What are the most important qualities in becoming a successful USMA cadet and a successful Army officer?
I spoke to several currently serving and retired Army officers and non-commissioned officers as well as visiting a local National Guard unit near my home to answer this question. In my conversations and visits, I asked each of them what they felt were the most important qualities in becoming a successful cadet and Army officer. In short, they emphasized that officers have strong character and core values, they get things done, they communicate clearly and effectively lead. These characteristics, they felt, were the foundation for success as a cadet and future Army officer.
Army officers do the right thing for the right reasons, all the time. It means doing the right thing whether someone is watching or not. They are loyal first to the Constitution and nation, then to the institutional Army, then to their units, then to their soldiers and finally to themselves. They do not tolerate deviations from what is right from subordinates, peers, superiors or friends. Army officers are self-confident. They are confident in their ability to accomplish assigned missions and their ability to control themselves. They project a calm, unflappable, martial image regardless of how challenging the environment so as to inspire confidence among their subordinates. Army officers know how to be and are in charge when appropriate. Army officers get things done. They are able to determine how best to divide large tasks into smaller parts and then develop plans to accomplish them. They are able to set priorities and manage their time accordingly, then organize themselves and others to accomplish the priority tasks. Then, they relentlessly apply themselves until they get the job done. Army officers are clear verbal communicators. They recognize that clear communication requires effective listening, careful thought, and articulate and appropriate responses. They have exceptional verbal delivery.
Finally, military officers are effective leaders. They are skilled at influencing and directing others in order to accomplish a task. They have a knack for employing group problem-solving, developing commitment from teammates, delegating and following-up on tasks, and motivating the people they work with to accomplish a group goal.
Note again that the candidate kicks the essay off again emphasizing that he/she went out and asked officers and non-commissioned officers the exact question that West Point is posing to him/her. Rather than simply guessing the answer to the question, this candidate shows that he/she went out of her way to find out the answer. Then, the candidate shows what he/she learned from these officers and effectively lays out the characteristics that he/she felt made good officer candidates and future officers.
West Point and the Army are committed to the idea that respect for others and an understanding of diversity are important leadership traits. Why will you be successful in working with leaders, peers, and subordinates of a gender, color, ethnicity, and/or religion different from your own?
Military officers are comfortable working in teams and they value the inherent strengths that come from teams made up of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. They are respectful of others. They understand that high performing teams are characterized by common goals, shared responsibility for success, and appropriate leadership-followership relationships.
I spent last summer in Nicaragua; three weeks in an intensive Spanish language program and two months living with a Nicaraguan family in the country. While I was in the country, I was working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was fielding small-scale alternative energy projects that people could us. For example, I helped develop an apparatus that fermented chicken manure into methane gas for cooking. Not headline-grabbing stuff, but it worked very well for these folks. I learned an incredible amount. I learned that people are people wherever you go. We may look different, we may talk different, we may have some different ideas, but we are all basically the same and should treat each other with dignity and respect.
I understand that I will deploy to other countries and need to appreciate foreign cultures and show respect for their different points of view. By practicing inclusion in leading others in the Army, that will surely transfer to both myself and the people who I lead respecting those we interact with overseas.
This essay should be centered on an experience the candidate had that shows that he/she values diversity and respects others. The first paragraph summarizes the argument, the second paragraph talks about the experience, and the third concludes forcefully with a summary as well as applicability to his/her future role as an Army officer that will require him/her to deploy, fight and win.
Final Thoughts for Your West Point Application Essays:
Essay #1 is probably the most important of the three essays and is standard across most Academy and ROTC applications. The key to most of these essays is to do some legwork and ask serving or retired officers about these questions as well as go out and visit local Guard or Reserve units to see the Army in action and forcefully answer these questions drawing on these interviews and experiences. You can get our tips on Congressional nomination essays here.
If you do the above things, you are that much closer to a West Point appointment!