Friday, September 28, 2012

The Time Of His Life

The rigor of West Point begins in a most unlikely dream in the heart of a little boy, long, long before the infamous R Day. But a dream only goes so far before it needs legs and muscles to take action. And then it is pure work.

There are grades to attain and maintain. Physical conditioning to achieve and keep up. Community service to carry out. Contacts and appointments to plan. Phone calls and letters to be made and answered. People to meet. Suits to buy. Trips and visits to set up. Summer seminars to attend. Transcripts to request. Eyes to check, and physical and medical examinations to schedule at DoDMERB's order. For the faint-hearted and the doubtful, there is Plan B to to arrange. And, always, reams and reams and reams of paper work and voluminous files to keep.

Finally, one day the appointment comes, the countdown begins, and then, suddenly, he finds himself a member of the Long Grey Line.

While plebes are sweating it out with uniforms and formations, the chain of command, SAMI's and WAMI's, and the extraordinarily demanding trio of academics, military instruction, and physical education, their civilian college friends are having one big party after another. College is famous for "allnighters" but an all-nighter at West Point looks a lot different than an all-nighter at a regular school.

An incurable optimist might call plebe year "challenging," but what it is is grinding hard work, and discouraging, especially when the plebes begin to compare their lot with that of their friends who are having "the time of their lives."

That's the way it looks. But the reality is that, once you figure things out and hit your stride (and things do improve considerably after plebe year), West Point is far, far better equipped to offer "the time of your life."

And in reality, West Point offers a much better shot at "the time of your life." Aside from everything available at West Point, opportunities abound for just about anything. All sorts of foreign travel, and it isn't just everyday travel like you or I would do if I got on the plane. For one thing, it's free (that's a BIGGIE for us!), but the cadets go as honored guests who are given a backstage pass, so to speak, to the host country. They go on David Letterman, they meet all sorts of higher ups in the world of politics. Science nerds get the opportunity to work with world class scientists on developing the ultimate robotic hand, or whatever; there is EMT training; they even go behind the scenes at the CIA or DEA. They can intern in the US Congress, and get paid while doing it. WP has every sport imaginable. Not too many civilian colleges have parachute teams that I know of. How many colleges offer ice skating for PE? Glee Club regularly sings before the most distinguished of audiences, all the way up to the pope. If you happen to be in Oxford over Halloween there will be an invitation to a party in a real English castle.  Chuck Norris even drops in for lunch now and then!

And of course there is the free medical care, the guarantee of a job when they get out, and a debt-free diploma that is the envy of the world.