Sunday and Monday, I participated as an “Old Grad” in the Beast Barracks march back. Cadet basic training, or Beast Barracks, ends at Camp Buckner on the West Point reservation and culminates with a 12.2 mile ruck sack road march over steep and rocky hills to the West Point main campus. This has been going on since time immemorial; although, Beast when i was a cadet ended at Lake Frederick, nearby, rather than Camp Buckner. What is relatively new is that the Academy encourages a bunch of Old Grads to participate each year to strengthen the new cadet’s connection to the “Long Gray Line.”
For the “Old Grads,” the march back began with a briefing by the Commandant of Cadets and the senior summer cadet leadership about all of cadet summer training. I will admit that when I heard about Cadet Field Training (the summer between Plebe and Yearling years) being shortened, I thought that was a mistake. During the briefing, however, the told us that in fact those missing three weeks have been replaced with a different three week Cadet Leader Development Training, which is a three-week, Ranger school-like tactical leadership course between Cow and Firstie summers. I think it was a good trade, and cadet summer military training is strong.
We Old Grads slept in Barth Hall at Camp Buckner on cots. Lights out was 2200, and wake up was 0300.
The night before the march back, the new cadets got to relax a bit with a talent show and the unveiling of their class motto. The talent show included a new cadet playing the bagpipes while another new cadet engaged in River Dance style dancing, a new cadet doing tricks on his yo-yo, several singers and musicians, and even a Best Barracks rap act. During the summer, the new cadets in the class of 2018 had nominated and voted on their class motto. At the end of the show, the final result was unveiled, and while it doesn’t rhyme, it is quite good: “So Freedom Will Reign.”
The march back begin Monday at 0230 for the new cadets and at 0300 for the old grads. We linked up at the parade ground at Camp Buckner with the companies to which we had been assigned. My son was in G Company, so I was able to march with his platoon. That was doubly good, because not only did I get to march with him, but since his company was determined to be the best at Beast Barracks, his platoon was first in the order of march. We reached the half way rest stop before the last company stepped off from the starting point.
A relatively new tradition is to honor a recently fallen West Point graduate by naming the new cadet regiment as Task Force ___. The class of 2019 was Task Force del Castillo, named after a recent graduate killed in Afghanistan. Widow del Castillo marched with our platoon — several months pregnant — and Tommy had a chance to talk to her.
The ski slope marked the final rest point before the march onto post where the rest of the corps and a strong of spectators awaited our arrival. The chaplain’s office provided ice pops to the cadets and new cadets.
Except for a little more illumination during the first — and hardest — three miles of the march, we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. It was 63 degrees with moderate humidity. Despite arthritis and a recent knee surgery, my knees held up fine for the march.
This was an excellent event. I am very glad I was able to participate in this with Tom. We had a chance to talk a little on the march and a little more during the rest at the ski slope to wait for all the companies to arrive before the final two miles to West Point. He is doing well and seems it really good spirits.
See this little movie of Tom’s company marching onto West Point.