WARNING: THIS IS A REFLECTION POST, SO IT IS LENGTHY!
I will use a lot of Army and USMA slang in this post, so if you aren’t quite sure as to what a term means, I’ve defined it for you below:
- Yearling = Sophomore
- Plebe = Freshman
- TEEs = Term End Exams
- Team Leader = Leadership Title (Team Leader was my “first” real leadership title where my job was to develop one or more plebes and assist them during their first year at the Academy.)
- E-4 = Specialist (U.S. Army Rank)
- USMAPS = The United States Military Academy Preparatory School
- Beast = Cadet Basic Training (USMA)
- Basic = Basic Combat Training (U.S. Army)
- Prepster = A United States Military Academy Preparatory School Graduate
- Recognized = Being recognized is a tricky concept. You aren’t a plebe, but you aren’t a yearling either.
- Cow = Junior
Now that I’ve finished my TEEs, and packed out a majority of my room, I can take a moment to reflect on the past three years of my cadet career…
As a 23-year-old plebe, I had a good idea as to what kind of Team Leader I was going to be. While serving as an Active Duty soldier, I had a multitude of phenomenal leaders to look up to. Each of them possessed a different leadership style, and yet they knew exactly how to cater to the needs of each of their soldiers. After my acceptance to the Academy, I felt slightly belittled and out of place. I was well aware as to what I was getting myself into after graduating from the Prep School; however, I still couldn’t help but feel as if I didn’t belong (which is exactly how you’re supposed feel during Beast). I was stripped of my civilian clothes, freedom, and technology (for the third dangblasted time), but this time was different because I was receiving instructions from a 18 or 19-year-old with little to no military experience as to how to be a cadet and leader of character.
I understood the nature of my training and did my very best to make light of the situation, but there were several days where I would sit and cry. I cried because I didn’t know why I was putting myself through yet another “basic” only to be treated like scum for a year. I cried because my credit score was dropping by the second because my bills weren’t being paid because I didn’t have the money to pay them. I cried because after moving out and creating a life for myself, I was forced to rely upon my family members to support me financially. I cried because I couldn’t have a drink after a long, hot, exhausting day. I cried because it hurt to feel helpless while pursuing my dream of becoming an Army officer.
Beast wasn’t a complete disaster, and several people are to thank for that. My boyfriend, Hollis, would send me 2 to 3 letters a week telling me everything that I needed to hear to get me through the day. Two weeks before Beast was over, he sent me flowers from his training site by way of his squad leader in a Zip-Loc bag to commemorate our first month of dating. My mom’s coworkers sent me letters and care packages filled with all of the things that we take for granted: clean socks, new panties, colored pens, and stationary. Most importantly, my leadership (or at least the ones with some common sense) always ensured that all of the trainees were okay. Granted, there were moments when I knew that they didn’t know what they were doing or what was to happen next, but they persevered. They trained us to the best of their ability, and as a result of their efforts I learned even more about myself and what kind of leader I wanted to be.
Saud, my first team leader, was amazing! He was completely understanding of my feelings during my transition from New Cadet to Plebe, and always lent me a listening ear. I admired his leadership style because it resembled my own. He wasn’t a Helicopter Team Leader, but he wasn’t a ghost either. Our subordinate-superior relationship worked out well because of constant communication and my understanding that he would never steer me wrong. I consider myself to be an extremely emotional being, but Saud was quite the opposite. He was (and still is) calm and collected when it comes to all things West Point and taught me how to take a step back and get things done. He’s also the reason I stopped asking so many questions; he assured me that no one ever knows what’s going on or what’s about to happen next.
As a plebe you don’t have a rank or an identity, so I was content with the fact that I would be regaining both a title and some freedom to do the things that I wanted to do. Along with the title came responsibilities and a slightly heavier workload. Thankfully, my first semester plebe was a Prior-Service-Prepster like me, so he didn’t need much assistance transitioning. I naturally took on Saud’s persona that he put on with me, and he coasted through his first semester as a plebe.
My plebe was flourishing, but I was crumbling. I had two Fs in two classes from the beginning of the semester to the end because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t grasp the material. I didn’t spend any time with my friends, and I holed myself in my room hoping and praying that God would make a way for me. A failing grade was never an option, but two failing grades had me feeling lower than low. I went into my exams knowing that I would be put on Academic Probation because there was no way that I was going to pass either exam.
Sure enough, I failed both Physics and Economics and was instantly placed back into both classes the following semester. By the grace of God, my second semester plebe was a star as well, so he didn’t require a multitude of my attention. Plus, at this point they were (almost) recognized, so he didn’t need me unless it was for administrative purposes. Jehovah was surely looking out for his child because I don’t know what I would’ve done with a problematic plebe at that point…
I retook both classes (in conjunction with 5 additional ones for a grand total of 19 credit hours) and passed every single one.
Yearling year was a trying time for me. It’s extremely hard to be the best when you’re surrounded by only the best and brightest, but I’m making it happen. I learned a few things about myself this year. To begin with, I solidified my leadership style. I’m pretty easy-going, but I’m no-nonsense when it’s time to get the job done. It’s important to make your subordinate not feel like a subordinate, but a part of a team. The Army is a team and you must treat your teammates with the utmost respect regardless of their position. Next, don’t shut your loved ones out when you’re having a hard time. I worried that my friends would think less of me if they knew I was struggling, but they didn’t. They embraced me because they were struggling too! My family supported me in their own way by giving me the space that I needed, and at that point I was able to breathe again. Taking a step back and assessing those facts were essential to my success, but the most important thing I learned over the course of this year is that I can only be me. I may not be the smartest, but I am smart. I may not be the fastest, but I am fast. Only the best of the best (approximately 1,200 individuals each year) are accepted to begin with, so why am I doubting my abilities?
Essentially, I want this reflection (and my life) to be a testimony to those who feel as if success is out of reach because failure seems imminent. You are more than capable of getting the job done regardless of your circumstances. DO NOT compare your struggles to others’ because you have no idea as to where they are in their journey! Keep on keeping on and remember, failure always comes before success.
— T (The Cow)