On 12/1/09, Obama went to my undergraduate alma mater—West Point—to make a speech announcing his decision about what to do in Afghanistan.

Four hours before

One of my West Point classmates told me that the Corps of Cadets (whole student body) at West Point was made to march in formation to Eisenhower Hall for Obama’s speech at 1610. The speech was at 2000. They were told they could bring one book and no electronics other than cameras. They were prohibited from sleeping during the wait. They were also prohibited from walking around the building which is substantial and has other rooms and lobby and so on. They were not allowed to stand up during the wait. My classmates presumes they were allowed to go to the rest room during the wait, but he is not sure.

He heard this from another West Point graduate who has a current cadet who is a son, nephew, or close friend. The same general story appears on numerous blogs if you Google it.

In my four years at West Point, I never experienced such a thing, but it is typical Army brass response to VIPs. During World War II, my dad was in the 79th Infantry Division in Europe. One day, his unit was to be addressed by General George Patton. They were marched to the outdoor venue many hours in advance and had to stand there until Patton arrived and spoke.

When I was in the 101st Airborne Division for one month in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson came to spoke to us. We had to get to the airport tarmac an hour or more early and stand in a relaxed but in formation manner for an hour or more—in the rain. Air Force One landed, Johnson got out and rode around among us in a jeep wearing a transparent raincoat. We were not wearing raincoats. We were called to attention when the plane landed. He did not make a speech. He just sort of passed in review in the jeep and each unit saluted him as he drove past.

Hurry up and wait at cadet parades

When we were cadets, we noticed that for parades, we would have to form up a half hour or so early. Then we would just stand there in our full-dress gray uniforms with our rifles waiting. The classic hurry-up-and-wait that the U.S. military is famous for. As freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, we expressed suspicion that each level of the chain of command—both officers and cadets—subtracted five or ten minutes from the actual parade time to insure they they would not get in any trouble because their cadets were not ready on time.

Worrying about West Point cadets not being on time is absurd. The only time I was late in four years at West Point, was when I got two conflicting orders on where I was supposed to be at a certain time and I followed the wrong one. And we had to be on time to the second about tens times per day. My experience was typical.

No one was ever late at West Point. (Not counting the first week or two of Beast Barracks when we were almost all late several times because we could not believe how much we had to do in the tiny periods between formations and because we had not yet learned the cadet tricks for meeting those speed requirements.) If you had been present for a typical reveille formation when I was a cadet, when there was about ten seconds left before the second hand hit the 0600, you would have said, they’re not going to all make it on time. But at about one second before 0600, you would have said, “I’ll be damned!” as 4,000 guys suddenly materialized and hit their spot in the formation just as the bugler sound the last note of “Assembly.”

When I was a kid, we knew that bugle call for its unofficial lyrics: “There’s a soldier in the grass with an arrow up his ass. Pull it out, pull it out if you want to be a scout.” It was also in the opening of the old TV series Rin Tin Tin where Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd, and his master Rusty, arrive in formation during the last couple of notes just like we cadets did. The plebes at West Point were at attention at reveille for about ten minutes every morning. The upperclassmen rarely hit the formation until the phrase “be a scout.” And they were only there as long as it took to say, “fristsquadpresentoraccountedforecondsquadpresentoraccountedfor,” etc. You would be amazed at how fast 4,000 cadets can be reported “present or accounted for.” Then we went back to bed until breakfast formation at 0630.

Selfish careerist suck-ups taking care of Number One

The basic problem is the careerist, suck-up-to-the-brass mind set of career officers. I wrote an article at my Web site about U.S. military personnel dying in unsafe demonstrations for V.I.P.s. Let me repeat that word “dying,” so their bosses could maybe impress visiting V.I.P.s.

When we became seniors at West Point, my classmates and I were in the chain of command. I and others discovered to be true that which we suspected. Every member of the chain of command was making the cadets get into formation five or ten minutes before his boss had told him. How did that get to be four hours? I suspect that the chain of command for Obama’s speech to West Point was scheduled by Rahm Emmanuel, who told the Secretary of Defense to make sure every cadet was in his seat at least 15 minutes or some such before the 2000 start time on TV. Then every suck-up, ass-kissing, boot-licking careerist between Emmanuel and Cadet Smackhead subtracted, not five or ten minutes as is usual at West Point, but 15 or 30 minutes.

Thus did the cadets have to sit in auditorium chairs for four hours before trying to stay awake for Obama’s 45-minute-long boring speech. So whose fault is it some cadets fell asleep? Make those sonsabitches walk the area (punishment for excess demerits or serious offenses), not the cadets.

Normally, between 1600 and 2000, cadets either go to mandatory athletics (intercollegiate or intramural), or march in a parade, and they go to supper (mandatory when I was there, optional now). Then they study for a while, then they wander over to the auditorium for a lecture individually or in small groups of friends. Marching takes longer because of getting into formation, taking roll, needing a formation-sized space to begin walking, and so on. That is precisely what they should have done for Obama’s speech. Why didn’t they? Probably trying to create a recruiting photo op for media cameras and the above-described ultra Nervous Nellie behavior.

Cadets are way overscheduled. About the only way to make it worse would be for a bunch of profoundly selfish, take-care-of-Number-One, Nervous Nellie suck-ups to subtract unnecessary hours from the actual deadline to reduce the chance that they may be embarrassed by late cadets by an infinitesimal amount.

It is beyond my comprehension why self-respecting human beings would stay in an organization that regularly, routinely treats its members like this.

If I were superintendent at West Point, the first thing I would do is say that the cadet commander and tactical officer of any cadet unit that is in formation more than ten minutes before a scheduled parade start will be punished.

Punishment of cadets who dozed on camera

My classmate also tells me that the cadets who were seen dozing in the TV broadcast of the speech were identified and punished. No West Point graduate reading this is surprised to read that. It is typical of the age-old mentality of the disciplinarians in the Tactical Department there.

I would like for some cadet or other person in the know to tell me what the name of the infraction was and what the punishment was. The typical punishment is demerits and/or punishment tours. If you get too many demerits, you get punishment tours. If you already have a whole lot of demerits, you get expelled from West Point for going over the big limit by even one.

A punishment tour for a cadet private when I was there was walking the area (an hour of walking back and forth with a rifle on your shoulder—it’s worse than it sounds for various reasons). For cadets whose rank was higher than private, the punishment tour meant sitting confinement, that is, staying in your room except to go to the bathroom, meals, or the library. Walking the area ruins your Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but at least you are free on Saturday evening. With sitting con, you lose the entire weekend free time (Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon—Saturday morning was class and Sunday evening was mandatory supper followed by mandatory study time). I do not know what the punishment rules are at West Point today. Probably something similar.

Some cadets never got any punishment tours in their four years at West Point when I was there. I walked the area about five hours total and sat con three or four times (for “sitting in a parked car after dark with a young lady.”) Some guys were in the century club (100 or more hours) or double-century club. My class actually had a guy who was the sole member of the triple-century club. Most of us who walked the area think those guys who never did should have an asterisk on their diploma.

I once got severely sunburned in Hawaii when I was a cadet. But I did not go to the hospital because cadets got demerits for missing duty as a result of getting sunburned. We also got punished for suffering heat stroke and passing out at a parade. I never saw that happen.

When I went to West Point, I initially washed out of advanced math because I was not getting enough sleep. I made a point of getting seven hours a night thereafter no matter what I had to do and I worked my way back up to being excused from the final math exam because my grades in regular math were so high. Recent cadets told me the officers there tell them no one needs more than five hours sleep. That’s bull! I would get drowsy the following day if I got either less or more than seven hours of sleep precisely.

My former cadet roommate, who was later academic dean at West Point and in charge of a committee to figure out what was wrong with the football team, told me one of the problems they found was that the cadet football players were not getting enough sleep. In an early speech, the current Army football coach said he was making sure the cadets got enough sleep. So not getting enough sleep is apparently a chronic—would you believe 45 years—problem at West Point.

Accordingly, the cadets who have to walk the area for dozing at Obama’s speech should be accompanied by the officers who overscheduled their study time and who told them they only need five hours of sleep.

Apparently, only the cadets who had the bad luck to appear in the TV broadcasts dozing got punished. The many more who were dozing elsewhere but not on national TV got off scot free.


In my first article about Obama speaking at West Point, I noted that heads of state who visit West Point usually grant amnesty to cadets being punished for disciplinary reasons. I am told that Obama did, indeed, grant an amnesty for Regimental Board or lesser offenses during his visit. I do not remember what a Regimental Board offense is but the regiment is the second highest unit size at West Point. Brigade is the highest. I presume that Brigade Board offenses are more serious than Regimental Board ones. There may be a more serious level above brigade like Commandant’s Board. Obama needs to grant another amnesty, to the dozing-on-TV cadets, accompanied by a joke that it was his boring speech that was at fault, not to mention all the above bullshit that deprives cadets of sleep while making them sleepy. Obama pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys. He ought to be able to do something similar for the cadets he bored to death.

Here is an email I sent to Theresa Brinkerhoff, Media Relations/Dean of the U.S. Military Academy Directorate of Public Affairs & Communications. When I clicked on a link to communicate with that department, it gave me an email pre-addressed to her and to Francis.Demaro@usma.edu. I sent the email on 12/16/09 at 12:11 PM

Dear Ms. Brinkerhoff,
I have heard from a classmate that the Corps was ordered to be in their seats four hours before Obama’s recent speech, that they were only allowed to bring one book, and that cadets who were seen on TV dozing during the speech were subsequently punished. Please tell me the following:
1. Is the four-hour wait report accurate?
2. If so, when did the cadets eat supper?
3. Were normal intramural practices or competitions cancelled or postponed as a result of Obama’s speech?
4. Is the one-book report accurate?
5. How many cadets were punished for dozing during Obama’s speech?
6. Were only cadets seen dozing on TV broadcasts punished or were other cadets who dozed also punished?
7. What is the official name of the dozing infraction?
8. What punishment did those cadets receive?
Thank you,
John T. Reed, USMA ’68

On 6/14/12, I have received this answer from a recent West Point graduate who was a cadet at the time of the speech:

1. Is the four-hour wait report accurate?
We did in fact wait around four hours give or take.
2. If so, when did the cadets eat supper?
If I recall correctly, dinner was pushed until after the speech, but since dinner usually runs from 6-7:30 pm (open seating on optional dinner days) it was not much of an issue.
3. Were normal intramural practices or competitions cancelled or postponed as a result of Obama's speech?
Everything was canceled for the day, unless it was corps squad/club squad competitions.
4. Is the one-book report accurate?
I can't remember what the guidance was, but it was something along the lines of bring one thing to work on while you wait.
5. How many cadets were punished for dozing during Obama's speech?
I don't know the answer to this one, but I know a big deal was made about it.
6. Were only cadets seen dozing on TV broadcasts punished or were other cadets who dozed also punished?
Same as above.
7. What is the official name of the dozing infraction?
Couldn't tell you but probably something along the lines of "actions unbecoming of an officer".
8. What punishment did those cadets receive?
Hours and probably demerits too. Punishments are a little different now then when you were at West Point. Everyone walks when in trouble, unless they are injured or an in season corps squad athlete. If they are in season they will sit hours instead, in one of the drafting rooms in Washington Hall, at either a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio. If they are 2:1, usually injured people, they will serve them on friday, saturday and sunday. In season people only do saturday (if they are not at practice) and sunday. Baseball players can sit hours on mondays since they are usually practicing saturdays and playing sundays.

I never heard from the West Point Public Affairs dpeartment.

John T. Reed