Branch Night
November 16, 2003
Branching statistics for the Class of 2004

It was held this past Sunday evening-perhaps the first on Sunday ever-and the cadets were in battle dress uniform (BDUs) following a lecture on the importance of maintaining an appreciation for the military ethos in the current world situation by the Chief of Staff of the Army, but otherwise it was a typical Branch Night in the Eisenhower Hall auditorium.

The cadets of the graduating class already were seated from the earlier lecture, during which the importance of language training and knowledge of other cultures also was stressed, so there was no hurried and somewhat anticipatory march on. The remarks by the Supe, the Com and the Cadet First Captain were shorter due to the late hour (originally scheduled for 1900 hours-7 pm-it was about 9 pm before things really got started).

Small, thick envelopes were passed out by cadet company representatives, holding the insignia of the branch of the Army that would provide initial training and assignments for the next several years. Carefully padded, it was impossible to tell by touch the shape of the collar brass within. For a few, the envelope would include two insignia-one for their assigned branch and one for the branch to which they would be detailed for the first two or three years. For fewer still, the packet would contain Air Force or Marine Corps brass-if they had a significant tie to the other service prior to becoming cadets. Yes, West Point has graduated at least one Navy admiral and one in the Coast Guard as well.

The brass in the envelopes is a gift from the graduated members of the Long Gray Line as represented by the Association of Graduates and is one of a number of small gifts presented to each class at various stages in their cadet careers-including a set of second lieutenant bars bestowed at Graduation by representatives of the West Point class that graduated fifty years earlier.

Soon the moment arrived when permission to open the envelopes was granted. Many, many cries of joy were tempered by a few sighs of resigned acceptance. The vast majority of cadets received one of their first two choices. In the past, the Corps of Engineers was coveted by many cadets, and those spaces went out early. In the dark ages of posted order of merit prior to computer-aided everything, the number of positions available in each branch was posted on a blackboard or, later, on the slide of an overhead projector. The cadets stood up in order of merit and announced their branch selection from among those available. Each time a branch was selected, the number of slots available in that particular branch was reduced by one, and the next cadet in order of merit made his (there were no hers then) choice. The choices were limited, too. Only the five combat arms-Infantry, Armor, Engineer, Field Artillery, and Signal Corps-were available. Needless to say, the highest ranking cadets had five choices, while the class goat normally was limited to a single option. Now, through the marvels of modern technology, everything is done by computers, and the results are known to a few officers on the staff and faculty-sworn to secrecy-somewhat in advance.

While it does not diminish the importance of the event, it does significantly reduce the inherent nail-biting drama. Will the first man in the class make the obvious choice of Engineers-or will he make a statement by choosing the "no time for glory" of the Infantry or the "combat arm of decision" ethos of the Armor? What branch will the First Captain pick? How many Air Force fighter pilots hopefuls will get to fly instead of pound the ground? After all, West Point provided pilots for the Army Air Corps for decades, essentially functioning as the Air Force Academy does today, and retained a number of Air Force slots during the transition in the sixties. How soon will the Artillery run out? What branch will run out last?

Now, of course, the choices truly are daunting. Most every branch has some slots available, including Finance and the Adjutant General Corps, although the combat arms still receive the lion's share of newly-minted West Point lieutenants. A few may even have medical school in their future. Still others are bound for Oxford or other prestigious graduate schools-some after a brief stop at their basic branch course. This year, 200 members of the class will journey to Ft. Benning, GA, to join the Queen of Battle, the Infantry, while 119 will become Field Artillerymen, another 107 Army Aviators, 106 will learn tanks in the Armor, 105 will study Combat Engineering (secondary mission; to fight as Infantry), and 90 will join Military Intelligence (although 39 of these will be detailed to Armor, Infantry and other combat arms initially). The Signal Corps claimed 49 (although 19 will be detailed elsewhere initially), 46 chose Air Defense Artillery, 19 went Transportation Corps, and 18 each selected Military Police, Quartermaster and the Medical Corps (for medical school). Seventeen opted for Ordnance, ten each chose the Adjutant General Corps and the Medical Service Corps, nine went Chemical, and seven selected Finance.

All in all, a quite respectable showing for a class graduating into the Global War on Terrorism. Lots of infantry, tankers and artillerymen plus intelligence officers, Apache pilots, satellite communications types and other support.

Thanks to Gray-Matter and J. Phoenix, Esquire for permission to reprint this account and the Clifton family for their photos

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