Mission complete

First and 2nd Regiment Cadets march onto the parade field during graduated at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. U.S. Army photo by Jesse Beals

By Hannah Van Ree
U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – The 29 days of sweat, stress, camaraderie and leadership during the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) all boils down to one moment, graduation.

LDAC graduates have been assessed on their leadership skills on land and water courses in all conditions and earned the right to continue their goal of becoming an Army Officer. Nearly 7,000 Cadets from 14 Regiments will graduate from LDAC, which is the greatest capstone assessment in an Army Cadet’s life.

While the majority of graduates will return to their respective colleges or universities, others will immediately don the gold bars of a second lieutenant, having completed all their previous requirements.

Excited parents of 1st and 2nd Regiment Cadets begin to arrive as early as 8:30 a.m., scattering throughout the bleachers alongside the parade field.

Unlike sending a child off to college where they are just a phone call or email away, LDAC severs all communication between parent and child, with the exception of written letters. It’s hard for family and friends to be separated from their loved one for the 25 days Cadets are without their cell phones.

The wait has been long, and anticipation dances on every parent’s face as they continuously glance down to the far end of the parade field at the group of 900 Cadets. The Cadets are too far away for parents to make out which one is their Cadet, but they know they are just yards away from their loved one.

Excited to graduate, Cadets chatter back and forth about the first thing they are going to do once they get home.

“First thing I’m going to do when I get to the airport is get some steak,” said Cadet Michael Mosley from Alcorn State University, “and some shrimp!” interjected Cadet Nathaniel Shazier, from South Carolina State University, a new friend of Mosley’s.

Coming from warmer states, both Shazier and Mosley said that the weather was probably the worst part of LDAC for them. Nonetheless, they found the experience unforgettable, especially events like the water confidence course.

“This training took me out of my comfort zone, but at the same time made me a better person. I’m not afraid of heights, it’s just I’ve never been on a lake before. So the idea of boating in the middle of the lake scared me a little, but I did it,” said Shazier, laughing about his past fear.

As every minute passes by on the parade field, it’s hard to determine who is more anxious, the Cadets or their families.

Cadet Sydney Atchison’s aunt and uncle, Frankie and Simon Perigard, drove 90 miles from Marysville, Wash. to watch her graduate from LDAC.

It’s been two years since they have seen their “fun and witty” niece and they said they are very proud of her.

“I’ll have to say congratulations, as cliché and cheesy as that sounds,” said Atchison’s aunt as she contemplates what to say to her niece.

Minutes before graduation starts, the stands go so quiet that observers can hear the ruffle of the state flags overhead. The crowd is a mixture of old and young, uniformed soldiers and civilians, all gathered to watch the success LDAC has produced. Small children running around are scooped up by their parents as the band plays and the ceremony begins.

As the Cadets march by in tight formation, family and friends strain their eyes, all trying to identify their Cadet. iPhones whip out of mother’s pockets as they find who they were looking for and snap photos of their child. Dads smile proudly at the sight and younger brothers and sisters get excited, jumping out of their seats and pointing to their sibling.

Nine-hundred pairs of boots cut dark patches through the dewy grass. Facing the stands, the Regiments line up two abreast, their regimental flags blowing in the crisp breeze.

The snare drum starts and hands go over hearts, Soldiers salute and the National Anthem is played. Then, three canons are fired one after the other.

The first canon represents duty. As it is fired the blast is loud enough to set off a nearby car alarm. The next canon is shot representing honor and the third, country.

Cadet Terri Craig from the Citadel recites the Cadet Creed, her voice booming as she says the last words “I will do my duty. Army Strong, sir!”

Cadets that received top awards and honors are then recognized for their achievements.

Soon after, commissioning Cadets take to the field to receive the coveted gold bar of an Officer. The polished gold buttons on their uniforms stand out against the forested backdrop surrounding the parade field.

Most Cadets stand serious and stoic, but Cadet Mathew Clark from The Johns Hopkins University cannot help but smile as his little girl, Gail, threads her fingers through his and holds on. She smiles wide as she watches her mother, Cpt. Laura Clark, pin her father’s new rank on him.

After shoulder boards are in place, the new second lieutenants march single-file back to their seats to thunderous applause.

One commissioned officer, 2nd Lt. Anthony Lechanski from Canisius College, stays behind to recite the Soldier’s Creed, speaking of professionalism and discipline.

Next the guest speaker, Maj. General Jeffrey S. Buchanan, Deputy Commanding General of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, imparts words of wisdom to the graduating Cadets on leadership.

“If you want to influence other people and really be powerful in how you influence other people, its leadership by example. Leadership by example doesn’t mean you have to do more push-ups than anyone else or run faster or anything else, but you got to be willing to get in there with your troops and join them,” said Buchanan.

Buchanan continued by explaining the definition of courage needed to lead troops.

“We think of personal courage most frequently as a physical type of courage. To me, personal courage does not mean acting without fear. It really means acting in spite of your fear,” said Buchanan, “moral courage is not just knowing the difference between right and wrong, but actually having the courage to follow through with the right decision even when it’s a harder choice.”

After Buchanan is done boosting morale, the two Regiments, Striker and Dragoons, are deactivated as their regimental flags are rolled up and cased in a canvas bag, where they will remain until next year.

A Cadet’s last duty at LDAC is to sing the Army song.

As they march together one last time down the parade field, some Cadets join in another song. Parodying the hit “Na Na Hey Hey” by Steam, the Cadets add their own twist.

“No more MRE’s, no more MRE’s, hey, hey, hey…we’re going home.”

As Cadets march away, family and friends follow in pursuit to give hugs that have been 29 days in the making.

Finally handshakes, hugs, phone numbers and goodbyes are exchanged between the Cadets.

“There are a couple going to follow on training with me, but the others, we’ve already started adding each other on Facebook and exchanging numbers,” said Cadet Elizabeth Ayers from the University of Toledo.

“We built a lot of bonds here that will last throughout our Officer career,” said Shazier.

A single-file line of Cadets separate Cadet Jennifer Abbott from her mom and dad. After a few seconds Abbott can’t contain her excitement any longer and leaps through her comrades into the loving bear hug of her parents, David and Beatrice.

Third and 4th Regiment also graduated this morning; visit our LDAC 2012 Facebook page later today for photos.

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