Volunteers stand in to be transformed from civilians to cadet candidates
By Clayton Smith
On Monday morning (June 30), 300 civilians gathered in West Point’s Eisenhower Hall to take part in a “Reception Day Rehearsal” in which they would volunteer to role-play as cadet candidates for a day and help the Corps of Cadets, upperclass cadre regimental staff members, to hone various leadership skills. The actual R-Day process, which took place on Wednesday (July 2), saw more than 1,200 new cadets received into West Point.
The rehearsal provided a brief look at the physical and emotional challenges that incoming cadets face. In rehearsing the process, the U.S. Military Academy gained insight into which parts of the process — one of USMA’s largest events involving many logistical elements — went smoothly and which needed some work.
The day began in Eisenhower Hall, where volunteers checked in at 9:30 a.m. and waited to be directed elsewhere. From here people were directed to stand in line outside of Eisenhower Hall Theatre, where groups of just 40 people were allowed to enter at a time. Some groups were not able to enter until an hour after the event began.
As one of the West Point leaders present assured an impatient woman, “It’s better that we work out these kinks now than have any problems on Reception Day.”
After entering the theater, Cadet Coffey gave volunteers a speech tailored to cadet candidates and their families, and then allowed for a 90-second window for families to say goodbye to one another. As soon as 90 seconds elapsed, volunteers were directed out of the theater and the transformation from civilian to soldier began.
In a tiny room right outside the theater, there were four lines marked on the ground with red tape. “Let’s go! Move, cadets!” shouted two cadet sergeants as soon as volunteers entered. “Don’t stand on my tape!” they bellowed. When groups had lined up uniformly, they were directed to a large room with tables covered in markers and tags, and told to create a tag for their duffel bag within 30 seconds.
Following this, groups were directed to board a bus to Thayer Hall for processing. Here everyone received mock identification cards to be worn around the neck. Soon after, the groups were divided even further and ushered into small rooms where they stood in four lines and learned the appropriate verbal responses to fellow new cadets or cadet sergeants. One of the more entertaining responses after being told to drink water was, “Beat the heat, sergeant, beat the heat!”
Moving parts and memorization
Next, volunteers were led outside and groups followed their respective cadet sergeants around the grounds to see the resources available to cadets. For example, going to lunch consisted of a brisk walk through the dining hall. Going for a haircut was simply a quick tour of the West Point Barber Shop. Following this, there were two drill stations in which volunteers learned how to stand at attention, parade rest, at ease, and rest.
In addition, volunteers were taught the steps to execute right and left face, and learned how to piece together the movements until they could be performed swiftly, all at once. The day concluded with lunch in the mess hall, where certificates of appreciation were distributed to volunteers.
When asked about her favorite aspect of R-Day Rehearsal, Cadet Deets commented, “A bunch of civilians help us train and make it better for this R-Day and all to come.”
Others, though, had mixed feelings about the day’s events. Jordyn, a high school sophomore from Monroe, New York, shared his thoughts. “At first it seemed OK, just an orientation … During the middle, I started shaking. The air wasn’t cold, I just started shaking.” Jordyn did see some positives in gaining the perspective that he did. “You learn the basic things of being a cadet. It helps you in general, as well as in the military. I’m still considering going to West Point.”
Having completed the rehearsal myself, I can attest that although nerve-wracking, I had a positive experience. I gained a good deal of insight into the challenges that incoming cadets must face and I’ve developed a newfound respect for the dedication of those who serve the country. The event is held annually and all who are at least 12 years of age and in good health are encouraged to take part. Visit usma.edu for more information.
Photos by C. Smith