The Wait is Over! (OK, Not Yet)
Everyone familiar with the Army knows and understands the phrase, “Hurry up and wait.” The phrase aptly applies to Branch Night at West Point. After four years of learning about the 17 branches of the U.S. Army through initiatives surrounding the Branch Education and Mentorship Program (e.g. Branch Week, military instruction courses, summer training, etc.), members of the Class of 2016 packed the orchestra level of Eisenhower Hall by company to learn of their future officer identity in the Army.
“I am pretty anxious,” said Justin Hawkins ’16, who was hoping to see the crossed sabers of the Armor branch waiting for him in his envelope. “It’s the waiting that is making me nervous.”
Catherine Browning ’16 also admitted some nervousness but said that she and her companymates were generally excited to receive their envelopes and learn of the insignia inside. “We can’t wait to know what we’ll be doing for the next five to eight years,” she said.
Before receiving the envelopes that contained their fates in the form of “first brass” branch insignia, the firsties heard some words of wisdom from LTG (R) Freddy McFarren from the Class of 1966, the Class of 2016’s 50-Year Affiliation Class. “I am excited about your branch selection, but I am more excited about the fact that in a few months you will be leading, coaching, teaching, and mentoring our country’s most important resource: the young men and women of the Armed Forces,” he said. “Whether you stay in for a few years or make a career of the service, you will have many wonderful memories of your dealings with American Soldiers.” McFarren then provided a list of all the non-commissioned officers with whom he served during his 37-year career. “I mention all these magnificent leaders hoping you understand how significant they were to me and that someday you will have these same cherished memories.”
LTC (R) Bill Traubel ’66 is another 50-Year affiliate who has been sharing his memories and experiences of West Point with the members of the Class of 2016 since their R-Day in 2012. One of his stories involves his own Branch Night. “Talk about waiting,” he said, “ours was a mystery that unfolded in some 570 steps back then,” referring to the process in which each cadet got up in turn by general order of merit and selected a spot in one of the five branches available at that time (Armor, Artillery, Engineers, Infantry, and Signal Corps). “And we didn’t have pizza and branch swag given to us afterwards either,” Traubel said.
But it wasn’t the promise of food or gifts from their new branch that had the firsties rhythmically chanting, “Open it! Open it!” after they received their envelopes from their TACs. They were just tired of waiting! So much so that when COL Jonathan Neumann ’89, Director of the Department of Military Instruction, reminded the members of the Class of 2016 to stay in their seats until the conclusion of the playing of the Army song, the cadets uncharacteristically emitted a collective groan.
Once the order to open the envelopes was given, frustration turned to elation. And why not? Seventy-three percent of the Class of 2016 received their top branch choice, and a whopping ninety-five percent received one of their top-five branch selections (see complete branch allocations below). For those cadets in the minority, Traubel offered the following advice: “You came to West Point to serve your country and the Army, and no matter to which branch you were assigned, you will still be doing that upon Graduation.”
(Graduation? That is 184-and-a-butt days away! More waiting…)
Branch Results for the Class of 2016
Air Defense – 49
Adjutant General – 30
Armor – 76
Aviation – 80
Chemical – 13
Cyber – 15
Engineers – 127
Field Artillery – 139
Finance – 7
Infantry – 200
Military Intelligence – 69
Military Police – 20
Medical Services – 20
Ordnance – 39
Quartermaster – 25
Signal Corps – 47
Transportation – 27
TOTAL – 983
**(95 cadets were branch detailed from Adjutant General , Finance , Military Intelligence , and Signal Corps  into Infantry , Armor , Field Artillery , and Chemical ).