"I wept deeply when I signed that resignation letter," said Cadet 1st Class Eric Widmar, who resigned during his plebe [freshman] year to serve a mission in Micronesia. "And I wept [two years later] when I stood at attention again on the Plain [during the Acceptance Day Parade for the new West Point class]," he said. The Plain is the parade field at West Point that has been used since 1802.
There are 20 returned missionaries attending West Point. Another 14 are serving missions and are expected to re-apply. Admission to the academy comes after a rigorous selection process that requires congressional nomination. Appointment is coveted, and for many cadets, the thought of resigning and risking the chance of gaining a second admission is not a pleasant thought.
But the principles of duty and devotion that shape a young man into a successful missionary are the same principles that create a successful soldier, explained Cadet Widmar. Cadets serve missions out of the same sense of duty that is instilled at West Point, he continued. Cadet Widmar struggled with the decision to go on a mission. After months of prayer and soul searching he resigned his appointment to serve a mission. Since returning, he feels he has been able to significantly increase his contribution to the academy and other cadets.
He graduated in May in the top 10 percent of his class as cadet captain, having received his parachutist and air assault wings. He also served as the LDSSA president in the West Point Branch. Maj. Brett Barraclough, West Point Branch president and assistant professor of civil and mechanical engineering, knows firsthand the struggles of deciding to resign an appointment, and the added value a returned missionary offers the academy.
As a graduate of the class of 1986, Brother Barraclough and five other cadets decided to serve missions after their second year at the academy. It was a trial of faith, since prior to their resignation, only six cadets had left to serve missions and then returned to graduate. "It's heart-wrenching to leave," said Brother Barraclough, who served in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission. "But when you pray and get an answer, that's the moment of truth. You have to put your trust in the Lord."
Benjamin Richards, a recently returned missionary from the Canada Vancouver
Mission where he taught in the Chinese community,
Since returning, Cadet Richards served as a squad leader during this past summer for cadet basic training and taught new cadets how to survive the rigors of West Point. "When I pray," Cadet Richards said, "I sincerely thank the Lord that I was able to serve a mission."
missionaries are not obligated to return to the academy, but if they choose
to re-apply and are accepted, they are subject to the same strenuous acceptance
process they endured as incoming freshmen.
tons from being a cadet," said junior Tom O'Loughlin from Moberly, Mo.,
who returned in May 1997 after serving in the Guatemala Guatemala City
South Mission following his plebe year. "West Point teaches a lot about
honor and sacrifice. On my mission, I learned that sacrifice is very important."
Cadet O'Loughlin learned that missionary work continued after returning
to the academy where LDS cadets are
is a lot of opportunity to share the gospel in the military," he said.
"Everyone here knows who the LDS guys are," Cadet Richards added. "And
they respect us." "There were many situations where I
was able to give a good example to my teammates on the football field,"
said Wes McDonald who served in the Brazil Curitiba Mission and, who, at
265 pounds, played football for the academy before graduating last
June. "Several thanked me for the language I used," he said. "Being
a cadet makes young men better missionaries," Brother Barraclough said,