My son and I visited the West Point campus today. What follows is an overview of the tour: Parents and candidates assembled at 0815 in Building 606 which houses the admissions office among other things. We were directed to the Class of 56 room where we sat in front of a large monitor showing USMA videos. Candidates were asked to fill out paperwork about themselves. Not sure why because it seemed all the information requested had already been submitted in the application process. The first presentation was given by a Captain in the admissions office. He is a USMA grad, class of 2002, and his talk mixed personal stories with what it takes to get in and succeed at the academy. Most of the candidates in our group today are high school seniors with appointments already so the part about getting in was redundant. During his talk, plebes started showing up to meet their designated candidate. Some of the candidates, like my son, were there just for the day. Others were doing the overnight visits. When all the candidates had left, a third-year cadet from Seattle came in to talk with the parents and he was promptly bombarded with questions. I felt sorry for him because he was fielding lots of inquiries from what I felt are 'over-protective' Moms. So much of the discussion kept coming back to "when can my plebe call home?" to "how bad is the hazing?" to "what can I put in the care package I send my son?" Unfortunately the questions dug into our tour time and we parents didn't get the tour I was expecting. This bad luck was especially perturbing because most of the information sought is available online or in publications. It just takes an intellectually curious person to find out. The cadet did say, of all the things he's seen and read about the West Point experience, that the book Absolutely American is "absolutely accurate." He was really down on the National Geographic video Surviving West Point because he knew for a fact that scenes were played just for the camera. Our tour guide was a well-spoken second-year cadet who, like the 'cow' before him, got waylaid by the over-protective Moms. The best part of the tour for me was arrival at the gift shop in Thayer Hall where the Moms went shopping and I stood outside a classroom door watching and listening to a Military Arts class being taught. Yes, West Point does have the small class sizes they claim. What was odd is the instructor for that particular section was wearing a U.S. Navy uniform. That seemed really out of place. My son's tour went better. The cadet he shadowed originally enlisted in the Army, served in Iraq, graduated from USMAPS, and is now a plebe. The one class he observed was boxing class and the instructor invited the candidates to participate if they wanted. The only thing holding my son back, he said, was that he had no undershirt on and boxers needed to wear a shirt. He saw one kid get popped in the nose and his shirt was sporting the blood stains of defeat. Lunch was lasagne and garlic bread and cost $5. The firsties (seniors) at the lunch table advised my son to go to a civilian college where he'd have more fun. The parents were warned those kinds of comments would be prevalent during the candidate tours. One thing I noticed was what appeared, to me, to be a disproportionate number of injured cadets. There seemed to be quite a few on crutches, or arms in a sling, or in walking foot casts. I know that everyone is an athlete there but at times it felt like more of a rehab ward than an academy. I think a candidate will get a much better taste of the academy experience if they do the overnight visit. Tomorrow we visit USMAPS at Ft. Monmouth, NJ.