West Point’s Comprehensive Character Development System

Category: Philanthropy & Donor Profiles
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SCPME Pioneers the First Character AIAD

West Point is implementing a Comprehensive Character Development System for cadets within the William E. Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic (SCPME). West Point’s increased emphasis on character development will ensure all graduates develop the moral leadership necessary to build cohesive teams and ethically accomplish the mission. SCPME is an essential resource for the Academy in this endeavor by providing character development expertise and supporting the character integration effort across the Academy.

Last summer, SCPME proudly pioneered the very first Character Academic Individual Advanced Development (AIAD) experience. Cadets went to Washington, DC where they engaged in discussions about honor and character. This groundbreaking initiative reflects the Academy’s commitment to holistic education, shaping not only the minds but also the character of our leaders. The success of the inaugural Character AIAD will pave the way for more innovative programs to come, ensuring cadets have access to a variety of character experiences. Character AIADs provide a unique platform for cadets to interact with experts, community members, members of the Long Gray Line, and practitioners who embody and promote ethical and honorable leadership. Through these conversations, the cadets gain valuable insights and develop a deeper understanding of the importance of honor and character in their future military careers. Some stops on the Washington, DC visit included Georgetown University, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Museums, and the National Museum of the U.S. Army.

“The Character AIAD this past summer really helped me tie together the ethical standards of our profession with those which our nation was founded upon” said then-Cadet Captain Tanner Thornton ’24, Brigade Honor Education Officer. He continued, “Values are what unite us, they are our strength. Without taking the time to deliberately reflect on them, we can get swept away by the struggles and stressors of life. The Character AIAD however, provided that time to reflect and learn about not only what makes our country so great but provided me the perspective necessary to inspire the Corps as a member of the Cadet Honor Committee this year.” The Academy hopes to fund at least 10 cadets each summer to participate in Character AIADs to share best practices, help build a strong bench of character experts among the Corps of Cadets, and contribute to various Margin of Excellence opportunities related to character development.

“The Character AIAD this past summer really helped me tie together the ethical standards of our profession with those which our nation was founded upon.”

–Then-Cadet Captain Tanner Thornton ’24, Brigade Honor Education Officer

Future Character AIADs would offer cadets a unique opportunity to observe and implement concepts relevant to their ongoing character development activities and education over several weeks during a summer internship. This program would align cadets with leading experts in character formation and development to broaden cadets’ perspectives and provide them with practical advanced education related to their responsibilities at USMA and as future leaders for the military. Character AIADs would contribute to expanding the Academy’s understanding of character and further develop our leaders to confront the character-related challenges of the 21st century. These AIADs would also focus on expanding the research and educating select cadets on character development, character assessment methods, positive psychology, resiliency, honor codes and systems, trust formation, and inclusive environments. This summer SCPME will host two Character AIADs, building upon last year’s successes with an expanded opportunity in Washington DC, titled “Character in the Profession,” as well as the first overseas AIAD titled “Moral Leadership and Officership,” where cadets will visit Normandy, Flanders Fields, Bastogne, and Brussels to enhance experiential learning and reflection, specifically focused on character development and Officership.

To learn more about the Character AIAD need in the West Point Ready Campaign, please contact Courtney Schacht at courtney.schacht@wpaog.org.

Learn more about MX400, the Superintendent’s capstone course. With its emphasis on each officer’s duty to provide moral leadership, MX400 challenges cadets to become commissioned leaders of character who demonstrate virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination to civilian authority.

Your Impact on the Character Experience

Briana Peoples ’24
Saratoga Battlefield Character retreat

Then-Cadet Briana Peoples ’24 recognized the significance of character development within the Corps of Cadets. Alongside her peers, she participated in the annual Saratoga Battlefield Character retreat, a trip section organized by the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic (SCPME).

The purpose of this retreat is to engage in experiential learning and reflection, specifically targeting character development. It offers an opportunity to explore the Profession of Arms through a battlefield case study, focusing on “The Battle of Saratoga,” as well as drawing from cadets’ own experiences.

This year, the retreat itinerary included a guided tour of the Saratoga Battlefield, where cadets learned about combat tactics and discussed the pivotal role leaders play both tactically and culturally. Following this, a 3.5-mile hike—conducted in the pouring rain for extra character development and shared hardship—emphasized the physical aspect of character growth. This underscored the importance of continually nurturing a leadership mindset and the ability to motivate others in demanding physical situations.

Throughout the retreat, cadets are encouraged to reflect on their performance, identify areas for improvement, and grasp the importance of good character in leadership. At West Point, character development encompasses five dimensions—moral, civic, performance, social, and leadership—which are integrated into the Character Development System. These dimensions aid in translating character traits into actionable behaviors and provide a framework for assessing character progression.

Building a culture of character within the Corps requires teamwork, but despite the challenges, preparing West Point graduates for an unpredictable and complex future is an achievable goal. SCPME has a vision to offer future retreats to expand their focus to include moral, civic, performance, social, and/or leadership facets of character.

Peoples reflected, “This trip section was honestly one of the best I have had the pleasure of participating in and hit the nail on showcasing the importance of cultivating a culture of character. I am truly grateful for this opportunity and will draw upon these lessons learned as I embark on my career in the military.”

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