I have this theory that as an OCS or ROTC officer, by the time you make Captain you will have pieced together the major themes of your corresponding year group’s experiences at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve learned more than anyone would ever care to learn about what went on at USMA between 2008-2012, simply by virtue of being around a lot of West Point officers and hearing them recount their stories.
In the wake of the now infamous pillow-fight-gone-viral, I began chiding fellow officers for the behavior of cadets, asking probing questions about what the hell is going on over there. From more than a few officers, I got a response similar to “you should have seen what happened on the night Osama bin Laden was killed.” Talking to them individually, they’d simply say it was a crazy night and there were lots of chants of “U-S-A!” But if there was more than one West Pointer in the room, more of the story came out. It is like a dull aura that lingers between them begins to glow and become alive. They suddenly become nostalgic for their alma mater and they become more animated. One starts telling the story and others jump in, filling out details that are being left out, constantly trying to one up the other with something crazy that happened.
For this particular story, it was a late Sunday evening. Cadets were getting ready for the next day, many of them studying for final exams. The semester was coming to a close. A bunch of them would be commissioning shortly to officially join the Army and contribute their piece to the Global War on Terrorism. Just about everyone who has told me this story takes no responsibility for starting it. As they tell it, they either got a text or call from a friend telling them to come outside or that “something was going on,” or they heard the ruckus outside and went to investigate themselves. Cadets began gathering outside. American flags and chemlights appeared. Impromptu chants of “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” broke out all over the campus.
The cadets made their way as a group to the superintendent’s home, which is located right on campus. The superintendent, mind you, is a 3-star General (Lieutenant General). The cadets cheered (SUUUUPPEEE! SPEEECCCCHH!) and eventually the superintendent emerged, leading the cadets in a chant of “U-S-A!” and a rendition of the ROCKET. A bullhorn is passed up to the superintendent who then goes on to say it is a night to celebrate, but it is also a night to remember those who are still in the fight and all of those who died in the past decade. He then gently urges to the cadets to head back to the barracks to laughs and boos.
A bold cadet shouts “NO SCHOOL TOMORROW!”
Another cadet shouts “FUCK AL-QAEDA!” to the “oohs” and a muffled “too much” from another cadet.
Things are getting out of control. There’s a struggle happening between the senior officers’ desire to allow the cadets to celebrate (and them wanting to celebrate themselves) and measuring the event with a dose of discipline, respect, and maturity.
The night continues to spin. The cadets move about en masse, hurling toilet paper around. Green chemlights are waved and thrown as at a rave. Small fires burn casting an eerie glow over the cadets.
Someone douses a printer in lighter fluid, sets it ablaze, and sends it out a window.
The cadets sing the Star-Spangled Banner.
I imagine classes resumed pretty much as normal the next morning. Such a strange place, where in the evening things can be completely out of control, and the next morning, order and discipline.