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Public Affairs : Class of 2013 Branch Night

West Point Class of 2013 receives new insignia at Branch Night

By Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor

As the seats inside Eisenhower Hall Theatre filled with anxious Class of 2013 cadets Nov. 29 awaiting their branch notification, a slide show revealed the numbers.

220 cadets will join the Infantry … 117 are branching Aviation … 148 cadets will receive Field Artillery insignia … 51 are entering the Air Defense Artillery…and so on down the list of 16 Army branches.

All that was left was putting names to those numbers, and for 1,060 cadets Branch Night was the revelation they’ve all been waiting for … for 1,250 days, to be exact. Inside individually sealed manila envelopes, they would see exactly how they’ll be serving six months from now.

“This evening we take one of the final steps of our 47-month journey to becoming officers in the United States Army,” First Captain Brandon Whittington said, addressing his class. “While we now have a new identity, we can all rally together under one unifying fact—we will all be members of the Profession of Arms, charged with the honor and privilege of leading America’s sons and daughters.”

Strong emotions always weigh heavily at this ceremony … from the immediate whoops and cheers that echo throughout the theater to the somber, sometimes silent acceptance of a new reality.

Class of 2013 Cadet Drexel Martin was among the first to burst into euphoria after receiving his top choice of Engineers Corps.

“This means so much, I’m so happy,” Martin said. “The energy of this room is so great, being here with our friends, you can’t beat it.”

Receiving the branch insignia brings about confidence, Martin explained, because the remaining 170-plus days have new focus on his future career. “I’m an engineering major and I love it, so this branch was the natural choice for me,” Martin said.

Martin is one of 127 cadets entering the Corps of Engineers. Class of 2013 Cadet Lauren Heiliger, along with 33 others, will be joining the Ordnance Corps. The wait beforehand was excruciating for many, and although she received her third choice, Heiliger felt good about all her options.

“Over the course of tonight, I felt a little bit at peace that whatever happens will work out and I’d be proud to serve in any branch I was given,” Heiliger said.

Ten members of the Army Football team will become infantry officers, to include Class of 2013 Cadet Nate Combs. The senior linebacker said it was a huge, time-consuming decision to make.

“I’ve been back and forth from quartermaster to infantry, aviation, military intelligence and, ultimately, it came down to what do I want to do for the next five years of my life …,” Combs said. “I really like leading people and I think (being in the infantry) is my best opportunity to do that.”

After most of the cadets exited the theater for further celebration, Class of 2013 Cadet Catherine Clarke-pounder remained, with aisles of empty seats surrounding her. Hunched over, it was hard to tell whether the news was good or bad. In fact, it was good, and she was punching in the text to her parents on a phone.

Clarke-pounder is branching Military Police and admitted having wanted to be a police officer long ago. It wasn’t her first choice, but the margin of satisfaction between that and what she got was miniscule, she said.

“It’s great news,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be a cop in the civilian world, so it really appealed to me doing this in the Army.”

Several members of the Class of 1963—the 50-Year Affiliation Class—were in attendance to share in the celebration with the Class of 2013 and sponsored the event, to include the guest speaker, retired Lt. Gen. Tom Carney.

“There’s really no wrong answer in that envelope, trust me on that,” Carney said. “We in ’63 have watched you all with great pride for three and a quarter years. We’re confident you’re going to do your duty for your country and you’re going to bring honor to your alma mater and the Long Gray Line, no doubt in my mind.”

Class of 2013 cadets shared the news among colleagues following the Branch Night ceremony at Eisenhower Hall Theatre Nov. 29.

At the conclusion of the branch notification ceremony, Class of 2013 cadets found colleagues, tactical officers and instructors to pin on their new branch insignia. Eisenhower Hall Theatre was the site for Branch Night Nov. 29, which is a significant milestone before graduation for these future Army officers.

For 1,060 cadets Branch Night was the revelation they’ve all been waiting for … for 1,250 days, to be exact. Inside individually sealed manila envelopes, they would see exactly how they’ll be serving next year following graduation from the U.S. Military Academy.

Col. Glenn Goldman, Department of Military Instruction director, thanked the Class of 2013 for proving the new branching process successful. Since 1802 the order of merit has been the primary branching solution for every West Point class. Goldman said the Class of 2013 became the pioneers of a new model.

“We sincerely believe the new process will better serve the Army by more accurately aligning the vast and diverse amount of talent we have at this institution with the needs of the Army,” Goldman said.

Goldman said the cadets fully participated in surveys and assessments, while taking advantage of opportunities through mentoring and branch education to make informed decisions unlike their predecessors.

“Additionally, you very carefully considered the external assessment of your talent before making a final branch selection,” Goldman said. “I congratulate you, I salute you and I wish you all the best as you take this very significant step in your path to officership and to the profession of arms.”