Attention All Cadets

“ATTENTION ALL CADETS, 30 MINUTES UNTIL FORMATION”. I rubbed my eyes and groaned. Even though I had been warned about the call to formation, it still hadn’t prepared me for how loud the yelling throughout the halls of the barracks would be at 6:30 in the morning. Then I thought of the cadets I was staying with, who had been awake until almost 3 in the morning studying. Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad for myself.

At the end of October, I had the opportunity to be one of the Dickinson delegates to West Point’s annual Student Conference on U.S. Affairs or SCUSA for short. The purpose of this conference is to bring civilian and military students interested in international affairs and U.S. foreign policy from across the country and around the world together to discuss these issues. Not only do delegates participate in roundtable discussions, which eventually produce policy recommendation papers that get sent to Congress, but they get to learn about West Point and make friends from many different backgrounds.

The actual activities of the conference were very interesting and rewarding, but what I most appreciated about the whole experience was the chance to see what it is that the cadets at West Point do on a daily basis. Let me tell you, after spending three days getting a peek into what life is like at West Point, my respect for every single cadet there increased exponentially.

There are mandatory study hours at night, classes start before 8, formation happens at least once a week, there is a curfew by which you must be in your room and sometimes there are room inspections on Saturday mornings which are so dreaded that cadets stay up all night cleaning. The structure of life at West Point is astounding to someone not used to it. Most cadets don’t sleep under their covers to avoid having to remake their beds according to regulation. One cadet even had her linens taped to her bed with duct tape in order to ensure the sheets were fitted tightly enough to the mattress. I quickly came to one broad conclusion about the lives of the cadets at West Point. They don’t sleep. With the typical day starting at 630 and ending at 11:30 or later depending on work loads, I discovered it was not unusual to run on less than 5 hours of sleep as a normal thing.

What most impressed me was the commitment to this college experience by all the cadets. They realize that the way they experience college is nothing like the way the majority of America does. And yet there was little complaining. This is the way life is for them, and they embrace it.

I believe the current attitude in the U.S. towards the military does not at all appreciate the tremendous amount of mental and physical toughness it takes to be a serviceman or woman. This can be seen just by looking at the cadets at West Point, already they strive to meet a level of expectations that many adults in America have never reached nor will ever reach. So next time you see a man or woman in uniform, be sure to give them the respect they deserve because chances are you couldn’t do what they did on a daily basis in college, much less what they do in the real world.