WEST POINT, N.Y. (02/18/2011)(readMedia)-- Situated along the Hudson River 50 miles north of New York City sits the oldest of the United States five service academies. The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy.
In the fall of 2010 four Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers entered the academy as freshmen or fourth class cadets. On Reception Day the freshman, plebes, start cadet basic training also known as Beast Barracks, or simply Beast.
Most cadets consider Beast to be their most difficult time at the academy because of the strenuous transition from civilian to military life. However for the Soldiers from Illinois it was somewhat familiar. As Soldiers entering West Point, one of the requirements is that they have already completed basic training.
"It was very rewarding to be able to assist some of the other cadets who had never experienced military life like this," said Cadet John Jordan Leskera of Edwardsville. "In turn, since we have started classes some of those I helped during Beast have in turn helped me with the academic side of things."
As members of the Illinois National Guard, these four Soldiers recently sat down with Maj. Gen. William Enyart of Belleville, the Adjutant General of Illinois, during his visit to West Point Feb. 16. Enyart fielded question from the four cadets after having lunch with more than 4,000 cadets in the academy's dining facility.
The questions centered on the well being of Illinois National Guard Soldiers, more specifically the ones serving overseas in Egypt. Enyart said that while the situation in Egypt has been over the past several weeks, all of the Soldiers serving on the Sinai Peninsula are accounted for and safe.
Cadets Anthony Mendez and Jeffery Perez both of Chicago, told Enyart how they both went to high school together, joined the National Guard, and are now in the same class at West Point.
"The experience here has taught us all so much in the short amount of time we've been here but most of all I think it has matured us faster than if we had gone to any other college, " said Cadet Joseph Cotton of Wayne.
The Illinois National Guard contributed the most cadets to the fall 2010 class than any other Army National Guard in the country. West Point reserves a number of slots each year for National Guard Soldier.
"Having four Illinois National Guard Soldiers in the same class attending West Point is something I've never seen before," said Enyart. "It's quite an honor and such a great program, we need to get the word out about it. "
West Point believes Soldiers enhance the Corps of Cadets, and values the life experiences they have earned as a Soldier, said Maj. Brian Easley, Soldiers admissions officer at West Point. For a Soldier wanting to be an officer in the U.S. Army, West Point will give an excellent education and the training they need to lead Soldiers as they continue to serve, he said.
Soldiers who are serving in an Active Duty, Reserve or National Guard capacity are encouraged to apply to West Point to further their education. West Point is committed to helping qualified Soldiers reach their full potential and secure commissions in the Army, Easley added.
According to Forbes Magazine the United States Military Academy at West Point has repeatedly been one of the nation's top schools, reaching the number one spot in August 2009.
"West Point is again honored and pleased to be selected as one of America's top five best colleges," said West Point Superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon. "It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our exceptional cadets, faculty and staff operating in world-class facilities.
"This excellence, as recognized by Forbes, is a key element in preparing our cadets for the challenges they will face as future Army officers,"
Upon graduation, cadets will be commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army and serve for five years on active duty. During their senior year, cadets find out which specialized field, or branch, they will enter. Both the needs of the Army and individual preferences will be considered.
The Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard all expressed an interest in some day returning to Illinois to serve once again in the Illinois National Guard.