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Becoming Soldiers
Juliana Raimondi
University of Kentucky

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Abstract
West Point is the United States Military Academy. West Point is known for it’s
strict academics and strenuous military training. West Point really portrays the
military culture in several ways. It displays discipline, courage, selflessness, and
unity. Discipline is easily shown through the very strict rules that are always being
enforced. Courage, selflessness and unity are displayed through the type of people
that attend West Point.

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Almost everyone grows up dreaming of going to college, especially during their high
school years. People go to further their education, but that’s obviously not the only reason
they go. Everyone goes to college looking for the “real college experience”, that is, the
independence, not being told what to do, and of course, the “social” events. Those students
who decide to go to West Point, however, get the total opposite experience. In fact, those
students are actually called cadets, and they do not experience the same “social” events and
they are always being told what to do.
West Point is the United States Military Academy and the oldest service academy
there is. The Academy opened in 1802 under President Thomas Jefferson. The academy
was very unorganized until 1812 when congress reorganized it (Editors of Encyclopedia
Britannica par.4). West Point is under supervision of the Department of the Army. The goal
of the Academy is “to instruct and train the corps of cadets so that each graduate will have
the qualities and attributes essential to continued development through a lifetime career as
an officer in the Army”(par.5). Each cadet will leave West Point with a bachelor’s degree and
as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. (par.6). At West Point, everything is done with a military
mindset to prepare the cadets for a military lifestyle.
West Point is clearly different than almost all other schools in the country. Before
my brother started his application process, I had never even heard of West Point. When I
was told that it was a military academy, I did not really know what to think. I pretty much
though that it was just a bunch of soldiers doing really difficult training while getting
screamed at, but really it is so much more.
The West Point Application process differs from other colleges in several ways.
Perspective cadets have to fill out a normal application in addition to many other things.
James Morsch, a West Point cadet, says, “A lot of the application is geared towards the

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military.” The perspective cadets must also receive a nomination from a congressman,
senator, or a high-ranking military official. To receive that nomination, another entirely
different application process must be gone through. Applicants also have to answer
questions that gear towards their desire to be in the military. They must also pass medical
tests as well as physical tests (Interview par. 2-4).
There are also some general requirements that’s would not normally be expected.
Prospective cadets must be between the ages of 17-22; they cannot apply if they are any
younger or older. In addition, they must not be married, pregnant, or legally responsible for
any children (West Point Admissions Page). Hearing what the whole application process
entails is definitely shocking. I never knew that there could be so many qualifications to
getting in to a school. I also believe that there is not enough credit given to those who put
the time and effort into applying to West Point. The entire application process takes about a
year to complete. This application process really reflects the strictness of the military culture
at West Point. At West Point things must be done in a very particular way, the military way.
That is shown in the application process with all of the different requirements that must be
met.
West Point basically does things much differently than almost all other colleges. For
example, the first day they get dropped off at school is not the same experience as a student
going to a civilian college. In fact, Vince and James describe their first day as a stressful blur.
They said that they were dropped off by their families, had 90 seconds to say good bye, and
then they were tossed into the chaos of military life. Vince said “their goal is to break you
down so they can build you up the way that they want” (interview par. 13) So the cadets all
spend their first day of “college” being told what to do, getting yelled at, and not being able
to speak or look around. Everything at West Point has to be done a certain way. Even the

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cadets rooms must be cleaned a certain way. They even have cleaning
inspections every month that they have to pass. Figure 1 shows a cadets
room with a perfectly made bed.

Their school years are different as well. As a freshman, cadets are called
plebes, sophomores are called yuks, juniors are called cows, and seniors are

Figure 1

called firsties (interview par. 20). In college, everyone makes fun of the
freshman because they are the newbies and no one really cares about them, but at West
Point that is actually true. Freshmen are called plebes at West Point. James said they are
called plebes because it comes from “the plebeians, pretty much the lowest of the low”
(Interview par. 20). As freshman, the cadets do not really have the freedom to do much.
They are not allowed to speak outside of their rooms unless they are addressed by an upper
classman, and they have to cup their hands when they walk because they are not considered
“human”.
As the cadets get older, they get more freedom. However, they are still not allowed
to go out much, and they have a curfew. When the cadets want to leave on the weekend to
go stay somewhere else, they have to apply for a pass. The cadets are allowed only three
passes a semester and they are not always guaranteed a pass. Cadets are also allowed to leave
the post on a weekend night without a pass as long as they are back by one a.m. This is
preparing the cadets for military life by limiting their free time and the things that the cadets
can do.
Another thing that differs from civilian colleges is how the cadets spend their breaks,
especially their summer break. Each year the Cadets spend part of
their summer doing some kind of military training. This means that

Figure 2

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their summer is much shorter than other colleges. The summer going into their plebe year
they spend six weeks going through basic training. They learned basic military tactics as well
as became familiar with an M-16 rifle, machine guns, hand grenades, and rocket launchers.
Then the summer going into their yuk year, the cadets get to choose what type of training
they want to do. Vince chose air assault school where he learned to repel from helicopters
and James chose jump school where he got to jump out of an airplane five times. During
that summer the cadets must also attend a three-week training where they further themselves
in military tactics. The summer going into their cow year they spend leading the basic
training for incoming cadets. Then their last summer they spend some of their time
shadowing a lieutenant in the army and they also spend a two-week period out in the woods
near West Point. During this training, they are put in realistic situations that they must figure
out how to handle. (interview par. 32-33). Figure 2 shows cadets going through some
training in the summer.
The book Soldiers First describes how being an athlete at West Point is different from
any other college. For example, the football players are not catered to or treated any
differently just because they are on the football team. They are still expected to take on the
same course load and they still complete the same amount of military training. This shows
how the military culture does not make exceptions and will not change their ways for
anyone. Also, unlike most of the Division 1 football players, West Point football players are
most likely not going into the NFL. They are actually preparing to be soldiers while others
are preparing to be professional athletes. The dedication that the military culture has can
definitely be seen here. West Point athletes know that they have duties to perform put their
military careers before their extracurricular activities.

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West Point takes their academics extremely seriously. That is the reason why they
have most of their training during the summer. The school holds their cadets to very high
academic standards. The cadets cannot miss class without expecting a serious punishment.
Vince tells a story and said “[he] accidently missed a class once because [he] thought it was
cancelled and had what is equivalent to a five hour detention for it. Usually it would be
marching hours, but because [he] was on the club football team [he] got detention hours
instead”(interview par. 40)
After college, most people dream of where they are going to live, what job they are
going to find, and what they are going to do during their free time. This is not the case for
cadets at West Point. Their future is already planned out for them. After spending four years
of schoolwork, training, and being mentally shaped into an officer in the army, the cadets
become lieutenants of the army and spend at least the next five years serving our country.
They get stationed at an army base that could be across the country, or across the world.
They may go through more training or they may get deployed. After their five years are up,
they can decide if they want to re-enlist or if they want to retire from the military.
It is very easy to see the military culture portrayed through the cadets. The sense of
unity, courage, leadership and selflessness is definitely evident in this culture. It was very to
see this during the interview that was conducted. Cadet James Morsch says that he chose
West Point over the other service academies because “you develop close relationships and
experience leadership in the army.” Cadet Vince Raimondi displays patriotism when he says;
“I applied to West Point when things were still pretty rough in Iraq and Afghanistan
knowing that I would probably be deployed to a foreign country.” This shows that even
though there is major conflict going on, he still chose to attend West Point. I believe this is
an accurate display of the Military’s courage, selflessness, and sacrifice. Vince and James also

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stated that they both always wanted to join the military. This also displays the selflessness
mentality of the military.
I think that when I first heard of West Point I did not really know what it was. Then
once I learned a little about it I thought it was just a bunch of soldiers who did military
training. I believed that they only really focused on the military aspects. However, now I see
that they really care about their academics as well. I also did not realize how much the cadets
really care about our country and how much they sacrifice. They basically give up their
college years as well as at least five more years of their life after. I thought that the cadets
who go there do not like to have much fun and are serious all of the time. That may be true
for some, but it is not for all. Thornburgh interviewed three different cadets. He said that
“Kristen has a car she takes into town with her friends, Greg visits old high school buddies
in Boston on the weekends, Tom finds his way to New York City with classmates when he
gets the chance. When they're relaxing during downtime, only Greg retains the vigilant
intensity of a soldier”(Thornburgh par. 5). So although they may have to maintain the
personality of a soldier while at school, when they are away they are just like any other
college student. Until I learned about the application process and the life at West Point, I do
not think I truly understood what kind of a person you must be to get in to West Point.
Cadets there are hardworking, passionate, dedicated, tough, intelligent, and disciplined.
Although I would like to think of myself as having these qualities, I do not believe I would
be able to last a day at West Point. And for that, I give everyone who goes there so much
credit, and all of my respect.

References
Drape, J. (2012). Soldiers first: Duty, honor, country, and football at West Point. New
York: Times Books.

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Stanger, R. (2013, November 5). What It's Like To Be A Student At West Point.
Retrieved October 4, 2014.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (Ed.). (n.d.). United States Military Academy
(school, New York, United States). Retrieved October 4, 2014.

Thornburgh, N. (2005, May 22). On Parade With the Class of 9/11. Retrieved October 2,
2014.
US Military Academy: Becoming a West Point Cadet. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2014.
West Point History - Home. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2014.

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