Following a proud tradition
When Anthony Veith decided to become a soldier, he was still too young to realize both of his grandfathers had served in the military.
Veith, son of Dale and Trish Veith of McMinnville, explained, “I was 4. I don’t really know why that became my goal.”
But he said, “After 9/11, I started to realize more clearly that there were people who needed to be protected, and that I could do that.”
The following year, Veith, then a 9-year-old student at St. James School, composed a Veterans Day essay. He wrote:
“I’m proud to be American because I’m free, and I’m free because of the veterans who fought and sometimes died for us and our country. They kept it free all these years. They let us go to school, they took away slavery, they gave us freedom of religion, they kept our country proud and unique. Some countries can’t have schools, good homes or food and water. We’re a very lucky country. Especially because we have such brave soldiers and veterans. They should be proud. If they would have lost some of the wars we might be living in Afghanistan right now, but they didn’t. They fought hard for us and they kept us free.”
The 2011 McMinnville High grad knows he made the right decision. And he becomes even more convinced every day, as he attends classes and takes part in activities at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in upstate New York, where he’s a freshman or “plebe.”
“I’m absolutely pleased with what I’m doing here,” said Cadet Veith, who participates in the Model United Nations and competitive shooting programs. “The experiences they offer here are pretty unique.
West Point is an elite military academy with tough admission standards.
Veith, who had consistently been on the honor roll at Duniway Middle School and Mac High, didn’t just need good grades, high SAT scores and positive references. He also had to pass physical and written tests administered by the academy.
He needed a congressional nomination, as well. And to get that, he had to submit his transcripts and references once again, in addition to going through interviews.
Members of congress can nominate only a limited number of students for West Point.
Slots for each state are limited, too. If they are already filled by current students, they’re not available for new admissions.
Veith received his nomination, but no slots were available for entrance from Oregon in the fall of 2011. So he went to an affiliated junior military college, Alabama’s Marion Military Institute, that year instead. He then entered West Point in the fall of 2012.
He’s proud to be part of an institution that dates back so far — March 16, 1802.
“West Point has consistently graduated good officers,” he said, including the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Its graduates have achieved incredible things.”
Days at West Point are much more structured than those at the average college or university.
Veith started the school year with basic training. Based at “Beast Barracks,” basic training was challenging, he said, even though he was already in good shape, having participated in martial arts programs for eight years.
At the end of basic, the new students officially become part of the West Point Corps of Cadets, earning the nickname “plebes.” The ceremony is called “Acceptance Day,” and is an important part of cadet life.
Nowadays, Veith rises at 6 a.m. and joins more than 1,000 other plebes in a pre-breakfast morning formation outside. Cadets form up again after morning classes. After lunch, classes resume and continue until 4 o’clock.
Then everyone goes to sports practice, required of all 4,600 students. Veith hones his shooting skills with fellow members of the competitive pistol team for 2 to 2 1/2 hours before being cleared for dinner.
Cadets spend the evening studying, then go to sleep. “Then it repeats,” he said.
As a veteran of Marion Military Academy, rather than a student right out of high school, Veith found it easier than some of his peers to adjust to the rigid schedule, intense physical demands and high expectations.
“For some, it’s freshman culture shock,” he said. “I got through that last year.”
Classes are high level, with quite a bit of homework, he said. Most students carry about 20 credits per term.
Veith took psychology, boxing and military movement, among other courses, his first semester. His current load includes second-term chemistry and calculus, philosophy, Russian history and English.
“Freshman don’t have a lot of say in what they take,” he said.
History is a bit of an exception. Everyone takes history, but the focus varies according to their interest and the language they’re pursuing.
Veith chose Russian, figuring it would give him a skill he could use in many parts of the world. “I could have chosen Chinese and had a billion and a half more speakers able to understand me,” he joked.
Veith doesn’t dislike his classes, but what he really loves at West Point are the activities.
Over the weekend, he joined fellow cadets on a trip to Washington, D.C. They toured the White House, FBI and CIA headquarters and other federal buildings, and received briefings from counter-terrorism personnel and other officials. It’s the kind of experience that’s not available to the general public.
“During summers, we might go to airborne school or take an academic trip to Europe or do some work for the State Department. All sorts of experiences are available to us,” he said.
Participating in Model U.N. is another invaluable experience, although it’s not unique to West Point. Veith has been in Model U.N. since he was at Mac High.
This year, he has joined his team at several competitions, including the Princeton Interactive Crisis Simulation for schools from both the U.S. and other countries. The West Point delegation placed first in the simulation and Veith received a special designation as one of the “Best Delegates.”
“I really like Model U.N. because it’s one of the only competitive clubs where everyone is required to have pretty solid understanding of global events and history,” he said.
That requirement should apply to citizens in general, he said. “If people are going to make informed decisions, need some understanding of what’s going on.”
Veith also greatly enjoys participating on the West Point pistol team.
He has liked shooting since he was 4, when he started going out to the range with his dad. He said he’s pretty good at it. He’s not as skilled as the juniors and seniors on the team, he said, “but I’ll get there.”
The team competes regularly against other schools. Recently, it won the prestigious NRA National Intercollegiate Pistol Championship at Georgia’s Fort Benning.
Two-thirds of the way through his freshman year, Veith is looking forward to his sophomore year, when he’ll be a “yuk” or “yearling” in the parlance of the school. Juniors are referred to as “cows” and seniors as “firsties.”
“There’s a lot of tradition here,” he said proudly. “On a normal day, we just go around doing what we have to do and don’t think about all of that so much. But when we pause and look at it from a distance ... .”
He recalled escorting his parents and grandmother on a recent visit to the campus. “When guests come, and we give a tour and explain the traditions, we feel it more,” he said.
When Veith graduates in 2016, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, then go off to individualized training in his chosen branch.
During his senior year, he will list his preferences among the 16 sections of the Army. Class rank and overall performance will determine who gets his first choice and who is assigned to other branches.
Right now, his top choices are infantry, armored and aviation, in that order.
After the specialized training, he said, he will take command of a platoon and begin his Army service.
He’s not sure whether he’ll make it a career. If he doesn’t spend 20 years in the Army, he might work for another federal organization or in the private sector.
“There’s lots of opportunities for West Point graduates,” he said.
By that, he means more than job opportunities. Although he’s still just a plebe, he’s already learned a lot about himself and developed skills he’ll use for a lifetime.
“I’ve definitely grown through this situation,” he said.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.