West Point A-Day 2015

Finally! Acceptance Day (A-Day) is highly anticipated by new cadets and families alike; I know I’ve been laser-focused on it since we dropped Matthew off on June 29th. A-Day falls approximately 7 weeks after Reception Day (R-Day) and offers one dramatic event: the Acceptance Day Parade when over 1,200 new cadets are offically accepted into the Corps of Cadets.

New cadets waiting to be accepted into the Corps of Cadets

After 6 weeks of intense cadet basic training (CBT) and another week of moving barracks, settling in with new roommates, and starting the transition to the academic year, Acceptance Day weekend also provides cadets a much-needed break from West Point and the cadet cadre. This article was written by a West Point parent and provides a helpful, concise overview of the A-Day experience. Our weekend was similar, but different in a few key ways.

The cell phone: A-Day fell on Saturday August 15th this year so March Back started in the wee hours of Monday August 10th. Incredibly, we received our first text message from Matthew Monday evening. Backing up two months: When Matthew was packing for West Point, he was a stickler about the issued “required” and “recommended” list. There’s a wealth of advice online, but Matthew refused it all. If it wasn’t listed, he wouldn’t take it. His one hesitation was the cell phone and he ultimately decided to report with it on R-Day and hope it wouldn’t get him in too much trouble. It was a non-issue and the best decision! On R-Day, Matthew simply handed over his “not allowed” items (a cell phone, charger, and contacts). They were stored during CBT and returned after March Back. Since Matthew had completely powered down the phone, it had some charge when he turned it back on.

Matthew reunited with his cell phone :)

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see Matthew’s smiling face on Monday evening when we FaceTimed with him for a few minutes as he was settling into his room. Yikes! Matthew has four people squished into a 2-person room. Things are tight while a new barracks is being built and many have three to a room, but Matthew somehow ended up with four. Apparently they’ve now been told that one can move out, but no one wants to expend the energy.

When to arrive: Of the 8 people in our group headed to A-Day, only Chris and I had been to West Point before. While there would have been ample time to wander around post with Matthew on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, Matthew made it clear that he wanted to get away and stay away for as long as possible. We planned our arrival for mid-day on Friday, and earlier in the week I made reservations for a one-hour bus tour of West Point. We arrived at about 1:30 for a 2:30 tour which gave an hour to explore the visitor center and museum. We had time for the museum's highlights, but could have spent another hour there.

Checking out the West Point Museum

The bus tour was interesting and informative and we stopped and walked around both the Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point. We were texting Matthew the whole time since he thought he might be able to cross paths with us on the tour. August is high-tourist season at West Point; with the constant stream of buses, Matthew knew exactly where we’d stop. He said he wouldn’t be able to speak with us, but could do a walk-by. Alas it didn’t pan out, but it was fun trying to coordinate!

The West Point Cadet Chapel

After the tour, we drove to the West Point Club for the parent’s reception. We made name tags and wandered around, but it was such a crush of people it seemed an impossible task to locate the few people we had met on R-Day. Incredibly, we ran into another Oregon parent while in a never-ending line for drinks. And when we bailed on that line and went to the downstairs bar hoping for better luck, we met the parents of one of Matthew’s buddies from Oregon Boys State. After the reception, we showed our IDs and were able to walk along Thayer road, pop into Grant Hall, and wander the academic area. It wasn’t nearly as in-depth as an admissions tour or the tour Matthew could have given us, but still nice to see more of campus.

Battle Monument at Trophy Point

Where to stay: Aaaargh! This was such a source of frustration! I’d read repeatedly that the cadets would be very tired and just want to get away to a private space where they can relax. Back in April, I booked a few rooms at the Homewood Suites in New Windsor but in June, we received an official directive stating that plebes would have to stay within the walking privileges area. Of course by this time almost everything in that tight area was booked, but I was able to cobble together a few rooms at a motel and one larger room at the Bear Mountain Inn - not ideal by any stretch, but passable. Then in July the West Point parent coordinator clarified that no, the earlier directive was misleading. If cadets are with a person over 18, they can travel up to 75 miles away. Sigh. If hotels were pretty well booked in June, they were completely full in July. I cast my net wider and lucked out with Air BnB. I was able to rent a house in New Windsor that was just 20 minutes from West Point, roomy enough for our group, and cheaper than the hotels would have been. The house didn’t live up to expectations (it was cluttered and needed some TLC), but in hindsight, I should have started with the house option. The big kitchen, dining room and family room were perfect for cooking favorite snacks, playing games, and hanging out. Matthew also appreciated having a quiet bedroom down the hall. He couldn’t spend the night with us and returned to the barracks by midnight Saturday, but we picked him up again Sunday morning at 5:30am. He fell asleep in the car on the way to the house, stumbled to the bed, and crashed again for 4 hours. Afterwards he said it was such a relief to sleep in a bed, under the covers, and to feel free to move around when sleeping. Crazy! West Point has strict standards for room inspection and most cadets leave their beds made perfectly and sleep on top.

Matthew's tidy bed

What to do: We left the planning up to Matthew and he asked to hang out at the house as much as possible, eat out for dinner, and go shopping for school/room supplies. On Friday night, we’d gone to the Newburgh Brewing Company and loved the building, setting, live music, and food, but felt it wasn’t a good choice with Matthew - it was so loud we had to practically yell to be heard. Instead, we opted to try the pizza at Marcelino’s. We enjoyed dinner but the highlight was our server. She took our drink order and then struck up a conversation with Matthew. Within minutes, she had given him her contact info and told him to stop by the post commissary to say hi (she worked there as well) and to give her a call if he ever needed to get away and have a home-cooked meal. Matthew already applied for a sponsor, but he was very appreciative to have another!

A-Day Logistics: I hesitated about our arrival time on Saturday. The parade started at 10am and I’d read that we should arrive by 8am. Really? That early? I hemmed and hawed but the group agreed we should be conservative and we were out the door by 7:30am. We were all a bit worried about the wait at the gate after our experience Friday when we inched along as each vehicle was stopped for an ID check and trunk inspection. While the A-Day line was longer, we moved more quickly since most cars moved through with a simple ID check. We passed through the gate just after 8am, and snagged the last few parking spots in a lot near the parade field. As for seating, there was still plenty of space in the stands and we staked out seats for 8, but within an hour things were tight. Seating was available in the stands to the side, but people were out of luck if they wanted to be front and center for the parade. Since we arrived so early, three of us stayed to hold seats while the others walked up to explore the cemetery.

Exploring the West Point cemetery

It was a beautiful day but hot when the sun poked through the light cloud cover and we were grateful for our backpack loaded with water, snacks and sunblock. The binoculars also came in handy to get a nice close-up of Matthew as he marched by!  We were in perfect position to keep an eye on him.

Matthew marching in the West Point Acceptance Day parade

This is another key coordinating point: Cadets transition to new companies for the academic year. Matthew called us earlier in the week with his company assignment (D–3) and we checked the online map posted on the West Point parent’s page to determine where to sit.

Matthew marching with his new Company in the West Point Acceptance Day parade

He also decided we’d meet at the Battle Monument at Trophy Point after the parade. I was afraid it would be a madhouse and impossible to find him, but not so. The parade ended at 11am and we waited for just 30 minutes. It was pleasant in the shade and heartwarming to watch the joyous reunions. Matthew had his cellphone and we had a heads up when he was headed our way.

Cadet Brooks!

After greetings, hugs and pictures, we walked a bit to meet up with a friend and former squad-mate of Matthew’s who needed a ride to the Garrison train station. We were on the road by noon and treasured the ride to the station. It was such a treat to hear the two of them talk and to get another window into Matthew’s new world.

The whole gang, just before we whisked Matthew away from West Point for the afternoon

One final thought on logistics: Matthew had to be back in barracks by 1:00am Sunday morning. He did not want to risk being late, so chose to leave the house by 11:20pm and enter by the Thayer Gate. Although the Stony Lonesome Gate was closer to us, the Thayer Gate was closer to his barracks. Matthew figured if the cars were too backed up and he was short on time, he could hop out and walk/run the rest of the way. It wasn’t an issue, but still solid thinking. We dropped Matthew at the turnaround in front of admissions and picked him up at the same place a few hours later. It was a zoo both times. While there is a turnaround, it is tight to begin with and becomes a parking lot with stopped cars waiting for cadets to appear. When dropping Matthew the final time at about 5:45pm Sunday, we entered through the Thayer Gate, but continued on Cullum Road to the parking lot behind the parade field. Much better! It provides much more space to park and wait, the same walking distance for Matthew, and less chance of getting trapped.

What to bring: We brought food and drinks to have at the house, but Matthew also asked for comfortable clothes in case he could wear them in the house, as well as the extra contacts and toiletries he’d left behind. As mentioned above, a backpack with water, snacks, sunblock and binoculars was helpful for th A-Day parade.  Matthew’s birthday fell during CBT, so we brought presents and decorations and I’d arranged for a cake from Oh Soooo Sweet. They are located right on post, and were kind enough to meet us at the West Point Club after the parent’s reception.

Matthew's birthday cake, tricked out by Uncle Mike with Dragoons (D Company's mascot) and a Navy figurine (Mike was a Naval officer). Hey Mike - Go Army, Beat Navy!

I had also baked a few of Matthew’s favorite treats, and he certainly appreciated them, but didn’t eat nearly as much as I expected. By the time we got Matthew on Saturday, he said he was kind of overloaded on candy and cookies! Turns out each plebe is assigned to a yuk (a sophomore) who will be their guide and mentor for the year. Each yuk is graded based on the performance of their plebe, so they are very invested in their plebe’s success and well-being. From what we’ve heard, most yuks are kind and helpful and many provided boodle. In addition to treats, Matthew’s yuk walked him through each step of the transition to academic year, from getting new gear to finding classrooms. This was reassuring to hear and highlighted yet another way that West Point is committed to helping every cadet succeed.

As I said earlier, we dropped Matthew at 5:45pm Sunday, but Chris and I kind of just stood around by the MacArthur statue for another 15 minutes. It was hard to leave and I was pretty emotional even through the next day. I delighted in the whole visit and soaked Matthew in, but it was difficult to see him grow quiet and more serious as the visit drew to a close. We’ve all been there - it’s tough to face real life when vacation ends - but for me, it was also a bittersweet foreshadowing of life to come. Matthew has chosen a path which affords little free time (even in the summer) and our visits will be few and far between. I am so very proud of him, but dang it, the schedule is hard. Matthew lay heavy on my mind all day Monday, but he texted and asked to FaceTime Monday evening. It was a delight to see his smiling face and to laugh at his roommates’ antics in the background. It’s just a couple months until parent’s weekend - can’t wait!