The Military — And Westport?

Sam Goodgame — a graduate of the Staples Class of 2007 — is a 3rd-year cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He serves as president of the Black and Gold Leadership Forum, and deputy editor of the Undergraduate Journal of Social Sciences.

After hearing him talk — with other alums — to Staples students about college experiences, “06880” asked Sam to share his insights with a broader audience.  Here’s what he wrote:

While walking through Staples in uniform, and speaking on behalf of the West Point admissions department, I feel the students’ respect and admiration for the institution that I represent.

Sam Goodgame with one of his superiors, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

But I also feel another vibe:  one of detachment.  Perhaps it’s best captured by a comment that my younger brother, a Staples junior, heard from a friend:  something along the lines of “Hey man, no disrespect to your brother, but… why would anyone ever do that?”

The comment is representative of the way some in Westport – and Washington, D.C., and the Westside of Los Angeles – regard armed service. My parents have heard friends in each of those communities say, “I am so proud of Sam and what he’s doing.  But I’m glad my kid isn’t doing that.”

We rarely hear that from a Texan or a Buckeye.  Stroll around the campus of Ole Miss any day, and it looks like every 10th male student is clad in Army fatigues with an ROTC unit patch.  Conversations with my classmates – who by law hail from every nook of the country – have revealed that students are more interested in service academies and the military generally (particularly anywhere that country music spans the airwaves).

Why is Fairfield County so different?

It doesn’t make sense to me.  The values and goals of the people I know in Westport seem to me very close to those of West Point.  Westport is a town of achievers and leaders, in fields from finance to the arts.  It also has a strong ethic of service.  Parents work long hours in the office, and still make time to coach youth sports, lead the PTA or operate a soup kitchen.

Staples is one of the best high schools in the country, preparing and inspiring hundreds of top students, leaders and athletes every year.  That’s the cadet profile — yet very few apply to one of the military academies.

Sam Goodgame took this photo while completing the German Proficiency Badge Test. The optional competition -- administered by a German colonel -- includes track and field events, a swim, a run, and an 18-mile foot march in combat gear (pictured).

After 3 trips to Fairfield County to visit schools, guidance counselors, coaches and civic clubs, I have seen and heard fragments of an answer.

Some students and parents don’t know much about service academies: the quality of the education (Forbes magazine ranked West Point the top U.S. university last year); the chance to jump out of airplanes and rappel out of helicopters; the opportunity to learn leadership before practicing it as a commissioned officer.  Some also don’t know how experience as an Army officer can help your civilian career.

I’m not ignoring the obvious: that joining the military has for the last decade entailed a trip or 3 to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Clearly, that’s not on the to-do lists of most Westport teenagers, partly because these have been controversial wars.

But I’m still stumped.

I’m grateful for the fine job that Westport teachers and parents do teaching young people that freedom isn’t free. While I’m surprised that we don’t have more applicants to the service academies and the armed forces generally, I’m also optimistic.  Several of my classmates (and faculty members) at Staples have recently served abroad, or are now serving.  As they come home and talk about their experiences, I’m hopeful that others will be inspired to follow their example.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about West Point, please drop me a line:

(The views presented in this piece are the author’s alone; they in no way reflect the stance or policy of the U.S. Military Academy, Army, or government.)

A small part of the handsome West Point campus. (Photo by Sam Goodgame)

7 responses to “The Military — And Westport?

  1. What does Staples do for Veteran’s Day?

  2. Staff members with military backgrounds — assistant principal Rich Franzis, who returned last year from Iraq, and English instructor Dan Geraghty, a former Reservist — have organized superb days. Iraq veterans have spoken at school-wide assemblies; class lessons have integrated reading and writing about veterans issues, and teachers have incorporated the programs into lessons. The feedback has been that this is much more valuable than having a day off from school, with no one thinking about veterans and the military at all.

  3. Thanks, Dan.

  4. I would like to remind Westporters that Lt. Col. Tania Chacho, the Director of the Dept. of Comparative Politics at West Point will be speaking at the Westport Public Library on May 11, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. about the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Her husband, a Westport native, is currently assigned in Afghanistan.

  5. Sam is a symbol of excellence from Staples High School. He was and I am sure he still is a great student – West Point is so lucky to have him and so were we when he was a student here. He also loves history – go Sam!

  6. The Dude Abides

    Cadet Goodgame brings up an excellent issue. I was having dinner with a couple in Greens Farms recently and told them that I strongly advocated that every 18 year old in America, regardless of gender, should serve two years of military or community service. They looked like at me like I was daffy! Many countries have such mandatory service and I think it breeds a patriotism thats one can not obtain my simply living here and paying taxes. I spent 6 years in the military and the flag flies proudly on my front porch. There are a lot of flag wavers out there that talk the talk but certainly don’t walk the walk. Perhaps if more people did serve, we would not have these senseless wars?

  7. Amen to Sam Goodgame. He’s spot on.