Dan Rather Reports Episode Number: 221 Episode Title: West Point at War Description: Cadets learn about "duty, honor, and country" while preparing to lead troops in a hostile world. TEASE: DAN RATHER (VOICE OVER) TONIGHT: WEST POINT AT WAR; THE ―LONG GRAY LINE.‖ FOR MORE THAN 200 YEARS, CADETS HAVE BALANCED MILITARY TRAINING WITH THE RIGORS OF THE CLASSROOM. GENERAL PATRICK FINNEGAN, BRIGADIER GENERAL AND ACADEMIC DEAN OF THE ACADEMY AT WEST POINT The nation that makes a great distinction betweens its warriors and its scholars will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. So you have to train warriors in ways other than just fighting a war. RATHER (VOICE OVER) THE FIRST CAPTAIN: THE HIGHEST-RANKING CADET AND HIS SOLEMN RESPONSIBILITIES. RATHER When someone from west point is killed in combat you announce that, do you? JON NIELSEN, FIRST CAPTAIN That's correct. That's probably the worst part of my job. This year alone there’s been - I made 16 of those announcements. RATHER (VOICEOVER) AND, A SNEAK PEEK AT THE INCOMING CLASS OF 2011. CODY KOPOWSKI, CLASS OF 2011 Battalion! MORGHAN MCALENY, CADET I don't look at it as a sacrifice. I look at it as something that I as an individual need to do. I want to give back to my community, to my family, to my friends and this is how I feel that I can thank them for that, is by going to West Point. RATHER (VOICEOVER) AN HOUR OF THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF WEST POINT. LEADING CADET Left turn. March! RATHER (VOICEOVER) AND THE DREAMS AND FEARS OF ITS CADETS ON DAN RATHER REPORTS. WEST POINT AT WAR: RATHER (ON CAMERA) TONIGHT WE COME TO YOU FROM A LUSH BLUFF ON A WESTERN POINT ALONG THE HUDSON RIVER. THIS HISTORY-STEEPED GEOGRAPHY HAS GAINED WORLDWIDE FAME. FOR THIS IS WEST POINT. RATHER (VOICE OVER) HOME, SINCE 1802, TO THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY. ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND, THE CLASS OF 2007 TOOK THEIR PLACE AS THE LASTEST MEMBERS OF WHAT IS KNOWN AS ―THE LONG GRAY LINE.‖ GRADUATES OF WEST POINT THAT HAVE INCLUDED FUTURE GENERALS, ASTRONAUTS, PRESIDENTS AND ENGINEERS. RATHER (ON CAMERA) BUT THESE CADETS ENTERED THIS ACADEMIC CITADEL ON A HILL AFTER THE UNITED STATES HAD ENTERED IRAQ. RATHER (VOICE OVER) MOST OF THEM WILL BE HEADING INTO COMBAT SOON, AND MANY KNOW GRAUDATES FROM PREVIOUS CLASSES WHO HAVE PAID THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE FOR THEIR COUNTRY. THESE ARE THE CADETS AT WEST POINT. MOST OF THEM WERE TEENAGERS ON 9/11, THEIR ENTIRE ACADEMIC CAREER HERE HAS BEEN SHROUDED IN WAR. BUT BEHIND THE STOIC STONE WALLS AND STARCHED GREY UNIFORMS, ARE SONS AND DAUGHTERS, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, ALL WHO CHOSE TO BE HERE AND ALL WHO KNOW WELL THAT THEY SOON MAY BE EXCHANGING THEIR BOOKS FOR A DEADLY BATTLEFIELD. CADET MARY ERIN BOYLE IS IN THIS YEAR’S GRADUATING CLASS. MARY ERIN BOYLE, GRADUATING CADET I just finished my last final exam. It's been a wonderful four years. I'm really excited about the life that I've chosen. RATHER (VOICE OVER) CADET KRYSTA CASS HAS JUST FINISHED HER FRESHMAN OR ―PLEBE‖ YEAR. KRYSTA CASS, CADET You really realize that this place is, it's more than West Point. It's more than academy. You're part of something bigger. RATHER (VOICE OVER) AND, AT 23, SAM AIDOO IS A COMBAT VETERAN WITH TIME IN BOTH IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN. SAM AIDOO, COMBAT VETERAN It's completely different when you know that someone out there is trying to kill you. Where here - somewhere out there, someone out there is trying to fail me. RATHER (VOICE OVER) BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK FINNEGAN IS A WEST POINT GRADUATE AND ACADEMIC DEAN OF THE ACADEMY. HE KNOWS THE DANGERS HIS CADETS WILL FACE ON THE BATTLEFIELD AND HOPES TO BALANCE WHAT THEY LEARN HERE WITH WHAT THEY MIGHT ENCOUNTER IN COMBAT ZONES. FINNEGAN Every cadet takes 30 courses. And they're roughly split between humanities and math, science and engineering for army officers and for leaders of the future, they need to have that basis of knowledge in a wide range of areas. RATHER What about someone who could be saying, ―hey, wait a minute, west point, i want them training warriors. I don’t want any of this soft stuff, sociology, political science, that stuff if for other schools, but not for west point.‖ FINNEGAN I have a great answer to that, and it comes from one of my favorite quotes from the philosopher Thucydides who said, "The nation that makes a great distinction between its warriors and its scholars will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools." So you have to train warriors in ways other than just fighting a war. There is no doubt in the world that right now we have the fiercest, strongest, most powerful army in the history of the world. But it's also clear that force alone is not enough. We've seen that in Iraq and Afghanistan—that the application of force is not necessarily the only thing that is going to win these battles and these wars that we're fighting. RATHER (VOICEOVER) SO THEY ENCOURAGE CADETS, LIKE BOYLE, TO SPEND SOME SEMESTERS OVERSEAS, AND TO HONE UP ON FOREIGN LANGUAGE SKILLS. RATHER And when did you start studying Chinese? BOYLE My sophomore year at West Point. My yearling year. RATHER Do you consider yourself fluent in Chinese? BOYLE No, I'm not quite fluent. I'd say that I'm conversational. I could probably have this conversation in Chinese. RATHER Well let the record show I could not. RATHER (VOICE OVER) BOYLE ATTENDED THE CHINESE MILITARY ACADEMY FOR A SHORT PERIOD, WHICH OPENED HER EYES TO A NEW CULTURE—ONE THAT WAS NOT USED TO A FEMALE AMONG THE RANKS. BOYLE It's kind of an interesting situation for everyone, because you know I brought women into their ranks. You know, living with them. It's the first time. They don't have women marching in their ranks with them. So it was pretty interesting, doing training with them. So that was a great opportunity. RATHER (VOICE OVER) HER FOUR YEARS HAVE NOT BEEN A CAKEWALK. ON TOP OF BEING A DIVISION ONE SOCCER PLAYER, AND HER TRAVELS, SHE’S ENDURED THE ACADEMIC RIGORS THAT ARE REQUIRED AT WEST POINT. RATHER You had Physics? BOYLE Yes, sir. RATHER Chemistry? BOYLE Yes, sir. RATHER Calculus? BOYLE Yes, sir. Statistics. RATHER And Civil Engineering? BOYLE Yes sir. All cadets are required to do a civil - or excuse me, an engineering track. I chose civil engineering. RATHER Civil engineering, physics, chemistry, calculus, Chinese, and you go abroad. How do you do it all? BOYLE I think that the program here is intended to be intense. The rigors of our academics, the military program, the physical program. I think the biggest thing we learn here is how to manage our time. But I definitely think that there's value in that intense schedule. RATHER (VOICE OVER) CADET KRYSTA CASS WASN’T SO SURE. RATHER Why did you come here? KRYSTA CASS, CADET You know, I think that's a question that plagues every cadet here at one point or another in their life. I mean, when Saturday night comes along and all your friends at home are kind of talking about what they're doing that night, and you know, you're sitting in your room shining your shoes or studying or preparing for what you're doing the next day, or maybe, just maybe, if you can, catching up on the numerous amount of time you - or the hours that you've missed sleeping, you kind of question like you know, why am I here? RATHER (VOICEOVER) SHE ADMITS THE RIGORS OF WEST POINT WERE MORE THAN SHE PREPARED FOR. CASS I think the biggest problem was that I just didn't know if this was the place for me. I mean, it was so hard, dealing with everybody, all the rules and regulations. I mean you're told this is what you have to wear and you have to get up at this time. You need to go run. You need to go do PT. You need to do this, you need to do that. I mean, you no longer have your own choice. You're told what to do and just the idea that I didn't have that independence, I didn't think that I wanted to be here. RATHER Did you ever think about leaving? CASS To be honest, I did. Last semester it got really hard for me being away from my friends and family. And I just questioned whether or not this was what I was supposed to do with my life. RATHER (VOICEOVER) THE HUDSON RIVER BENDS AROUND THE GROUNDS OF WEST POINT LIKE A CRADLE. IT IS HERE THAT CADET CASS FOUND HER RESOLVE. CASS When I was thinking that I didn't really like being here last year, I guess it was because I didn't find my social group of people yet. And so the girls that I'm on the crew team with are absolutely amazing. I feel like I haven't - I don't know them - my entire life. But I feel like I have. They're literally my sisters now. RATHER (VOICEOVER) THE ―PLEBE,‖ OR FRESHMAN, YEAR AT WEST POINT IS THE TOUGHEST. OVER THE COURSE OF FOUR YEARS, TWENTY PERCENT OF CADETS WILL DROP OUT. THE VAST MAJORITY OF THOSE WILL BE IN THE FIRST YEAR WHERE THE ―WEST POINT EXPERIENCE‖ PRESENTS THEM WITH SOME OF THEIR TOUGHEST CHALLENGES. CASS Like our survival swimming, they call it ―plebe drowning‖ you take your plebe year. You don't just swim. They throw you in there. And the waves are going. The lights are out. There's smoke all over the place. And on top of that you have a rifle in your hands and an LBE, which is just the belt around your waist. RATHER I don’t think I could do that. CASS I'm sure you could. We could do a try. RATHER (VOICE OVER) THIS SUMMER, CASS WILL TAKE CLASSES IN THE LAW OF WAR, THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS AND MILITARY CONDUCT IN WAR, THE ETHOS OF THE U.S. ARMY. BUT SHE WILL ALSO UNDERGO TRAINING THAT SHOWS WHAT LIFE IN A BATTLE ZONE COULD BE. FINNEGAN We have young teenagers who throw rocks at them. Now they're tennis balls that look like rocks, but they are pretend rocks and they throw them at them and we say, "How do you respond to this?" We put them through those scenarios where they are either going to fire their weapon or not fire their weapon. And then afterwards, we talk to them about what they've done. It's an application that they may use in the field later on. COL. MARITZA RYAN, HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LAW AT WEST POINT Because of that special position of trust and responsibility that they will have as officers serving this great democracy, we think it's absolutely vital for them to have a good grasp of what the constitution that they are serving really means. RATHER (VOICE OVER) COL. MARITZA RYAN IS THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LAW AT WEST POINT. SHE SAYS THEY ARE BUILDING A NEW CENTER FOCUSING SPECIFICALLY ON THE LAW OF ARMED CONFLICT IN ORDER TO HELP CADETS DEAL WITH SOME OF THE RECENT INCIDENT THAT HAVE TARNISHED THE IMAGE OF THE MILITARY. RATHER Put Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay in perspective for me. They read the papers. What do you tell them. RYAN Oh we discuss those fully. And we look and see how they occurred, why they occurred. And really, I think those and other incidents - in what we call the global war on terror- really highlight the importance of compliance with the law of war, or the law of armed conflict, with understanding what our responsibilities are under that scheme of law and especially for our junior officers who are gonna be out there really at the ground level leading soldiers, an I think these incidents highlight what happens when the law of armed conflict is not followed. RATHER What’s wrong with taking the gloves off? RYAN I say I absolutely oppose that viewpoint. I think the experience of the French in Algiers shows that that approach ultimately does not work. It may work, I suppose for some other country but I have still yet to see it. It won't work for the United States. RATHER (VOICE OVER) CADET SAMUEL AIDOO IS ONE OF SEVERAL CADETS HERE WHO DOESN’T HAVE TO WONDER WHAT A COMBAT ZONE IS LIKE. HE’S BEEN THERE, HE’S DONE IT, IN BOTH IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN. HE’S HAPPY RIGHT NOW THAT THE ONLY BOMBSHELL HE MIGHT HAVE TO DEAL WITH IS A SURPRISE EXAM. RATHER How is it different from this stress of going our on night patrol? SAM AIDOO It's a lot more relaxed here. You're not worried about your life. Where out there you're constantly worried about your life. RATHER (VOICE OVER) AIDOO WAS IN IRAQ DURING THE INITIAL INVASION. HE KNOWS ALL TOO WELL THE PLACES THESE CADETS MAY GO, AND THE DEADLY SITUATIONS IN WHICH THEY MIGHT FIND THEMSELVES. AIDOO When we took over Haditha Dam, at the time, it was the biggest battlefield, or the biggest battle in Iraq. RATHER What was the tactical situation there? AIDOO We were concerned that they might, they might blow up the dam in order to stop motor vehicles, our vehicles, from getting into Baghdad. So we went there to secure it. And that's what we did. RATHER What was the pucker factor there? SAM AIDOO Lots of ah, lots of explosions, lots of RPGs. As soon as we got in there it was fighting from the beginning. RATHER (VOICE OVER) HIS EXPERIENCE IS NOT LOST ON THE CADETS. AIDOO When they do ask questions about the military, I can't get frustrated because I'm asking them questions about academic things that may seem… RATHER How to pass chemistry for example. AIDOO Exactly. Which may seem simple to them, but not to me so. RATHER Do they talk to you much about your combat experiences? AIDOO They do. They're curious about that. Just as curious as I am about chemistry for the most part. RATHER What kinds of questions do they ask you about combat? AIDOO Have I killed anybody. What is, what is combat like. What does it feel like when you - oh when you first - the first time that you get shot at. And things like that. RATHER When you were in Iraq—one soldier’s opinion—did you think that was still doable? AIDOO At the time I felt like it was doable—as far as I was concerned, we were overturning ah, overturning the government, taking Saddam out of power. And we were definitely—were definitely doing that. RATHER (VOICE OVER) WHEN AIDOO WAS THE AGE THAT MOST OF THESE CADETS ARE NOW, HE SAYS HE WASN’T AFRAID THEN AND THAT HE WAS FIGHTING A WAR THAT HE THOUGHT COULD BE WON. STARTING WITH AFGHANISTAN. RATHER At the time that you were in Afghanistan, you thought the war was winnable. You know that the mission could be accomplished. AIDOO Uh-huh. RATHER Thought it was doable. RATHER (VOICE OVER) BUT NOW HE HAS THE HINDSIGHT OF A WARRIOR. RATHER You’ve had time to think about it. Do you still think it is? AIDOO Afghanistan? Definitely. RATHER Iraq? AIDOO I don't know. I'm not sure. RATHER Oh. AIDOO It's looking a little sketchy. RATHER (VOICE OVER) IT IS LIKELY THAT ALMOST EVERY ONE OF THE 978 WEST POINT GRADUATES WILL FIND THEMSELVES IN IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN WITHIN A YEAR. GENERAL FINNEGAN HOPES TO GET THEM THINKING BEYOND THE WAR. ONE OF THE COURSES OFFERED AT WEST POINT NOW IS CALLED ―WINNING THE PEACE.‖ FINNEGAN You have to understand what comes after the fighting has stopped. I mean, we took down Saddam's army in a course of a very few short weeks. And that was clearly not the end of things. If we had focused a little more on what came next for our army and for our nation, we probably would have been more successful. RATHER When you see these cadets on parade do you or do you not think about-- they're going into situations nearly impossible. Chaos. It's viciousness. It's a kill or be killed environment. Are we asking too much of these young people who go out of here at what, age 22, 23 on average? RYAN We are asking a great deal of them. Do I think they're up to it? Yes, I do. And I think Douglas Macarthur said it best, way back when, when he was talking about the role, the continuing role, of West Point in producing these leaders for the country: "In the best of times and in the worst of times." And I think that that's what we are engaged in right now. And that's why every day when we come in to work, we certainly bear in mind the risks, the challenges that these young people are gonna face when they leave. And we are highly motivated to prepare them so that they can handle those challenges and conquer those challenges when they leave here. RATHER (VOICEOVER) MEALTIME RUSH IN THE MESS HALL IS GENERALLY NOT A PLACE FOR REFLECTION EXCEPT ON THOSE MORNINGS WHEN THE ANNOUNCEMENT INCLUDES THE NAMES OF WEST POINT GRADUATES WHO HAVE RECENTLY BEEN KILLED IN ACTION. CASS The entire core, they understand and they know what's coming when they can hear the inflection in the First Captain's voice. The entire room gets to a somber silence. It's already silent. But you feel it. You feel the silence this time. RATHER (VOICE OVER) MORE THAN 50 NAMES HAVE BEEN READ SO FAR, CADET CASS SAYS ONE OF THOSE NAMES WAS THAT OF A FEMALE. CASS It really hit me hard just a female here. And I-- I just thought about it was like, "Wow, you know, people are dying. It's something that we are gonna have to face in the future." RATHER What’s going through your mind when they make those announcements? AIDOO I just wish this mission was-- good. Or this war could be won faster. It-- it's just selfish. Selfish thoughts of mine. I wish-- I wish-- you know, war-- war didn't cost as much as it does. FINNEGAN The most important thing about West Point is the cadets, the young men and women who are here. If you want to have a sense of optimism about where this country is going, where this army is going, talk to cadets. They are-- they're wonderful people, they care about this nation, they care about leading, they care about what we're doing as an army, what we're doing as a country. BOYLE I think that when I think about the war the most you know I came to West Point at a time when we were at war. I mostly think about the soldiers that I'm going to lead, and I think about my preparation for that. I don't really think about myself. I think about what I need to do, so that I can serve them. RATHER As someone looking at you, and I mean this in no patronizing way, I look at you and I'm going to say, "what a beautiful, intelligent, young woman, but is she ready for combat?" BOYLE Sir, don't let that fool you. I'm tough. RATHER (VOICE OVER) UP NEXT, A CLOSER LOOK AT THAT TOUGHNESS. RATHER (ON CAMERA) THERE IS A SPECIAL, SOLITARY PLACE OF HONOR AT WEST POINT. IT’S CALLED FIRST CAPTAIN – THE HIGHEST RANK IN THE CORPS OF CADETS. RATHER (VOICE OVER) Every year, a single senior is chosen based on excellence in academics, athletics, leadership, and honor. He, or she, becomes a leader amongst leaders. RATHER (ON CAMERA) Future generals - Pershing, Macarthur, and Westmoreland - all were First Captains. And we found the First Captain for the class of 2007 acutely aware of the history and solemn responsibilities of his post. RATHER And what's this up here? JON NIELSEN, FIRST CAPTAIN The wall of all the former First Captains. And you'll even see this is Pershing barracks. And if you look at that far left column, John J. Pershing, 1886, is on there. You tend to forget, General Macarthur, General Patton, General Eisenhower, all those notable military figures, walked this very same walk out here. RATHER (VOICE OVER) SMALL-TOWN NEBRASKA NATIVE JON NIELSEN IS OLDER THAN MANY OF HIS CLASSMATES - COMING TO WEST POINT AFTER AN ENLISTMENT IN THE ARMY. AS FIRST CAPTAIN, HE IS LIKE A STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT - ALBEIT WITH SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITIES. RATHER It’s an honor to be the First Captain. NIELSEN It is. It's been an honor. RATHER But it carries with it responsibilities. NIELSEN Very much so. It's not really so much something you're going to get out of it as much as what you can give for other people. DAN RATHER (VOICE OVER) NIELSON, SELECTED FOR HIS PROVEN LEADERSHIP OVER FOUR YEARS, IS THE LIAISON BETWEEN THE 4,000 CADETS AND WEST POINT'S ADMINISTRATION. RATHER True or untrue, that every graduate of West Point dreams some day of being flag rank, being a general? NIELSEN Uh, I would say untrue. RATHER Do you dream of that? NIELSEN No, not necessarily at all. Right now my current dream is to be a good lieutenant. I think if you're a good lieutenant, you’ll- hopefully you'll be a good captain. And then a good major and so on and so forth. I don't think anyone leaves here and says, "Thirty years from now, I'll be a pretty good two-star general." RATHER AN ECONOMICS MAJOR, NIELSEN SAYS IT IS CHALLENGING BEING SURROUNDED BY A STUDENT-BODY FULL OF OVER-ACHIEVERS. NIELSEN I think it's a humbling experience for a lot of people. You bring a lot of very gifted and very intelligent and very athletic individuals into an environment that they're not comfortable with. Compared to your peers, relative, that might be going to U-Penn or Harvard or Yale, that may go out every night or do whatever they want. Some folks that don't have a holistic view, don't see that you know, maybe I'm not going out Monday through Friday, but I'm actually getting a better deal than my buddies at Harvard or Yale. RATHER But do you think something terrible has happened in Ramadi or Anbar Province, or Kandahar, you think, "I'm studying hard here now in a beautiful, wonderful environment, but this is not too far in my future?‖ NIELSEN I know friends that graduated 2005 that still haven't left and I know friends that came back after a year and are very well are close to going to their next one. RATHER Again, cadets read the newspapers. They know what the casualty rates are in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. NIELSEN All my classmates signed up, came in, knowing the war was going on. So they already had, somewhat, that mindset that they wanted to contribute and they wanted to be part of that fight. RATHER When someone from West Point is killed in combat, you announce that, do you? NIELSEN That’s correct. That’s probably the worst part of my job, or it is. This year alone, there's been, I've made 16 of those announcements. RATHER So what's the ritual? You're informed by someone at the academy that we've lost one of ours? NIELSEN Yes sir. I usually get it from the public affairs office or my direct officer counterpart. I wait for the Department of Defense notification to give respect to the family members in case they haven't heard about the situation. So they tell me and I write the script, and I announce it in the mess hall in the morning. RATHER You write the announcements yourself? NIELSEN I do. Yes sir. RATHER So you aren't just a staff announcer for this. NIELSEN No, I write them. RATHER Write those letters late at night, or when do you write them? NIELSEN Usually at night. RATHER What are you thinking when you put those together, those eulogies if you will? NIELSEN Over the course of the year, I guess, I mean, the big thing that's kind of been striking to me is that a lot of them are very common incidents - roadside bombs, small ambush fire. It's a wide variety of individuals that the war's affecting. The last announcement I made was a class of 1980 graduate who was a full-bird Colonel. But then I've also made announcements for class of 2005 graduates. RATHER Someone from the class of 2005? NIELSEN That's correct. Yes sir. RATHER Well that soldier would have been here when you were here. NIELSEN He was. I knew him well. RATHER Anytime this gets too personal you tell me, but that being the case, not only was he here at West Point when you were here, but you said you knew him well. Did you take time to mourn? NIELSEN Uh, yeah. Definitely. The two gentlemen that I knew very well, yeah. Absolutely. So they were significantly more difficult to make those announcements, but in the same sense, it's a tough part of the job but I was privileged and honored to actually do that for them as their last respects. RATHER Do you think, as you're putting these together, ―You know sometime it might be another First Captain of a class writing this for me?‖ NIELSEN Very much so.... There very well could be. RATHER (VOICE OVER) IT'S THE DAY BEFORE GRADUATION, AND NIELSEN IS PREPARING FOR ONE OF HIS LAST RESPONSIBILITIES AS FIRST CAPTAIN. FAMILY, FRIENDS AND DIGNITARIES HAVE GATHERED FOR THE CLASS OF 2007'S FINAL PARADE ON THE WEST POINT PLAIN. NIELSEN IS AT THE FRONT OF THE ENTIRE CORPS OF CADETS. AND WHEN THE CLASS OF 2007 STEPS AWAY, THEY ARE LEAVING THEIR ACADEMY CAREERS BEHIND AND STEPPING TOWARDS THEIR FUTURE AS COMMISSIONED OFFICERS IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY. IT'S A DAY AWASH IN HISTORIC RITUAL, TRIUMPHANT ACCOMPLISHMENT, AND A LOOMING CALL TO DUTY. NIELSEN Graduating class, dismissed! RATHER That’ll ruin your reputation. That alone will keep you from making field grade. NIELSEN Yeah. It's all down the drain now, right, sir? No not at all. RATHER Well, how you feeling? NIELSEN Good. Good. A little warm. The parade was pretty warm but it feels pretty good. Definitely. RATHER What were you thinking as you paraded the plain? NIELSEN It was pretty emotional. It's a pretty gratifying experience walking off with all my classmates together. And having the opportunity to lead them off the field is pretty special. RATHER You’re going into infantry? NIELSEN That’s correct. Yes sir. RATHER Alright. Well infantry means walking. NIELSEN Right. A lot of ground pounding, definitely. RATHER And, unless you're lucky and have a lot of God's grace, it also means combat up close and personal. NIELSEN Definitely. Yes sir. RATHER Did you think of that before you decided what branch you wanted to go into? NIELSEN Yeah. Absolutely. Given the current situation, the global situation that we're in, the army needs soldiers. The army needs leaders. America needs men that are willing to step into the fray and lead our sons and daughters in a time of need. RATHER Well let's talk to your mom and dad. Where'd they go? NIELSEN Oh they're over here -mother, father, sister and a bunch of family and friends. RATHER Well when he first told you he wanted to go to West Point, what was your immediate reaction? JON NIELSEN’S MOM Well, we were very excited for him. We felt it was a good honor for him. RATHER Has he since a young child been a leader, or is that something he developed later after adolescence? JON NIELSEN’S DAD I'd say he's been that way since the beginning. He's never been afraid to take on a challenge. That's for sure. RATHER Well this is a day of celebration, but it's also a day of thought. You gotta be concerned. He's infantry. And as long as the war goes on, he's likely to see some of it. JON NIELSEN’S DAD We're quite sure of that. We're going to be like every other parent that has a child there. We're going to be nervous, concerned, we're not going to sit back and worry about it because they're- obviously they’re going to train him to do what he's supposed to do. RATHER Well how do you feel about that? Infantry, war's on. Bound to see some version of hell, probably sooner as opposed to later. JON NIELSEN’S MOM Sure there'll be a lot of sleepless nights wondering exactly where John's at, but like I say, he's had a lot of training and I feel that he'll do well. He's very smart, very intelligent and he'll do a great job. I feel if all our younger generation comes up to be leaders like John's going to be, we'll have a wonderful country. NIELSEN A year from now my soldiers will have no idea that I was First Captain at West Point, and I can attest to my time in the Army, I had no idea what a First Captain even was. So... RATHER They may not even care that were First Captain. NIELSEN They won't even care. You're a leader in the Army and that's what matters to them right now. RATHER (VOICE OVER) COMING UP, WALKING THROUGH WEST POINT'S HISTORY. DAN RATHER (ON CAMERA) WHEN ONE COMES TO WEST POINT, EVEN FOR A BRIEF VISIT, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO BE AWED BY THE HISTORY. WHAT WAS ONCE A PIVOTAL FORT DURING THE COUNTRY'S WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE HAS CHANGED GREATLY OVER CENTURIES. THIS ACADEMY PRODUCED GENERALS FOR BOTH SIDES OF THE CIVIL WAR. IT ACCEPTED AFRICAN- AMERICANS AND MORE RECENTLY WOMEN. RATHER (VOICE OVER) Strolling the grounds with a knowledgeable guide provides a unique insight into America's history and its current challenges. RATHER What a breathtaking view! STEPHEN GROVE, U.S. MILITARY ACADEMDY’S OFFICIAL HISTORIAN This is the most famous view at West Point-- RATHER This is what Washington saw and why West Point is here. GROVE That must be it. Charles Dickens was among-- many Europeans-- who came and visited here in the 19th century. And he made a comment that it was hard for him to imagine a more beautiful place than West Point. RATHER (VOICE OVER) DR. STEPHEN GROVE IS THE U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY'S OFFICIAL HISTORIAN. GROVE We were established in 1802 as an academy with seven officers and ten cadets. Today we have about 4,200 cadets. The military academy was a very small site, only a couple of thousand acres. Today we have 16,000 acres. In the 19th century we had such limited space that West Point Plain, where cadets march, was also the site of our artillery and cavalry training. So it never looked that good in the 19th and early 20th century. RATHER Must have been pretty muddy out there. GROVE It was. RATHER Well, doctor, where are we? And why is it important? GROVE This is the West Point Plain or parade field. Troops first arrived on the plain at West Point in 1778. And they've never left, making West Point the oldest, continuously- occupied military post in America. RATHER In the background- what’s this building? GROVE This is the new Jefferson Hall; the hall of the academy’s libraries, which should open-- the fall of next year. The first Army/Navy football game was played here. RATHER What year was that? GROVE This is 1890. RATHER Pretty early. GROVE Well, it wasn't early for other American colleges. But it was early for West Point. RATHER (VOICE OVER) THE ARMY/NAVY RIVALRY BORN ON THIS FIELD ONLY INTENSIFIED. BUT AMONG THE GRADUATES OF WEST POINT THERE IS A STRONG CAMARADERIE. PROFESSOR GROVE REMINDED US THAT NAMES FROM THE PAST LIKE ULYSSES S. GRANT, TO THE PRESENT LIKE DAVID PETRAEUS ALL MARCHED ON THIS FIELD AS CADETS. THERE IS THIS POPULAR EXPRESSION AT WEST POINT: "MUCH OF THE HISTORY WE TEACH WAS MADE BY PEOPLE WE TAUGHT." GROVE You cannot help being impressed by the beauty, by the history of this location. And that so many of our heroes in America's wars from the earliest days trained on this same field that we're standing today. RATHER Thomas Jefferson had sincere doubts and reservations about establishing a military academy. GROVE Absolutely. RATHER Because he feared that it would lead to militaristic inclination in the country as a whole. GROVE Right. RATHER What changed his mind? GROVE He becomes President. He recognized that we needed an engineering school. Academy graduates will be responsible for the nation's initial harbors, bridges, later railroad lines, canals, because it's the only school in America teaching engineering. RATHER But from a military standpoint, why-- why engineering? GROVE During the Revolutionary War we didn't have Americans who knew engineering. We had to depend upon foreigners. And many of the founding fathers said it would be really a smart thing, if America would establish its own military academy and train Americans in these technical arts of war. By the Civil War, the Academy is really rising to the ranks of the nation's military leadership. And the Academy will contribute 294 union Generals and 151 confederates. Grant, Sherman, Sheirdon from the north, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson from the south, and they're all West Pointers. RATHER How much controversy was there, here at West Point, when Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others said, "We're gonna fight for the state. Not for the United States." GROVE Well, I don't know if it was looked at that way. Certainly the Civil War divided the academy like it divided the nation. Lee is not an advocate of secession, not a defender of slavery. But he said, "I cannot lead troops against my home state." When Virginia secedes from the union, he resigns his commission and goes home. And the confederacy says, "Oh goody, we've got a general." RATHER Now it's post Civil War. Had to be a national attitude of, "Listen, let's-- let's do away with West Point. Or at least downgrade it considerably because some of the people-- many of the people - we trained there were not loyal to the country." GROVE That’s right. There-- there was that feeling. But—fortunately for us it really was never successful. Because there were so many more that stayed loyal to the union. People like Ulysses Grant the first academy graduate to be President of the United States. RECORDING OF GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR Duty. Honor. Country. Those three hallowed words… RATHER Duty, honor, country, from the great speech by General Douglas Macarthur at in the twilight of his career is that when that became the creed at West Point? Or was it long before that? GROVE It was long before that. In 1898 a committee was established to work on a motto. They said, "These words seem to have been used very often in talking about the military academy." They seem to describe the foundations of what people think of when they think of West Point.‖ RATHER When Douglas Macarthur became superintendent at West Point the year was what? GROVE 1919, right after the First World War. RATHER Did he make a significant difference in the history of the point? GROVE He certainly tried to. He was a dynamic individual. Certainly a great mind. He was concerned that the Academy was not keeping up with advances. He said, "We need to diversify that curriculum from that math, science, engineering background.‖ But he was often seen as something of an upstart. The academic board, said, "We just were teaching this cadet a few years ago, who does he think he is?" when Macarthur will be superintendent, he'll have the cadets march down to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where they will be trained under career sergeants who will be delighted with the opportunity to put cadets through basic training. He comes in with the concept that every cadet an athlete. Not so much intercollegiate competition as intramural or what we call inter-murder competition. From one company of cadets battling another company. And he makes the statement, "Upon the fields of friendly strife, for sewn the seeds will bring forth victory on those other battlefields, if you will." DAN RATHER (VOICEOVER) THE EMPHASIS ON ATHLETICS CONTINUES TODAY ON WEST POINT'S COURTS, FIELDS AND RIVERS. GROVE The camaraderie, the esprit de corp, the working together on that playing field will play to the dividends elsewhere. RATHER It's beautiful in here. GROVE It is. It's a lovely-- spot. It's the final resting place of some 7400—men, women and children. Most of them have some connection to the military academy. But not all of them. We haven't been consistent about the rules. And there are exceptions. Like Maggie Dixon who was coach of the women's basketball team, the first coach to take that women's team to the NCAA tournament. They-- had the misfortune of playing against Tennessee in the first game. And-- but they showed great character. You have the two most prominent here. The pyramid is to Egbert Viele, graduated in the class of 1847; fights in the Mexican war; he'll be the keynote speaker at the Hague Peace Conference; he will be a Congressman; he'll be president of the alumni association; also laid out the West Point cemetery. He's very concerned about being buried alive. So, he makes arrangements for there to be a buzzer and a light. The buzzer connected to the cemetery superintendent's office. And the light to help him find the buzzer. The story goes that the buzzer was disconnected a few years after his death because cadets would sneak inside and press the buzzer and scare the cemetery superintendent. The one on the right described like a wedding cake - this is the final resting place of Daniel Butterfield, not an academy graduate. He is a Civil War General a little egotistical with all the letter b's. Has a column for each one of the campaigns he was engaged in, in the Civil War. RATHER Is he famous for anything other than-- --his Civil War exploits? GROVE Well, during the Civil War he was-- appalled that there wasn't appropriate music to play at funerals. He got together with his bugler, by the name of Oliver Norton. And together, they came up with what today we call taps. The class of 2004 has lost more graduates than any other class. We've lost eight thus far. Zalinsky from New Jersey. Infantry. A captain of the Army men's swimming team. And Garrison Avery from Nebraska. An Army Ranger. As a junior, he helped form a non- profit organization called Light By Morning to fulfill his dream of helping Iraqi orphans. Emily Perez from Maryland was a - a stellar high school student. Came here and was the first minority woman to be Command Sergeant Major of the corps of cadets. Very well respected, she ranked in the top ten percent of her class and was over there as a medical service officer. And she was the first woman academy graduate killed in Iraq. We like to say our emphasis is on providing leaders of character to serve the Army and nation. Individuals from all walks of life, all parts of the country willing to give their lives in service to the country in whatever capacity that might be required. And they're frankly doing quite well under the circumstances. RATHER (VOICE OVER) NEXT UP, THE CLASS OF 2011. RATHER (ON CAMERA) WHILE THE CLASS OF 2007 NOW HEADS OFF INTO AN UNCERTAIN WORLD, IT IS EVEN MORE UNCERTAIN WHAT THE WORLD WILL LOOK LIKE FOUR YEARS FROM NOW. SO WE DECIDED TO TALK TO SOME OF THE FUTURE MEMBERS OF THE CLASS OF 2011 AS THEY PREPARED TO LEAVE THEIR HIGH SCHOOL YEARS BEHIND AND ASSUME THE AWESOME RESPONSIBILITIES OF A WEST POINT CADET. MA SHON WILSON, CLASS OF 2011 Maybe I have a different kind of leadership style. Some people, they're very hands on. They're very authoritarian. And they lay it out and that's how it's gonna be done. Whereas, myself, I do have an authoritarian side to my leadership style. But at the same time, I incorporate other people's ideas and make sure I get a feel for what my subordinates or my peers need-- need to incorporate into that plan in order to get the job done and get it done right. My name is Ma Shon Wilson. And I wanna go to West Point because it's a great opportunity for me, and I feel that it will shape me to make me a better individual. The first time I thought about joining the military was probably sixth grade. I thought it was something kind of interesting to do because I had seen my mom; she had been a very positive experience. She said it shaped her for the better. And I—I thought an experience like that would definitely have a positive impact on me. MA SHON WILSON’S MOM I was always interested in the military. But when I was in high school, they had R.O.T.C., but the girls weren't allowed to participate. The only thing we could participate in was drill team. So, things have changed now. So I inquired about it and I decided to join. And my brother joined with me. WILSON She was-- she was pretty happy. She she's-- because she had that army insight, being an officer herself, she was able to answer a lot of questions that I had. WILSON’S MOM After he got the information, I say, "It's your decision." And he processed it, and he's very analytic. He said, "This is-- this is the place." and I told him-- because we're a very spiritual family, I said-- "this is part of your divine walk." and-- it wa-- it was meant for you to do this, 'cause you have a lot a things to do. WILSON It takes a great amount of drive in order to apply to the academy, get in, and make sure you do everything that's required for you to go there and succeed. MA SHON WILSON’S MOM When he got the letter we didn't know it was the letter at first. It just came as this priority package, and I always put his mail aside so he can go. And then he opened it. And when he opened it, it was this like, certificate. And he said, "Mommy, look at this." WILSON And then when I opened it, it was like, wow. You know, it's different-- different from a lot of acceptance letters. So it definitely makes a statement. WILSON’S MOM One of the-- chief here calls him the making of a little general. 'Cause he just sees that leadership in him. And he's always had that leadership-- like that just take charge kinda guy. CODY KOPOWSKI, CLASS OF 2011 OMI's a new school and we started up in 2001, of which both myself and Ma Shon were founding members. My name's Cody Kopowski, and I wanna go to West Point because it's the best education I can possibly get and the experiences will be ones that I'll remember my entire life. My friends were definitely a little bit surprised. I've seen friends from back in middle school that didn't follow me to this school. And they're-- they're sort of shocked at the transformation because, I was the quiet little kid that didn't talk to anyone. And now here I am. I'm going to West Point. CODY KOPOWSKI’S MOM I'll never forget the day. I was picking him up from 6th grade. And he just got in the car and said, "Mom, I've got my life mapped out." KOPOWSKI I knew from when I was very young that I always wanted to fly. And that was really my motivation. And that I figured, well, if you're gonna fly, you might as well have the government pay for it. KOPOWSKI’S MOM He's an amazing kid. He's-- I like to say he's a 90-year-old in a teenager's body. He's always known what he wants. KOPOWSKI I've been trying to get into contact with as many of my future classmates as possible just so we know each other when we're there so we can help each other that much more. It's-- it's all about just building a network and being able to get through it a day at a time and just get through it. KOPOWSKI’S MOM He's so focused on self-discipline, and he's that type of kid that he tends to forget that regular kids like to scream and yell and do all kinds of things and act out. And he gets frustrated, but he's also learned a lot of tolerance and patience. MORGHAN MCALENY, CLASS OF 2011 I don't know if you've ever seen those commercials on TV. They're like, "If anyone ever wrote a book about your life, would it be interesting?" and then they have people jumping out of airplanes and stuff. And I was always like, "That's so cool. I want to do that. Like-- yeah." and so I was just like, "The army's awesome. I want to be in the army." AWARD PRESENTER On behalf of the President of the United States it gives me great pleasure to present Morghan Elizabeth Mcaleney with the Certificate of Appointment to the West Point class of 2011. Congratulations. MORGHAN MCALENY My name is Morghan Mcaleney. I'm from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. And I've always wanted to be in the Army since I was a little kid. I think I made my official announcement that I was going to be in the Army when I was 12 years old to-- my aunt. And she called, shocked-- called my mother and was like, "Your daughter wants to be in the army," and couldn't believe it. And-- my mom was like, "Well, you're not going." MORGHAN MCALENY’S MOM And I think at that point I said to her, "No, dear. You're gonna go to a really nice college. Because you're really bright." MCALENY I've always liked a rigid environment, just very straightforward. I like clean-cut things. The uniform is-- I go to an all-girls school. I like the uniform. MCALENY’S DAD Everything's black and white to her. There's no grey. She's very-- likes regimentation. She likes to follow orders. She likes to be, as we call her, her line leader. MCALENY I like the idea that you have to earn your way up. You don't just get things for free. I like to work hard. And I've just-- I always love-- exercising. And so the military just combines intelligence, athleticism, I mean everything. MCALENY’S MOM I'm very proud of her, and I know-- I know it's where she needs to be and where she wants to be. But, you know, it's a little bit scary for a parent. But, I think she'll be fine. MCALENY A lot of my friends have-- lately have been coming up and just hugging me randomly and telling me they don't want me to go. But-- for me, I know that it's the right decision. MCALENY’S DAD She said that she felt if in five years there still is a war, then she as a woman should be eligible and should feel that she should go in the draft. But her philosophy was, "If I'm gonna go into the army as I feel it's my duty, I would rather go in as a leader than a follower." So-- ya know-- you can't argue the point when they're so set in their ways. MCALENY I don't look at it as a sacrifice. I look at it as something that I, as an individual, need to do. I want to give back to my community, to my family, and to my friends, because they've been so great in my life. And this is how I feel that I can thank them for that - is by going to West Point. JOSHUA SANDHAUS, CLASS OF 2011 You know growing up you watch movies; I always thought that the military was interesting. I mean you know I'd play around, play with my army men, stuff like that. And I just think that I've always had a little mindset on bein' in the military, serving the country. My name is Joshua Sandhaus and I wanna go to West Point to serve my country and become the best officer in the United States Army that I can be. I wrestle year round. I've been doin' it since eighth grade. Coach Osmer has been my coach my whole career. I also do soccer, cross-country, and track, and I tried diving this year, but that didn't go very well. But wrestling is what I love and it's what I hopefully do best, so. Something about it that makes you tougher. And life lessons that you learn. I mean you can deal with anything after it; it's just a great experience. West Point is just like a giant wrestling team. Everybody there is getting beat up every day, you're gettin' yelled at, you know, you're losing sleep, you're probably hungry. So it's just like being in the wrestling room. If I've done this for four years I think that I'll be able to handle West Point for another four. Because you hear all this stuff about, you know, plebe summers and all the-- you know, how hard it is, all the things they make you do. And I-- I'm nervous, of course I mean I don't know how well I'll do. Hopefully I'll do-- you know, I'm prepared and it'll be fun. You know, as much fun as it could be. COACH OSMER, JOSHUA SANDHAUS’ WRESTLING COACH He was always fairly athletic. He probably wasn't the most talented guy there is, but there's something to be said for hard work and dedication. And Josh is just the epitome of that. SANDHAUS My mom is nervous about it, you know, the only son so it's understandable. My dad he-- he thinks it's awesome, I guess. He's very supportive; he never said it's a wrong decision or anything. My best friend, Brittany she-- she said she was worried because I'm gonna be leavin' across the country and I'll be joining the military and serving, and especially, you know, it's-- it's a dangerous profession. And you know, you never know what could happen. BRITTANY, SANDHAUS’ BEST FRIEND He's my best friend so I can talk to him about anything. He's a really great guy. He's very trustworthy and he's honest. And if you tell him something he keeps it to himself, and yeah he's a very smart kid obviously too. I'm worried about him going into the military with the war, but it's good, I'm happy for him. Soldiers are my heroes so----he's my hero. So it's good, I'm happy for him and proud of him. SANDHAUS It's serving. If I'm called out to serve or if I have to go on a tour somewhere, that's what I'll do. I mean it's why I joined, I wanna serve, so I don't have a problem going-- shipping out or, you know doing anything like that. RATHER (VOICE OVER) WHEN WE RETURN, FROM CADETS… NIELSEN Dismissed! RATHER (VOICE OVER) …TO OFFICERS. CEREMONY ANNOUNCER The United States Military Academy class of 2007. NIELSEN Take...seats! CEREMONY ANNOUNCER Ladies and gentleman, the Vice President of the United States. VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY It is rare in West Point history for a class to join during wartime and to graduate in the midst of that same war. But this too is part of the story of the class of 2007. FINNEGAN Will you join me as we pray? Eternal God, reach your powerful hand into the lives of these new officers. Let them remember that duty, honor, and country is not a way of looking only at certain things, it is a certain way of looking at everything. Jonathan C. Nielsen, cadet First Captain in brigade command. It's something unpredictable but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life. NIELSEN Graduating class of 2007, DISMISSED! RATHER (ON CAMERA) DUTY. HONOR. COUNTRY. THE WEST POINT MOTTO. FOR AN ALUMNI ROLE STEEPED IN HISTORY AND FOR TODAY'S CADETS, THEY COMPRISE A FUNDAMENTAL CODE. BUT WHAT ABOUT OUTSIDE THE ACADEMY GATES, DO THESE WORDS STILL RETAIN THEIR MEANING IN TODAY'S AMERICA? MANY, TOO MANY, NOW REGARD HONOR AND COUNTRY AS ANACHRONISMS; VALUES OF A BYGONE AGE TOO EASILY EXPLOITED FOR CYNICAL ENDS. AND WHAT OF THAT FIRST WORD, ―DUTY‖? WHAT GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE, CADET CLASS OF 1829, CALLED QUOTE "THE SUBLIMEST WORD IN OUR LANGUAGE." HAS THE NOTION OF DUTY ALSO GONE OUT OF FASHION? THOUGH WAR IS STILL WITH US, IT CAN BE ARGUED THAT WE'VE BECOME A LESS MARTIAL SOCIETY IN THE MORE THAN 200 YEARS SINCE WEST POINT WAS FOUNDED, BUT DUTY SUMMONS US IN MANY FORMS. WEST POINT'S CADETS HAVE ANSWERED THE CALL TO ARMS. FOR THOSE WHO CHOSE NOT TO HEED THAT CALL, THERE IS A CHALLENGE IN THIS. IN OUR AGE OF AN ALL VOLUNTEER ARMY, OF WARS FOUGHT BY A FEW WHILE MANY CONTINUE THEIR LIVES WITHOUT INTERRUPTION OR SACRIFICE, IT IS A CHALLENGE THAT DEMANDS, WHAT OTHER WAYS CAN AMERICANS SHOULDER THE DUTIES OF CITIZENSHIP? THE DUTIES. HOW ELSE CAN A CITIZEN FIND HONOR IN SERVICE OF COUNTRY? QUESTIONS FOR OURSELVES, FOR OUR CIVILIAN LEADERS AND FOR OUR CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT. FROM OUR NATION'S OLDEST MILITARY ACADEMY. FOR HDNET, DAN RATHER REPORTING. GOOD NIGHT.