Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Making of a West Point Officer – Through the Eyes of a Proud Parent

Over the past few years, my life has been enriched as I have met many men and woman who have been cadets at West Point and then have become distinguished graduates that now populate the fabled “Long Gray Line.” It has only been in a handful of cases that I have also had the chance to come to know the families that spawned these outstanding young leaders. These families serve as the incubators and crucibles in which the formative character traits and leadership skills are forged long before their daughter or son steps foot on campus on R-Day.

In the past few months, I have come to know and to admire Cadet Rajiv Srinivasan, United States Military Class of 2008, and his parents. Born in India, they now make their home a few blocks from my office in Cambridge. I asked Rajiv’s mother, Mrs. Gita Srinivasan, if she would be willing to share with the readers of The White Rhino Report her thoughts on the process of watching her son choose to become an officer in the U.S. Army by pursuing a degree at West Point. I am proud to share with you her observations.

The making of a West Point Officer


Gita Srinivasan

It is that time of the year again. Across the country more than 1.5 million families are making plans to head towards their graduates’ schools. Grand and glorious ceremonies await them as the graduates look to begin the next phase of their lives. Many will continue their journey towards a medical or legal profession; still others will enrich the sciences, while some will begin to move and shake the world of commerce. Such opportunities are often taken for granted in this great country of ours. Privileged are those who have sworn to keep it so; our son, Rajiv, is one of them. Yes, we are the proud family members heading to The United States Military Academy at West Point to see our son receive his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. Each of these graduates has undergone many new experiences and developmental efforts which will shape their attitude, career path & other life choices. This essay is an attempt, from a parent’s point of view, to highlight some of the incredible opportunities that West Point has afforded Rajiv. We have stood by, proudly observing the transition from “Strong” to “Army Strong”

Rajiv was always a self-motivated, academically gifted student who started analyzing college choices early on. West Point was not on his list of potential college choices until his junior year. He had met a recruiter at a National Security summer camp and decided to add it to his list of colleges to visit. We initially had some concerns on hearing this news. We had, of course, heard about West Point, but had no real knowledge of what it was all about; we did not know anyone who had attended. We did not even know anyone serving in the US military, but had heard about the physical rigors of army training and did not think that our son could withstand it. Moreover, Rajiv, per our Hindu religion, was raised as a vegetarian & we were apprehensive on how that would affect the path he had chosen. One visit to West Point, however, alleviated our concerns to a large extent.

We will never forget R-day four years ago, shaking hands with Lt. Gen Lennox, the Superintendent of the Academy. More than a 1000 families from across the country lined up to enter the Eisenhower auditorium. As the batches settled down, we were told to give one last hug to our "cadet" as we would not see him or hear from him for the next several weeks as he went through Cadet Basic Training, commonly referred to as "Beast". An officer gave us a glimpse of what the training entails, while another briefed us on the proper protocol to write to him. Six weeks later on August 15th, we were back at West Point to see a more grown up looking Rajiv officially join the "Long Gray Line" as a Plebe.

Our very own Parents Club of Massachusetts assigned us a mentor who guided us through all the ceremonies and traditions of West Point. There is a bond that is forged amongst the West Point family that is very heartening & comforting. Since we live a relatively short distance away, we always enjoy hosting cadets from around the country & the world. There is something really special about West Point cadets. We, as hosts, enjoy their company as much as they enjoy a break away from the Academy. It is hard to define the appeal - maybe it is their maturity, experiences, and the way they take care of one another.

We were fortunate to be able to visit West Point on numerous occasions such as Parent weekend, 500th day, Ring Ceremony, etc., and to observe the inner workings of West Point. We have met administrators, professors, and friends and were awed at the encouragement & opportunities that are provided to cadets. During one of the functions, they had an open house of all departments. This gave parents & students an opportunity to learn about various career choices in the army. We got to meet our son’s professors and sit with him in some of the classes. It is easy to see why, with experienced professors interacting closely with cadets, the academics here rival some of the ivy leagues.

Rajiv has been able to take up some real world opportunities to further his experience. He has visited the Tunisian Military Academy, served as a Signal Corps Platoon Leader stationed in Korea, and researched the refugee crisis in Jordan. West Point invites celebrities from all walks of life to visit the academy. Our photo albums have been enriched with Rajiv posing with such dignitaries as Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Senator Lugar (IN), Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, & Jon Stewart.

Once Rajiv decided to major in Arabic, he was fortunate enough to have an immersion experience in the Arabic culture with a semester long study abroad program in Cairo. We visited him there & were able to see his progress in Arabic firsthand as he negotiated rates with taxi drivers & camel owners who took us to the pyramids.

The emphasis on physical fitness has enabled Rajiv to try out various outdoor activities that he never enjoyed as a child. He has participated in 3 marathons & a triathlon, tried his hand at skydiving, scuba dived in the Red Sea & Cozumel, backpacked through the Sahara desert, spent a week in Costa Rica surfing & will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro after graduation.

West Point truly prepares Rajiv & other cadets to be great leaders. They have provided the foundations upon which productivity and success are built: discipline, integrity, determination, and creativity.

We are looking forward to the day, 3 weeks from now to see him graduate & be commissioned in the armor branch as a 2nd Lieutenant. Thus Rajiv transitions from being inspired by the family to being the inspiration for this family.

Cadet Rajiv Srinivasan will graduate and will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on May 31. Please keep him and his classmates in your prayers as they prepare to join the line of those defending our freedoms.

Gita, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts. And thanks to you and your husband for raising a fine son who will serve as one of our military leaders.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a West Pointer myself from a much earlier day, I really enjoyed reading Gita's blog. In my day, parents' clubs did not exist, and I think it is marvelous that the families can now be so involved and aware of what their sons and daughters are going through, and to share the experience with other parents.