Thursday, 31 May 2007
As it has done 208 times previously in its 205-year history, West Point commissioned another class of cadets over the weekend. Shortly before noon on a relatively cool, sunny Saturday, 26 May 2007, the United States Army gained 969 new second lieutenants, with fully 196 of them opting for the Infantry, 114 for the Corps of Engineers (including 15 women), 106 choosing the Field Artillery, 98 becoming tankers, and 89 becoming aviators (including another 15 women). The Class of 2007 also contributed a lone Marine officer to the Navy. The class included 138 women, 67 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 63 Hispanics, 49 African Americans, and five Native Americans. Among the graduates, 107 men and 23 women entered West Point courtesy of the Prep School. Sixty-four graduates had one parent who also was a graduate, but five had grads for both parents. Eight international cadets represented Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, the Philippines, South Korean, Taiwan (a first) and Tunisia.
Among the graduate scholarships awarded were one Rhodes, two Truman, three Marshall, one Mitchell, one Churchill, four East-West, and two Fulbrights. Two of these new officers actually won two scholarships. At the other end of the spectrum, the class goat was Roberto Becerra, Jr. Thirty-five percent of the class (334) opted for a full eight years of active duty in return for branch or post of choice or guaranteed graduate schooling.
Although graduation officially was scheduled for 9:30 am, by 7:30 the lower classes had arrived and begun the long climb up to the south end of the upper deck. The USMA Band and the Glee Club already were in position on the visiting team side of the field and had rehearsed several numbers. By 8:30, as the Class of 2007 arrived in preparation for their walk on, the band began playing in earnest. Since the Vice President was the featured speaker, the dais was set up in the south end zone, in front of the KimseyCenter, instead of on the 50-yard line on the visiting team side. At 8:35, the USMA Adjutant General made some administrative announcements, including that spectators should rise for the arrival of the vice president, national anthem, The Corps, Alma Mater, oath of office and benediction. He also added that the 1st and 2nd Regiments would be on the visiting team side and the 3rd and 4th Regiments on the home team side, concluding with the rules for the traditional children’s scramble for the hats thrown into the air by the cadets at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Of particular note was the introduction of the representatives of the 50-year affiliate class, the Class of ’57, who would present each new graduate with a set of gold bars engraved “’57 to ’07.” These were: GEN (USAF, Ret.) Donald Kutyna; the Honorable John R. Block; MG (Ret.) Richard E. Stephenson; and BG (Ret.) Gerald E. Galloway. New this year was the formal procession of the faculty to seating off to the side of the graduating class. Officers in Army Blue were accompanied by civilian professors in gowns of red, blue, green and gray, all with the three velvet sleeve stripes indicating the award of a doctorate plus colored cowls indicating their field of study. The Department heads and guests occupying the dais were seated by 9:05. The band played until 9:30, when attention was sounded and the graduation ceremony officially began.
The superintendent made his opening remarks, welcoming the guests and parents, admonishing the graduating class to never compromise their values, and reminding them that technology will not win the current conflict. It will be they and their soldiers who ultimately prevail.
Then the vice president was introduced and conveyed the “warmest congratulations from our Commander-in-Chief” before joking about granting amnesty for all cadets on restriction for “minor conduct offenses,” leaving the definition of “minor” to the superintendent. He then mentioned that GEN Schwarzkopf ’56 once had told him that almost all grads say that R-Day is the day they remember most. But the vice president then opined that the process of making an officer began much earlier, and he called for a round of applause for all the parents of the class.
In this “often cynical age,” he noted, our “armed forces and their academies are all the more exceptional” and that West Point “has been absolutely critical to fighting and winning America’s wars.” He then quoted GEN Eisenhower ’15 to the effect that “West Point is a national asset beyond price” and called attention to the fact that thousands of Americans were killed just 50 miles away, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001. He added that Al Qaeda claims the right to “kill four million Americans” so “We have to go after the terrorists, shut down their training camps, take out their networks, deny them sanctuary, and bring them to justice.” And West Point graduates “are the kind of people we depend upon to get the job done.”
The crowd cheered when the vice president mentioned LTG David Petraeus ‘74 and quoted him as saying that “the operational environment [in Iraq] is the most complex and challenging he’s ever seen.” But he echoed LTG Hagenbeck in saying that “The single most reliable fact of this war is the skill and courage of the American soldiers fighting it.” And he reminded the young graduates that “Now they’re going to look to you for leadership, and it’ll be your job to provide that leadership and take care of them.” He then added, “But we need to remember that when all the speeches are given, and the debates fall silent, and the decisions are made, it falls to men and women like you to bear the battle. May all of us who sit at desks and set policy never fail to appreciate that.”
After noting that members of our armed forces serve in nearly 80 countries around the world “to keep the commitments of our great nation,” he wished Godspeed to the Class of 2007, indicating his confidence that each member of the class will “serve with skill, and carry yourself with honor, and take care of your soldiers, because that is the way of the West Point officer.”
After Vice President Cheney presented diplomas to the first captain, valedictorian, star athletes, and other academically distinguished cadets, the Superintendent, Commandant and Dean took over. The vice president remained standing, however, to shake the hand of every graduate. Then the class took the oath of office and was dismissed, sending their white caps flying into the nearly cloudless sky as youngsters ran to catch them. Proud graduates posed for family photographs to be sent at the speed of light to relatives and friends; other used their cell phones to coordinate meeting points. Then, it was off to bar-pinning ceremonies, either regimental barbecues or private receptions, or something in between, before graduation leave and reporting for branch training. They’re in the Army now, the Class of 2007.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire
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