Friday, June 30, 2006

 

Even the Cheerleaders are Cadets at Westpoint

The charter plane landed and three busses picked us up and drove us to West Point, New York to the campus of the United States Military Academy. Our football team went to the stadium for a walk through and the bus filled with fans went to the visitor center for a private tour of the campus. It was an unseasonably warm November day.

Sitting on the top of a plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River, West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America. It was established when President Thomas Jefferson signed the legislation in 1802. When you step foot on the campus you can feel the two centuries of history swirling around you. There were several highlights of the campus tour, but one happened by accident. As we were passing by the parade grounds, helicopters were taking off with paratroopers who were practicing their jumps for the football game the following day.

We sat in the stands and held our breath as these young men and women jumped from these helicopters and landed within their designated areas. One after another…and even though they were carrying flags and the game ball, I knew in just a few short months they could be jumping behind enemy lines to protect my freedom. My pride for these young men and women swelled as tiny tears fell from my eyes.

On Saturday, we arrived at the stadium early. All 4000 cadets are required to attend every football game. So here we were 200 – 250 Arkansas State University fans and 4000 cadets in a mostly empty stadium. As the minutes passed by, the rest of the seats began to fill with Army fans. While we waited, I began to wonder what it was like to be a cadet at the same academy that graduated such American military leaders as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, “Buzz” Aldrin, and Norman Schwarzkopf. I looked around at these young men and women and wondered to myself, “Who in this stadium will stand tall for America in my lifetime? Who will my children read about in their history books?” And, it occurred to me that regardless of who my children read about, every person who serves our country is a hero.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter of the game, it was apparent that Army was going to win on this occasion, and in all honesty with the war in Iraq in full swing, I was glad for them. At some point I walked into the ladies room and saw two of the female Army cheerleaders. Out of curiosity I asked one of the young women, “Are the Army cheerleaders cadets?” With an enormous smile, she answered quickly, “Yes maam.” I have to tell you I was a little shocked that this 110 pound young woman was in the Army at all, much less that she was serving in such an amazing way.

At the end of the game, the score was Arkansas State 10, Army 38. It was a wonderful win for our troops. And, it was a win for all of us, how could any person ever cheer against young men who would soon be leaving for war?

As the months passed by, the young cadet cheerleader kept coming to my mind until finally a few weeks ago I contacted the United States Military Academy and asked if I could interview her for my research of how people’s lives change in an instant. After receiving approval from the public affairs officer, I was allowed to set up a telephone interview and here is what I learned.

The young woman was Cadet Jade Brown. She turned 21 years old on May 24, 2006 and she was finishing her sophomore year. Her mother is a Lt. Colonel in the Pentagon and her father is a Colonel in the Pentagon.

I asked Cadet Brown why she decided to go to West Point and she said in the 8th grade some cadets came to her junior high school and shared their story and ever since that day she has wanted to serve our country. Even after September 11, 2001 when her mother was almost killed in the terrorist attack (every other person in her office was killed), Cadet Brown felt a growing understanding of why she was placed on this earth.

Change really does happen in an instant. For Jade Brown it happened in the 8th grade and from that moment on she worked hard to make those dreams come true. Even at her young age, she felt she was placed on this earth to do something big. She wanted to prove to herself that she could accomplish the goals and overcome the obvious struggles to be able to do something as important as protect the people of America.

In order to be accepted to West Point you must have many skills – you must be an exceptional student, you must be an exceptional athlete, you must be an exceptional leader and you must show outstanding moral and ethical character. Each year thousands of people will apply and 1000 will be selected.

On the first try, Jade Brown needed to improve her SAT scores, yet she was selected to attend the United States Military Preparatory School in New Jersey. She saw this intermediate step as only a small bridge necessary to achieving her ultimate goals. From here she was accepted to the Academy.

She has now completed her second year. In each of these years she has received the Gold Wreath, by carrying a grade point of 3.0 or higher and she is also in the top 20 percent in physical condition and military understanding. She is working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with a major in psychology. She hopes to work in air defense artillery primarily working with missiles.

Why is she so driven? She immediately speaks of her mother and says, “I pray everyday that I can be 90 percent of the woman my mother is. Everyone else in her office was killed on September 11th. Somehow one door was unlocked, and that door saved my mother’s life. When my father found her alive we all knew God had a purpose and a plan for her. I want to be just like her.”

I then asked, “Jade, why is it worth it?” Jade replied, “The bonds you make are different than anything I have ever experienced. Every person becomes family. The level of trust is beyond explanation. I am a better person for knowing these people. Yet, without an abiding faith in God, I would not still be here at this school; it would just be too hard. The emotional part is the most difficult; Iraq is constantly in my mind. I know that as soon as all of us finish our training we will be heading to Iraq. And, every so often at our dinner meal, there will be a moment of silence for a person from our chain of command who was killed in the line of duty; as we sit in silence, we are each well aware of the real price of service.”

At the end of the conversation I asked her if she knew how many people are proud of her. She answered, “I know my Mom and Dad are proud.”

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