A Conversation With West Point’s Associate Dean for Strategy and Initiatives

By Joshua Kim

Chris Mayer is an Associate Dean for Strategy and Initiatives, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a colonel in the US Army. I first ran across Chris on his active Twitter feed @ChrisMayer_WP. Chris generously offered to answer my questions about academic life within the military, his thoughts on COVID-19 and the academy, and the future of higher education. Please note that the views expressed in this article are Chris Mayer’s and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

Q1: I’d like to start by trying to understand the world of the US service academies. These include West Point (where you are) and the four other academies for the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. Can you provide insights into where the service academies fit into the broader postsecondary ecosystem, and maybe some points of distinction and differentiation?

Service academies have the mission of developing and graduating leaders of character to serve as officers in their respective services. The United States Military Academy’s (West Point) graduates are commissioned as Army officers, United States Naval Academy graduates as Naval officers, United States Air Force Academy graduates as Air Force officers, United States Coast Guard graduates as Coast Guard officers, and United States Merchant Marine Academy graduates become licensed Merchant Marine officers or commissioned officers in the Armed Forces. Students at service academies do not pay tuition or room or board, but they do have a service obligation once they graduate (West Point graduates have a five-year active duty service obligation).


West Point General Pledges to Take Action on Allegations of Racism by Former Cadets

The superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point said this week that he has started to take action about allegations of racism at the historic institution.

Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams told an audience at a discussion on race hosted by the Association of the United States Army Wednesday that he takes it very seriously that former West Point graduates described personal experiences with racism. A number of West Point alums came to the school June 25 with a 40-page proposal to create an “Anti-Racist West Point.”

“I directed my inspector general to do a formal investigation; he has a report out to me, and we are going through the process of it,” Williams said. “It’s an investigation, so I have to be careful about commenting on it, but we took that and are taking it on and looking at it in a very deliberate way.”


Reilly McGinnis Selected First Captain

By West Point Public Affairs – August 4, 2020


WEST POINT, N.Y. – Cadet Reilly McGinnis of Macungie, Pa., has been selected First Captain of the U.S. Military Academy’s Corps of Cadets for the 2020-2021 academic year, achieving the highest position in the cadet chain of command. She will assume her duties on Aug. 10.

Most recently, McGinnis, an Operations Research major, led 1,300 cadets as the Regimental Commander of Cadet Leader Development.

As First Captain, she is responsible for the overall performance of the approximately 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. Her duties also include implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between the Corps and the administration.

“I first heard about West Point in my sophomore year of high school when I started getting recruited by the Army Women’s Soccer team. After visiting the Academy, interacting with cadets and faculty, and speaking with my grandfather, who served in the Korean War, I knew West Point was where I belonged. The greatest lesson I have learned at West Point is that a person’s success is not solely based on self-achievement, but rather what that person can do to help and influence those around her.”

McGinnis’s cadetship includes various activities and accomplishments, such as being a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the Phi Mu Epsilon National Honorary Mathematics Society. She was also a member of the Army Women’s Soccer Team from 2017-2019 and currently serves as a Young Life leader for O’Neill High School.

See the entire list of Class of 2021 Leadership Positions at:

Soldier convicted of negligent homicide for crash that killed Morgan

An Army soldier involved in a military vehicle crash in June 2019, killing Cadet Christopher “CJ” Morgan and injuring others, was sentenced to three years of confinement after being convicted of negligent homicide, The New York Times reported on July 21. Staff Sgt. Ladonies P. Strong was driving the truck that overturned near West Point; she was also convicted of prevention of authorized seizure of property and was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless operation of a vehicle and two counts of dereliction of duty.

The case was tried in front of a military panel in Fort Stewart, Ga., where Strong’s unit of the 3rd Infantry Division is based. Strong will also receive a bad conduct discharge, according to The New York Times. The 3rd Infantry Division did not respond to a request for comment by press time on Aug. 4.

Morgan, who would have graduated from the military academy this year, was a West Orange High School graduate. A member of the wrestling and football teams at WOHS, he was also on the West Point wrestling team.


A different glance from tradition, but experiencing R-Day is still same beast

Traditionally, when a new class of cadets arrives at West Point, more than 1,200 individuals come through the gates on a Monday during Reception Day and begin the process of their 47-month journey. This year, as seen a month ago with the graduation of the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2020, traditions have taken a backseat to a new practice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic running rampant through the United States.

Consequently, as the initial 1,238 new cadets’ streamed into the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School to begin their in-processing as the USMA Class of 2024, it also included R-Day being stretched out over three days instead of one. More than 400 new cadets arrived each day Sunday through Tuesday (July 12-14) with the Oath Ceremony taking place on The Plain Wednesday (July 15).

Generally, new cadets would arrive at Eisenhower Hall, however, USMAPS was used this year as an initial entry point. This allowed for screening each new cadet for COVID-19 and also kept a buffer zone from Central Area, the new cadets’ living area, to make sure they were COVID-19 negative before they began receiving their initial equipment issue, getting sized for their uniforms, receiving haircuts and assimilating into their Cadet Basic Training company under the cadet cadre’s guidance.


West Point Class of 2024 arrives amid coronavirus concerns, with COVID cases

WEST POINT – Four of the cadet candidates who arrived on campus at the United States Military Academy on Sunday to begin cadet basic training tested positive for COVID-19 and will spend their first weeks either in isolation or quarantine on campus.

Lt. Col. Robert Kinney confirmed Monday that the four cadet candidates, who were screened as part of their reception day on Sunday, will be isolated for 10 days or quarantined for 14 days on campus while their classmates begin their West Point careers with four weeks of cadet basic training.

Asked Monday if there were more cases, the public affairs office declined to state a number. Answering for the office, spokeswoman Cheryl Boujnida wrote: “Less than 1% of the cadets have tested positive. Those who tested positive were immediately moved into isolation and will participate in Cadet Basic Training tasks virtually until they can rejoin the group.”

Boujnida said the rapid test is administered by a nose swab and processed by a diagnostic device on campus. While awaiting results, which take two to three hours, the new cadets are socially distanced and required to wear a mask.


New West Point cadets arriving for Reception Day tested for COVID-19 amid pandemic

WEST POINT, N.Y. — New cadet candidates arriving at the U.S. Military Academy on Monday were promptly tested for COVID-19, stood at attention in face masks and were given shouted orders to wash their hands.

The transition from civilian to West Point cadet is different for the Class of 2024 as the academy adapts to the pandemic, starting with Reception Day, or R-Day.

Reception Day still ushers in an intense period of training that introduces new arrivals to the rigors of cadet life. But this year, older cadets barked orders through face masks. New cadets will still have to endure the weeks of drills, marches and exertions of Cadet Basic Training, unofficially known as “Beast Barracks.” But that training will be two weeks shorter this year.

“I know that it’s shorter, but I trust it will be the same experience overall. I’ll still get to know all my classmates,” said Justin Suess of Batavia, Illinois. “I am prepared. I’ve been exercising hard.”


Plans in place to safely welcome Class of 2020 back to West Point

WEST POINT, NY — After Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, announced March 19 that the Corps of Cadets would not be returning from spring break as planned, academy leadership immediately began planning how and when cadets would arrive back at West Point.

That plan will go into effect Tuesday as the first members of the Class of 2020 return to West Point to begin outprocessing prior to their graduation ceremony June 13.

The cadets are currently spread throughout the country but they have to return to the academy before beginning their Army careers. At the bare-minimum, cadets need to move out of their rooms in the barracks and pickup their cars if they didn’t take them home for spring break. The future second lieutenants are also required to outprocess from the academy before moving on to the Army. Many of the outprocessing steps require cadets to be in person at West Point such as medical screenings, closing accounts and returning ID cards.

Because the return of the cadets was necessary, a planning group quickly began working out the details of how it would be accomplished in the middle of a pandemic. Lt. Col. George Mitroka, who oversaw the planning process, said the development of the plan to bring back the Class of 2020 began with representatives from throughout the academy coming together before a whiteboard. They then began brainstorming each step of the process that would be required for the cadets to return to the academy safely.


Army Defends Decision to Have West Point Graduation

The Army’s top leaders are defending their decision to bring 1,000 cadets back to the Military Academy at West Point for graduation, where President Donald Trump is slated to speak.

he Army’s top leaders on Thursday defended their decision to bring 1,000 cadets back to the Military Academy at West Point for graduation, where President Donald Trump is slated to speak, saying that despite the coronovirus risk students would have had to return anyway to prepare for their next duty assignment.

The announcement has been criticized as a political move to get Trump on stage at the academy, where he hasn’t yet given a graduation address. But Army officials said the students must return for final medical checks, equipment and training.

“We can’t telecommute to combat,” Gen. James McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, told Pentagon reporters when asked about the decision, which forces cadets spread out across the U.S. to travel, risking exposure on public transportation, and then land in New York, a coronavirus hot spot.

Cadets have been home since spring break in March, with their return to school delayed because of the outbreak. Only the seniors will return, and the graduation is set for June 13.


West Point plans to mass test and soft quarantine cadets coming back to graduate

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, intends to test all cadets returning to graduate in June for the novel coronavirus using two new GeneXpert devices procured after the academy established a planning group in mid-March to determine how the process would work.

The return will be similar to how the Army has been bringing new recruits into basic training, according to a West Point spokesman. The planning group has also received input from Training and Doctrine Command on that process.

Cadets will return to campus in small, staggered groups. They’ll be paced in hard structures in the summer training area and wait there for tests results to come back, which should be the same day the swab is taken.

“If they come back clean, they’ll come on campus to their dorm room, and we’re calling it a soft quarantine,” said West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt.

“They won’t be moving in big groups and having formations,” he added, saying that it’s still yet to be determined what that soft quarantine will entail because of constant updates to Center for Disease Control and Army guidance.

West Point also outfitted its hospital, which had an out-patient focus with an ER and elective surgeries before the pandemic, with a new intensive care unit that includes six ventilators if necessary. There were no ventilators there before.

President Donald Trump has been expected to speak at the graduation ceremony, though the pandemic left it unclear whether the ceremony would happen at all.

The New York Times reported Friday that the president’s announcement at a news conference that he was still attending the graduation caught West Point officials off-guard, though the Times noted that planning had already been underway even if it had not been announced. Cadets have also always known that returning to West Point would have to happen in some manner, said Ophardt.


USMA Superintendent’s Memo to The Corps:


Trump says he’ll deliver West Point commencement address – amid social distancing

President Trump said Friday he intends to deliver the commencement address this year at the U.S. Military Academy, according to reports.

The graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 23 at the academy in West Point, N.Y., though whether that date will hold was uncertain because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Nevertheless, the president said social distancing practices will be in place when the event is held.

“They’ll have some big distance, so it will be very different than it ever looked,” the president said, according to The Hill. “Do I like the look? No, I don’t. And eventually, next year, they’ll have a commencement like it’s been.”