Thursday, 15 March 2001, was a special day for the Corps of Cadets.
The Corps celebrated Founders Day Dinner in the Cadet Mess, recognizing West Point's founding 199 years ago. They also celebrated their upcoming Spring Break, which would start after their last class on Friday, 16 March, and last until 25 March. For the Class of 2004, the Fourth Class, another event occurred which made the day even more special. The Plebes were promoted from cadet private to cadet private first class in an outdoor ceremony just before Founders Day Dinner.
As dusk was falling over the plain, the Corps of Cadets, wearing Full Dress Uniforms, assembled in company formations outside their respective barracks for the promotion ceremony. After accountability was taken, the Battalion S-1s read the promotion orders signed by Cadet First Captain David Uthlaut. The formation was then turned over to the individual company commanders. Headquarters platoons were given "At Ease," while the three line platoons executed "Open Ranks, March." Squad Leaders then walked down the ranks to promote their plebes, handing each plebe a set of US brass, representing cadet private first class rank. This rank is worn on the uniform where the upper-class cadets wear their class shields.
After those plebes being promoted were awarded their new rank, the platoons returned to normal interval and the ceremony was concluded. The upperclassman clapped for the plebes in their company at the end of this simple, yet significant ceremony, before marching in to the mess hall for Founders Day Dinner.
Despite some controversy surrounding the change from Recognition to a Promotion ceremony, the event was well executed by the cadets. The previous Recognition Ceremony at West Point involved upper-class cadets shaking hands with the plebes and exchanging first names. Traditionally held at the end of the academic year, the ceremony had been moved to Spring Break in 1991. This led to a period of several months where the plebes were recognized but still performed plebe duties - an awkward status.
This awkward status led the current Cadet leadership to recommend that the ceremony be changed. This change is in keeping with the Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS), which is the framework for the rank structure, responsibilities, and privileges that each class maintains. CLDS, developed in 1990, places a much greater emphasis on rank between the cadets.
Before CLDS, a more informal structure existed among the cadets with only one major division - that between the three upper-classes and the plebes. CLDS makes a distinction among upper-class cadets, as well, with yearlings acting as junior NCOs (non-commissioned officers), cows are senior NCOs, and the firsties represent cadet officers.
In keeping with the new system, all cadets address each other by rank in public. For example, if a First Class cadet is talking with a Second Class cadet, the firstie will address the cow as "Cadet Sergeant." The Second Class cadet will address the firstie as "Cadet Lieutenant" or "Sir." Similarly, Plebes address upperclassmen by the ranks of Cadet Corporal, Cadet Sergeant, or Cadet Lieutenant.
This policy teaches cadets about professionalism between ranks and the increased responsibilities that come with rank. The problem with recognition at Spring Break was that by allowing a period of time to exist during which plebes could address upper-class cadets by first names, primarily from Spring Break until the start of Cadet Field Training, the return to formalities once Camp Buckner began was confusing (and painful at times) to some.
The goal of the cadet and academy leadership with this change from recognition to a promotion ceremony is an attempt to eliminate such inconsistency. While the traditions of the Recognition ceremony have changed, the attitudes have not. The plebe promotion ceremony is still a time for the upper-class to congratulate the plebes for surviving the last nine months. This promotion also recognizes that there is still a great way to go, and that the plebe relationship with their team leaders and squad leaders will not change much as they transition to greater roles next summer and next year.
With only two months left until graduation and promotion for the rest of the Corps, the light at the end of this tunnel is at least there for everyone to see.
Jackie (Kalata) Whiteside '93
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