who added that 77 combat veterans are now cadets at West Point. He said Soldiers have instant credibility resulting from their experiences.
"Soldiers represent less than 10 percent (of cadets) but tend to be leaders among their peers at a much greater rate," said Easley.

For noncommissioned officers like Sgt. Luke Brunea, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, assuming the role of a West Point cadet is a rewarding career path. At 21 years old, he is the highest-ranking Fort Bragg Soldier to be offered a slot.

"I like teaching people stuff, and at the same time I'll try to keep myself in check so I assume the role I should be playing," said Brunea, who is currently assigned as a fire direction NCO in 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade. High SAT and GT scores, along with chain-of-command support, helped to secure Brunea's slot - he reports to West Point on June 26, and is leaning towards a structural engineering degree.

"It's one of those things that kind of sets you up for life, whether you stay in the military or move to the civilian world. If I didn't do it, I'd probably end up regretting it down the line," said Brunea.
West Point cadets follow a traditional academic calendar, including holidays and spring break.

During summer vacation, many cadets complete military training like airborne or air assault school. While studying at West Point or the U.S. Military Academy Prep School, Soldiers also receive credit for time-in-service. And they graduate with the distinctive honor of serving both in the field and in the classroom, learning from a faculty that is largely composed of active-duty officers.

Visit if a higher education appeals to you. Admission standards include a chain-of-command evaluation, three short essays, ACT or SAT test scores (the Fort Bragg Army education center offers testing), and a six-event fitness assessment. Contact Maj. Easley, Soldier admissions officer, West Point, at 845-938-5780 to begin the process.