WEST POINT, NY --When The United States Military Academy graduates the class of 2016, New York Army national Guard Spc. Tyler Faulkner, will be one of those lieutenants.
It's something that Faulkner, a member of the 101st, Expeditionary Signal Battalion, never thought he'd have a chance to do.
"Growing up in Mastic Beach on Long Island, in a predominantly middle class neighborhood, I didn't always hear about or meet individuals from West Point," Faulkner said.
"Nothing is out of reach for anybody. West Point is perceived for the elites, not a Joe Schmoe from Mastic Beach, well not anymore. My father was doing back flips when I gave them the news," an enthusiastic Faulkner recounted.
West Point was something that was too prestigious and out of reach for somebody like him, he said.
However, last fall, all that changed when Brig. Gen Michael Swezey, commander of the 53rd Troop Command and West Pointer himself, decided that New York National Guard Soldiers should become cadets.
West Point reserves 85 slots annually for Guardsmen and Reservists, but in 2011 only 15 of those slots were filled, Swezey said.
"This is a missed opportunity for us to build our bench for the future," Swezey said. "Our National Guard Soldiers have the opportunity to make excellent cadets. As enlisted members they bring experiences that will be of value to them throughout their military career as future officers. Many of our young Soldiers are combat Veterans which gives them an immediate "leg up" as cadets."
So Swezey energized his staff to find good Soldiers who would make great cadets.
That word got down to Sgt. 1st Class Mike Frye, Faulkner's platoon sergeant in the 101st Signal, who told the private that he was going to apply for West Point.
"Spc. Faulkner has displayed the ability to make things look easy and has proven to be a highly motivated soldier. He is flexible and has the makings of a problem solver. The army will be gaining a good officer," Frye said.
Once Faulkner was convinced that he could be a West Pointer, he wasted no time in arranging his school records, army physical fitness test score cards and medical records to begin the process.
"A West Point application is no walk in the park but I knew I could get it done and eventually be successful," Faulkner said. I believed in myself that I had what it took like my NCO (non-commissioned officer) Sgt. 1st Class (Mike) Frye would say, try and get it done," he said.
The process for Faulkner took about three months after gathering all of the required documents and recommendations.
Faulkner said he plans to receive an amazing education by majoring in either foreign affairs or civil engineering. The fact that West Point is located in New York, approximately only a two hour train ride home on furlough weekend, makes going to school there more attractive, he said.
"This is a life changing event, for the better, for Tyler. Although he may not think so during the middle of Plebe Summer. I hope that after Tyler graduates, and serves out his active duty commitment to the Army, that he considers coming back to the NY Army National Guard as one of our officers," Swezey said.
Faulkner, who is close to his family, kept his family informed through the entire process and already looks forward to seeing them on graduation and commissioning day four years later.
Faulkner believes his hard work in high school, experience as a Soldier in the 101st and desire to succeed has made him a well-rounded person, just the type of person the Academy wants in its ranks.
Renowned as one of the world's preeminent leader development institutions, West Point's mission is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country. The student body, or Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,400 and each year approximately 1,000 cadets join the Long Gray Line as they graduate and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.
"I am extremely glad to have found out that this opportunity exists and to see my family so proud. I know my service is still needed because the war on terror is not over. And very proud to know, I can do this and I will do this," Faulkner said.