WEST POINT, NY -- Three New York Army National Guard Soldiers who were part of the state response to Hurricane Sandy's devastation, got a first-hand look at the United States Military Academy here as guest of their commander, Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey, on Saturday, Nov. 17.
Swezey, a 1980 Military Academy graduate and the commander of Joint Task Force Sandy, the New York National Guard force responding to the weather disaster, has made it his goal to get more New York Army National Guard Soldiers enrolled at West Point.
The Academy reserves 85 slots in each class annually for Guard and Reserve Soldiers and Swezey wants to get as many New York Soldiers as possible to apply for those positions. So far four New York Army National Guard Soldiers have enrolled through this program.
He figures if he can get more New York National Guard Soldiers to visit West Point, he can get more who are willing to apply to attend the Academy, Swezey said.
"I knew nothing about West Point until my dad showed me the campus while we were on a road trip," Swezey explained. "I immediately started the application process following the visit and it truly changed my life."
So Swezey decided New York Army National Guard PFC Douglas Dolan, a member of the 466th Medical Company from Argyle, N.Y.; Spec Naseer Carter, from Glen Cove, N.Y. and assigned to the 204th Engineer Battalion; and Pvt. Rebecca Rousseau, a Brooklyn resident who serves in the 1156th Engineer Company, should get the same chance to see West Point he had.
They were among the more than 4,000 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who were called to duty by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to Hurricane Sandy.
The "Get to Know West Point" event gave the Soldiers a chance to meet cadets and see what life is like at the Military Academy.
The half-day visits start at 8 a.m. and consist of a morning briefing then a chance to attend classes and eat lunch with a cadet in Washington Hall, the cadet mess facility, said Major Brian Wire, the National Guard officer charged with recruiting Guard Soldiers as cadets.
The visits are a great opportunity for Soldiers to get to know a cadet and get a sense of what life would be like for them at the Military Academy, Wire said.
"I could definitely see myself becoming a student here," Carter said. "I always knew about the football and other sports, but I never considered actually attending this school; it just never crossed my mind."
"I had no clue this was even an option," Dolan added. "Someone opened the door, so I would be a fool not to follow this through. I'm thankful to have been on this trip, and I will surely follow up."
During the trip Soldiers also viewed the Saturday Cadet pass-in-review ceremony, a long-time tradition at West Point. They also visited the barracks where cadets live.
There's history even in the barracks rooms, retired Lt. General Gerald Hopkins told the Guard Soldiers.
When General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of Allied forces in the South Pacific in World War II was a cadet he and a couple of his classmates transported a heavy Civil War cannon from Trophy Point --where the cannons are on display--to the top of the clock tower on Pershing Barracks, Hopkins said. They did this without a crane.
"That goes to show you, these halls are for those who think outside the box," Hopkins said.
West Point currently offers two special programs for current enlisted National Guard Soldiers seeking admission to the academy. Soldiers may gain accession through the Soldier Admissions Program directly to the Military Academy, or to its Preparatory School (USMAPS) at Monmouth, NJ.
The program can be of monumental help since servicemembers have the ability to become underclassmen without congressional or senate endorsement, a longer selective process, Wire said.