Every week during the season, West Point Army football players wear a sticker on the back of their helmets in honor of an Army division that current cadets may one day serve.
During the season opener on August 30, 2019 against Rice, the team honored the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division with the red, white and blue AA sticker proudly displayed on the back of their helmets with the American flag. .
The commanding general and the command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division attended the match, the division chorus was performed prior to the review parade and has become the norm over the past two years, Soldiers of the division who are eligible to attend the United States Military Academy have been invited to visit for the game.
This season marks the third year of the Soldier Visit Program where five to 10 West Point Eligible Soldiers from the Home Game Division are invited to attend the game and learn more about West Point.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division pose for a photo with their U.S. Military Academy host cadets at West Point following the Army vs Rice football game at Michie Stadium on August 30, 2019, in West Point, NY
(Photo by cadet Samuel Wehrli)
The visits are structured in much the same way as an official visit for an athlete recruited by one of the West Point Corps Squad teams. The Soldiers arrive on the Thursday before the game and are paired with a previous service cadet who is currently attending West Point who is hosting them for the weekend. Soldiers stay at the barracks with their host cadet, attend classes and eat in the cadet dining hall.
They also have the opportunity to tour West Point and the US Military Academy Preparatory School and meet with West Point and USMAPS leaders.
They then attend the football game with the cadet corps and are honored with division leadership on the field during a break in the game.
The aim of the program is to present eligible soldiers, that is, those under 23, single and without dependents, the opportunity to apply to attend West Point.
“I go into the military a lot and I will talk to the Command Sergeant Majors or First Class Sergeants who are senior NCOs and they will say to me, ‘I didn’t know West Point was an option as a private. . It amazes me, ”said Captain David Mason, Regional Soldier Commander and Founder of the Soldier Visiting Program.
As part of each year’s incoming class, West Point has locations available for 85 active duty soldiers and 85 Reserve / National Guard soldiers. Typically, the full Reserve / National Guard soldier allocation is allowed, but fewer than 50 of the positions for active-duty soldiers are filled, Mason said. There are also additional places available for soldiers to attend prep school for a year.
West Point admissions officer Captain Brian Gaudette said an average of 53% of prior service applicants are admitted to the academy, a much higher percentage than applicants coming straight from high school.
“They see it as more achievable,” Mason said of the soldiers’ reactions after their visit to a football game. “They’re learning more about USMAPS because people have this pie in the sky seen of what a West Point caddy is, and he’s the all-star captain of the football team, and they’re on all the states and they do all of that stuff. They don’t see themselves as that mold. I think it definitely opens their eyes.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division speak to Command Sgt. West Point Senior Leader Major Jack Love during their visit before the Army vs Rice football game on August 30, 2019, at the US Military Academy in West Point, NY
(Photo by Robert Luna)
Once Soldiers return to their division, even if they don’t end up applying to West Point, the academy still gains an advantage by telling their friends about the program and letting it be known that West Point is an option for Soldiers. in active service. .
Pfc. Abdiel Leon was one of 10 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to visit for the Rice match. Before being invited to the trip, he said he had heard of the previous service program at West Point but knew next to nothing about it. Within a month of being invited, and even before arriving at West Point for the tour, he had done enough research to compel her to go ahead and apply to the academy.
“So far after seeing all the things that I have seen and all the good opportunities and things that I could do here, I will definitely be finishing this app,” Leon said. “I never even thought of West Point. I never even thought I would get the chance. So now that I have had the opportunity to come here, it definitely changed my mind a lot. ”
During the trip, the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division had the chance to spend time with the prior service cadets, to meet with Command Sgt. Major Jack Love, the senior enlisted chef at West Point, and attend a Spirit Dinner in the Cadet Dining Hall in addition to attending the Black Knights season opener.
“I plan to stay in the military for 20 years, and there’s no better place to try and stay than USMA,” said Sgt. Levi Aslani explained why he is interested in West Point. “The connections you make here, the opportunities you create or are offered to you, no other place compares. “
Aslani applied to West Point for the Class of 2023 and after not doing his first try, he is taking this year to improve his application in hopes of being accepted into prep school for the next school year. After visiting West Point for the first time, he said his desire to go to West Point only increased.
“I also partnered with a previous service E-5,” Aslani said. “He was about to stay enlisted or be an officer and he took the officer path and he’s really reaping the benefits.”
The visits are an opportunity for soldiers to meet current cadets who have followed the same path as them and to ask questions that they have not been able to find answers to elsewhere. After being invited to participate in the tour, Pfc. Mackenzie Hochstetler said she spoke with graduating officers from West Point to find out more about the academy. But it wasn’t until she arrived at the academy that she realized why it’s special.
“It’s definitely a place where you see a lot of competitiveness,” said Hochstetler. “A lot of times you don’t really see that in the regular military, but everyone wants to be the best. I think it’s a really cool atmosphere. I think it’s really important, especially being at West Point and that reputation of being a West Point graduate, I kind of understand it now. Because it’s a big deal. It is quite prestigious.
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.