Thursday, 18 November 2010
Branch Night, Class of 2011
On Sunday evening, 7 November 2010, the members of the Class of 2011 assembled in the auditorium at Eisenhower Hall to determine their initial branches of service upon graduation. For those highly ranked academically, it was merely the confirmation that they had received their first choice of branch. For others, it was a time of trepidation—would they receive their first choice or be ranked into a branch far down their preference list? Then there was always the chance that those in the lowest quarter for a given branch might be ranked into another branch because a lower placed classmate had opted for eight years of active duty instead of five years plus three in the Reserve Component in order to get his or her first choice of branch.
The system had been modified somewhat this year, in that the “first brass,” presented by their 50-Year Affiliate Class, the Class of 1961, through the West Point Association of Graduates, was not in the sealed envelope distributed prior to the actual ceremony by the Company TAC Team. So no amount of squeezing of the envelope could provide a hint as to what was inside. The official party arrived at 7:30 pm, and the first captain, CDT Marc Beaudoin; the chaplain, Father Edson Wood, and the commandant, BG William E. Rapp, made short presentations, as did Bob Glass, representing the 50-Year Affiliate Class of 1961.
Bob noted that 50 years made quite a difference in the branch selection process. How right he was. Instead of submitting a number of branch choices to be ranked by computer, the entire process was done five decades ago with an overhead projector displaying the five available combat arms branches—Infantry, Field Artillery, Armor, Engineer and Signal Corps—and the minimum and maximum number of lieutenant slots available on a large screen. Each member of the class rose, in order of merit, and announced his choice of branch (no women then), and the number of available slots in that branch was reduced by one using a grease pencil. When the last slot was taken, that branch was closed out. There was a slightly more complex system for allocating Air Force slots. The Air Force Academy was just graduating its first classes, and West Point still received a significant number of slots. Bob noted that the Aviation, Military Intelligence and Air Defense Artillery branches available to today’s cadets did not even exist 50 years ago.
Once your branch was assigned, you returned to barracks. There was no celebration (other than individually) or reception afterwards. Branch reps attended, but they did not pass out hats, T-shirts or backpacks emblazoned with branch insignia. Of course, there were no smart phones, so lines formed at the pay phones in the barracks, and few had cameras with flash attachments (do you remember flash bulbs?), so photography was limited. Bob also noted that, during his era, no one went Navy. Strangely, he made no mention of his many Air Force classmates, no doubt due to the shellacking the Falcons football team inflicted upon Army the previous afternoon (22-42).
Then COL Haskins mounted the podium and gave the word to open the envelopes. Once they were opened, and the initial happiness, dismay or confusion demonstrated, hugs were exchanged, photos taken, and smart phone call made. The class members then filed out to various locations, where branch reps stood by with “first brass.” All but the Infantry—they were so numerous that they moved to the front of the auditorium and received their brass by rows. Their ranks were swelled by 38 graduates assigned to other branches but detailed to spend an initial assignment with the Queen of Battle. Upon leaving the auditorium for the reception in Ike’s Riverside Café, the Grunts received baseball caps with crossed rifles. Aviation, another popular branch, held a more elaborate formation in the ballroom, ensuring that they would arrive last to the reception. The “first brass” was held in a number of elaborate, velvet-lined, wooden boxes, and Aviation officers (active and retired) proceeded down each row, pinning on the brass, accompanied by another bearing an officer saber. Still another representative passed out black baseball caps with the Army Air Corps insignia (wings and a propeller, now the Aviation branch insignia) emblazoned thereon.
Other popular branches, such as Field Artillery and the Engineers, had more informal ceremonies and finished more rapidly. Down in Ike’s Café, it was pandemonium as each branch had tables set up to distribute more souvenirs—branch hats, T-shirts, tumblers, even red and white football jerseys with Artillery across the back and a large “13” numeral. Dashing black Cavalry Stetsons appeared near the Armor tables—along with a (hopefully) inert sabot anti-tank round. In dramatic counterpoint to it all, a lone cadet stood at the doorway to the cafe—wearing a sign requesting a branch swap. It appeared that he wanted to swap into Ordnance, or wanted to swap out of it. Evidently he was successful—or totally disillusioned—because he was not there about 30 minutes later.
By the numbers, the first man in the class chose Infantry, the second selected Aviation, and the fourth took Engineers. The seventh went Military Intelligence, the 26th chose the Adjutant General’s Corps, and the 27th went Signal Corps. Before branch detailing, 230 men went Infantry (plus 38 others detailed in). The Engineers picked up 148 (including 29 women but had 12 detailed out), while Field Artillery followed closely behind at 147 (5 women but had four detailed in). Aviation claimed 114 (17 women) while Armor had 83 (plus 30 detailed in) and Air Defense took 51 (six women but had 30 detailed out) to close out the combat arms branches at 773 before details and 812 after. Of the branches with over 100 slots available, Aviation closed first, Armor second, and Infantry third.
Leading the combat support/service support branches was Military Intelligence with 69 (13 women), but 30 of these were detailed into the combat arms for their initial assignments. The Signal Corps received 46 (five women; nine detailed away); Ordnance 41 (10 women); Quartermaster 30 (21 women); Adjutant General 29 (23 women); Transportation 24 (eight women); the Military Police 20 (14 women); Chemical Corps eleven (nine women); and finance seven (three women) for a total of 277. The Medical Service Corps picked up 20 (13 women), while 14 men and five women assigned to branches in the above totals also were eligible for medical school and will attend once accepted. Among the branches receiving a smaller allocation of slots, Medical Service closed first (and first overall); Military Intelligence closed second (and second overall); while the Military Police Corps closed third (fourth overall).
Among the combat arms receiving cadets who elected additional active duty to ensure their choice of branch, Infantry topped the list with 58, followed by the Engineers (34); Aviation (29); Armor (21); Field Artillery (19); and Air defense (13). Every branch added such cadets except Chemical and Transportation, with Military Intelligence (18) and Signal Corps (12) topping the combat support/service support branches.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@wpaog.org
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