DIVERSITY

DIVERSITY

I beg you to indulge me one more time about West Point. 

(Yes… I know I have been bragging a lot about our daughter, but stay with me one more time.  There are lessons to be learned.)

During the weekend leading up to R-Day at West Point, Sandy and I took Chaney on a river cruise up and down the Hudson.  Apparently there were a few other families of incoming cadets who figured they would do the same thing.

As soon as we boarded the paddle wheeler, the new cadets started recognizing the “cut of each other’s jib.”  Soon enough, five of the new cadets had met and were getting to know one another.

There was, of course, Chaney, a solid football player from Mississippi, another football player from Alabama, a wrestler from Hawaii, and a female cheerleader from Iowa.

In addition to the gender diversity between them (Chaney and the cheerleader were female), there was also racial diversity… Alabama was black, Iowa was white, Mississippi was white and Hawaii, like Chaney, was mixed race, half white… half asian.

There was also geographic diversity among these kids, a small subset from the 1200 who would be swearing in the next day came from all over the country. 

Then there were the similarities…

They were all ridiculously good looking… I mean uncomfortably, amazingly, central-casting good looking.

They were also mind bogglingly polite.  The cadets came up to Sandy and me and introduced themselves calling us sir and ma’am.   (Yes… for those of you who were wondering, all had a firm handshake.)

Also, they were all patriots.  They saw their upcoming military service as a commitment that needs to be filled to our country.

Mind you… these kids are just that… kids.

What they didn’t see amongst themselves at all were differences in race or gender.  Those differences were irrelevant to these new comrades in arms.  All they could see were new brothers and sisters.

(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)

At 0800 we were all mustered in Eisenhower Hall.  The new cadets sat nervously between their parents as a COL approached the microphone.  He welcomed us all to West Point and instructed the new cadets they had 60 seconds to say goodbye to their parents.  They were then ushered out of the hall and onto their 47-month “experience” in leadership.  The parents were left to mill around West Point during the day and attempt to catch glimpses of their children being processed into West Point.

All of their backgrounds, their histories, their individual cultures were now being supplanted by a new culture, one that unites all of the corps of cadets.  They are Americans first… make no mistake about that… (well, except for the foreign military cadets who are also being trained)…but, second to that, is a unique culture that binds them all into a single tribe, regardless of the tribe from which they originally came.

At 1530 the parents were organized back into Eisenhower Hall.  This time we had the distinct pleasure of being addressed by Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, Superintendent of the USMA.  Lt. Gen. Williams, himself a West Point graduate, said something very, very important:

“Your children are here because they are patriots, because they have a passion to defend the Constitution of the United States.  We will teach them how to fight… but, more importantly, we will teach them how to win.  The United States will not tolerate a military that loses.”

Wow!

He also went on to explain the unique diversity of the incoming cadets.  Of the 1200 or so admitted cadets, 285 were female.  Then, of course, there was the breakdown of whites, blacks, asians, hispanics.  (Interestingly…. this incoming class has the largest hispanic population in West Point’s history.)

That all being said, the diversity, while “interesting,” is essentially insignificant.  The corps of cadets gathers its strength first through the common culture of excellence and leadership of character.  That culture is strengthened and buttressed by the tangential cultures from which it draws.

The cadet from Newport Beach may have very little in common with the cadet from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma… Up-bringing, and perhaps race, are completely different, yet through the crucible of West Point, they will become brothers and sisters in arms.  Their perspectives will become part of the whole… and, as such, their strengths will become the force multiplier. 

This is what our nation does best.

We must never forget that.  Europe has spent a millennia maintaining a balkanized approach to inclusion.  They fought thousands of minor real estate skirmishes and two world wars because of it. 

We rejected that notion after the Civil War, and we must continue to forcefully reject it.

Of concern… existential concern… is our dangerous flirtation with tribalism based on community membership.  Our individual backgrounds give color to the tapestry… but each thread must be uniquely and unequivocally American.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly! I see my daughter, a petty officer 2d class in the Navy, and watch her interaction with the other sailors from her ship. They are color blind. They are, instead, bound fast by the commitment they made to the Country, to the Navy and to each other. She is planning to re-enlist while on deployment. I am so profoundly proud of her commitment and dedication. In spite of the current culture and political climate, I see glimpses in this milenial (?) generation of the character necessary to keep this country strong. I only fear that those glimpses are too few and far between. Thank you for your blogs.

  2. You are correct Steve. Ascribing personal attributes and assuming collective thought based on ethnicity and/or geography has no place in these United States. Yes, we know there will be different experiences, languages, religions, and even visual differences but all of that must melt together in the crucible that is this county and warmed by the constitution that allows us to mix without losing our individuality.

    By the way, based on your recommendation, I read Washington’s Crossing. Wow, what a great historical work. It made me feel a bit insignificant when I compare my life’s experiences to the sacrifices made by those who fought for the birth of this country. I learned a deep appreciation for the men and women who put their whole lives, families, and properties on the line. I also now appreciate even more the brilliance of those skeptical men who came up with the plan to unite 13 colonies under management of the population rather than a monarchy.

  3. Congratulations to you and your family. There is no doubt that Chaney’s acceptance was a team effort by your family. She now takes on the
    Individual challenges associated with being a cadet, and it appears your input has made her fully qualified. Cheerleading from afar is not particularly fun, but badly needed. Good luck!

  4. Congratulations again to you as you embark on this journey. Only 1,200 freshmen world wide are experiencing the privilege Chaney has earned, The Point! Revel in it, enjoy it, share it with those in your sphere. Very few will ever live this opportunity. The rest of us are delighted to learn what we can vicariously through your adventure!

  5. Hi Steve and Sandy
    Thanks for taking time to share these experiences!! Enjoy reading about your daughter and wonder how you came up with her name!!
    Priscilla Chaney Selman

  6. Despite being retired Navy I am very proud of your daughter and for you and your family. The undertaking that Chaney is taking on is both grueling and arduous. I worry about the direction that both the nation and the military is heading. This is not the US that I grew up in nor is this the military that I served in. I fear that we have lost our moral compass. I hope that the Service Academies can set a new course to lead the military back on a proper path.

  7. I got goose bumps reading this..

  8. Steve–your words were so well regarded by this grad of many years ago (I was Class of 58). I am delighted your daughter was accepted and can undertake this wonderful challenge and opportunity to serve. You captured the true essence of West Point’s mission, and also the most clear and sensible concept of diversity in our Armed Forces. Thank you for writing this piece. I have shared it with some of my classmates. Best wishes for your daughter’s success and kudos again to you for such clarity about our national spirit. Bob Dey

  9. Steve-
    Bob Dey, a classmate, company mate and fast friend of many years, passed your words along to me and I was delighted to read them. I would attest that no one could have better expressed the approval and pride we share in this wonderful nation and its military service. Best of luck to Chaney and thank you for your summary on REAL Diversity…at its best.

  10. As a West Point graduate of the Class of 1958 ( long time ago) I was pleased and proud to read your comments. It is good to know that, although the Military Academy continuously changes to mantain academic currency, the values of Duty,Honor, Country remain the same. West Point is tough, but so is the battlefield.
    I hope your daughter has a great four years and serves her country well.
    Ramon A Nadal

  11. Your final ending sentence says it all.

  12. Steve I am sure you and Sandy are very proud of Chaney and look forward to her graduation from West Point. Being from a family of military, grandfather WWII, dad USAF Retired Maj and myself USNavy the military teaches discipline and the will to win against all odds. There is no diversity in the trenches we are all brothers and sisters. May the Lord bless Chaney and give her wisdom of commanding fortitude. Keep the blogs coming they are always a pleasure to read and give a big hearty hello to the Artemis Team I miss you all.

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