The Future Becomes Known
There was something in the air at West Point last night, and it wasn’t the cold arctic blast that is shattering low-temperature records from the Plains states to the Northeast. It was a swell of excitement mixed with a tinge of anxiety.
“It began at our command meeting on Sunday,” said CDT Mischa Turner ’20. “There were a lot more smiles than usual, and that’s how I could tell everybody was feeling it.”
“It” is Branch Night, the night on which firsties learn the Army branch in which they will be serving for at least the next five years. For many cadets, Branch Night ranks second only to Graduation as the most momentous event in the 47-month experience.
“It is finally our time,” said CDT Mary Kate Beachler ’20. “This is the first time we will have an answer as to what to expect in the near future, the first time we can start to really appreciate what comes after West Point.”
Sure, the Class of 2020 was stoked, but so was the entire Corps. “One thing most people don’t realize is that Branch Night is a Corps-wide event,” said Beachler. “The other classes wait anxiously for Central Guard Room to release the list showing which branches the firsties in their company received, and then they wait in their company hallway to congratulate them enthusiastically when they return from Branch Night festivities.”
Thanks to WPAOG’s 50-Year Affiliation Program, the significance and excitement of Branch Night also extended to the 24 members of the Class of 1970 who were present from the Class of 2020’s 50-year affiliation class, who also took part in Branch Night.
“It means a great deal to me personally, and I believe to the class as a whole, to have this 50-year affiliation with the Class of 2020,” said LTC(R) R. Craig Rutler ’70. “This relationship gives real meaning to the phrase ‘grip hands’ across the Long Gray Line.”
“Having the Class of 1970 present for the Class of 2020’s Branch Night shows that there really is a connection between cadets and ‘the old guys,’” said COL(R) Gary Steele ’70.
Steele and Rutler’s classmate, John Connors ’70, First Captain, 1969-70, addressed the Class of 2020 before they opened the envelopes revealing their branch assignments and a gift of their “first brass” insignia.
“This is the beginning of your professional life,” Connor told the firsties. “Everything you have done and everything you have experienced up to this moment was merely practice.” He also related lessons he learned from his time as a young lieutenant who was given four months to turn around a faltering company in a tank battalion, which he labeled “attention to detail,” “empathy,” and “integrity.” “These lessons are embodied in the Class of 2020’s motto” (“With Vision We Lead”), Connor said. “From your time at West Point, take with you the vision—these lessons—which will make you an effective leader.”
Upon the command of “Don your branch insignia!” the 1,089 firsties packed into Robinson Auditorium for the event tore open their envelopes, and the excitement that preceded Branch Night turned to pandemonium. And why not? Nearly 90 percent of the Class of 2020 received their first choice of branch (96 percent received one of their top 3 choices).
Going in, Beachler, who was hoping to see the crossed flags of the Signal Corps in her envelope, said she would not be upset if she didn’t get her first choice. “No matter what, the experiences you have in the Army are highly influenced by the people you work with and that is not branch specific at all,” she said.
Looking back on his own career, Rutler agreed with Beachler’s assessment about cadets who didn’t get their first choice. “They will all soon come to find out that every branch has an important, mutually supporting role in today’s complex Army organization,” he said.
Furthermore, as Steele noted, no matter what branch they received, they will always have their class. “Branch bonds are not as strong as class bonds,” he said. “Class ties are deep and forever.”
Maybe this is what had the Class of 2020 so excited last night. The reality that they will always have each other and the Long Gray Line supporting them is certainly something to celebrate.