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Summer Camp for a Cow PDF Print E-mail
Written by A. Zander, VP Smallbore, WP Dad   
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 19:19

West Point Cadets are not referred to as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors. Rather they are called fourth class (Plebes), third class (Yearlings), second class (Cows), and first class (Firsties). Some of the origins for these class names are known. For example, Plebeians were the lower class of ancient Roman society, while Yearling is a euphemism for a year-old animal. The origin of “Cow” is less known with a number of theories as to how it started; but the most prevalent one is that cadets in years past had no leave until they were finished being a Yearling, at which time they were granted a summer-long furlough. Their return as second classmen was heralded as "the cows coming home."

Today, no such leave is granted for Cows, since their training and/or assigned detail take them through the summer. Cows take on the responsibility of training the unknowing new cadets during Cadet Basic Training, in order to ready them for Plebe year. Cows also work with Yearlings that are undergoing Cadet Field Training. The opportunities for Military Individual Advanced Training are also available for Cows. Air Assault Training, Airborne School, Cadet Leadership Development Training (CLDT), Sapper School, Combat Diver’s School are some of what is offered to Cows.

ISRPA member Kevin Zander became a Cow in May of this year. Finishing as a Yearling, he worked to fill the summer schedule with training opportunities. His first choice was Sapper School. The Army only makes three openings available to West Point cadets, so the competition is at a high level. Approximately 50 cadets tried out in February for the three available spots. After two days of the physically demanding try out, Kevin placed 4th (dang…missed it by one). Although disappointed, the plan is to try again next year. After consulting with his TAC Officer, Kevin looked to what else was available. The assignment was determined to be CLDT with the 5th Special Forces at Fort Campbell, KY, also home to the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne. This was actually great news for his parents, because that put him within driving range. With assurance that leave would be granted, plans were made for a weekend visit. Upon arrival we visited the museum at Fort Campbell. I particularly enjoyed the display honoring Mrs. Anna Mabry Barr (a.k.a. “Stockade Annie”). I recommend searching the internet to read more of her fascinating and inspiring story as a supporter of our troops.

A nearby trip to Nashville, TN was very enjoyable, but the best times were spent visiting, particularly over meals. During one such occasion, I learned more about CLDT, specifically with respect to 5th Special Forces. Parts of it truly sounded like “summer camp” as there was time spent learning to bridle, saddle and ride a horse. Additionally, cadets learned how to evaluate the health, age and fitness of a horse. This was interesting to me as I understood West Point discontinued horsemanship training in 1946. Ten years later, the structure that housed the old riding arena at West Point was converted to an academic building (now Thayer Hall). I later discovered that horsemanship is still a vital part of training for the 5th Special Forces out of Fort Campbell. They provided the team of Green Berets that entered Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Their critical mission was to synchronize tribal warfare against Taliban and al Qaeda enemies. This could only be done by riding (on horseback) alongside rival Northern Alliance warlords. This Special Forces Operation, in the steep mountain terrain of Afghanistan, was America’s response as a result of 9/11. There is a bronze statue of the modern day horse solder, as created by the artist Douwe Blumberg, which is dedicated to their mission and service. It is on display near the 9/11 memorial at ground zero in lower Manhattan.

As this summer drew to a close, so did CLDT at Fort Campbell. The Cows all load up for a long bus ride back to West Point to prepare for the upcoming academic year. One of the noteworthy events for Cows is the Affirmation Ceremony, which occurs the evening before the first day of classes. This ceremony is where the Class of 2014 makes a formal commitment to finish the remaining two years at the USMA and subsequently serve on active duty as a commissioned officer in the United States Army. A short video of the formal ceremony can be viewed on YouTube. What an inspiring way to spend the summer!