By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal
RIPLEY – Ripley native Lawrence Massengill, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, envisions his future flying aircraft for the U.S. Army.
Before then he must complete the second half of his junior year and his senior year at the academy.
As part of his commitment and appreciation for the opportunities the academy has provided, Massengill spent a large part of his Thanksgiving break making appearances with various local civic organizations.
Through a slide presentation and talk, Massengill gave the Rotary Club a glimpse into the cadet life he has lived for two-and-a-half years.
In June 2009, after graduating from Ripley High School only a month earlier, the Eagle Scout reported to the West Point, N.Y., campus with about 1,200 fellow classmen. He showed pictures of the group as they entered their first day in the “Beast Barracks,” where individuals come together from different life experiences.
The next pictures he showed of his class reflected their immediate physical transformation with military haircuts, uniform clothing and beginning to memorize their “plebe bible” of academy information.
“Your career starts the summer after graduation,” he said. “The six weeks of basic training, Beast Barracks, is to help you make the transition from civilian life, which can be a difficult transition.”
From their first year as fourth-class cadets – plebes – cadets move through their academy years in classes referred to by nicknames: sophomores are yearlings; juniors are cows, Massengill’s year; and seniors are firsties, first-class officers.
As a sophomore, Massengill was a cadet corporal and team leader, experiencing his first leadership assignment by taking responsibility for one plebe.
“This summer I spent three weeks with a field artillery unit at Fort Benning as part of my cadet field training and experienced some of infantry life,” he said.
This year as a cadet sergeant he is responsible for a group of 40 cadets.
For all cadets, physical training is an integral part of life.
Every cadet is required to participate in some athletic pursuit, whether intercollegiate or intramural.
For Massengill, a baseball and basketball player in high school, orienteering is the activity that that sparked his competitive spirit.
“Our orienteering team won the U.S. Intercollegiate Orienteering Team Championship this year,” he said.
A competitive running sport, orienteering involves competitors using a detailed topographical map and magnetic compass to maneuver through many types of terrain, making sure to pass through designated control points similar to a treasure hunt. The winner completes the course in the fastest time.
Each aspect of the West Point experience is designed to help cadets develop academically, physically, morally and ethically, Massengill said. Training begins with plebes learning to follow, then cadets advance through the leadership development system.
“One part of that development is the academy uses the Thayer system of self-teaching before class,” he said. “Cadets read all the material beforehand, then in class the teacher is there to answer questions instead of lecturing or reviewing the lesson. Cadets all learn to hate the Thayer system.”
Massengill has chosen his major, which cadets do during sophomore year, and he is majoring in engineering management. Where the academy historically offered only engineering majors, cadets now have 45 majors from which to choose.
Though Massengill’s time during Thanksgiving break was dominated by academy-related commitments, he’ll return for his Christmas break in about a month and be able to spend more time with his family – parents Michael and Lisa Massengill and brother Taylor Massengill, a senior at Ripley High School.
“West Point has been a great experience,” Massengill said. “I’ve had so many opportunities to do things that I would never have been able to do otherwise, and I’ve created some lasting friendships.”