News: Tomahawk soldier a cut above the rest; selected to attend U.S. Military Academy later this year
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher McCullough
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Pfc. Matthew Brown, a soldier with 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment "Tomahawks," 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Bensalem, Pa., has been selected for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The USMA is the oldest of the country's five federal service academies. Its students, referred to as cadets, are officers-in-training and their tuitions are funded by the U.S. Army in return for an active-service duty obligation of five years.
"Each year over 15,000 people apply to get 1,000 slots at West Point," said Lt. Col. Wilson Rutherford, Brown's battalion commander. "Of that, 800 active duty soldiers apply to go to West Point. This year they selected 12 and Pfc. Brown was one of those 12. If you look at the acceptance rate for Harvard and Princeton and Berkley … getting into West Point rivals that. Getting into there as an active duty Soldier - only 12 out of a 1,000 - that's quite a feat."
For Brown, who enlisted in the Army immediately following his high school graduation, he said the opportunity to attend West Point is dream come true.
"When I was a child, up to about the age of 13 or 14, it had just been an idea floating around my head to attend either West Point or Annapolis," said Brown.
However, as Brown drew closer to graduating high school, his dream of attending the Military Academy drifted to those of enlisting directly.
"As I went through high school, I began to realize I wanted to enlist right away," said Brown. "I knew the wars were winding down. I wanted to get my fair share of the action."
Brown's desire to join the Army, though, had less to do with adventure and more to do with continuing his family's history of military service, as all three of Brown's older brothers had served in Iraq and Afghanistan at various times throughout the last decade.
"My oldest brother … was in the infantry," said Brown. "He deployed to Afghanistan twice and Iraq twice. My next brother was actually [a noncommissioned officer] in the Marines. He was wounded in 2004. He lost both of his legs. My next oldest brother … deployed with the 173rd and he jumped into Iraq with them. All of them are infantry so, obviously, I was going into infantry if I was going into combat arms."
Brown's opportunity to deploy came shortly after he arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., when he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. The battalion deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in February 2012.
Still, Brown almost seemed destined to attend West Point and that much was recognized by one of his platoon leaders, 1st Lt. Robert Wolf, who happened to be a West Point graduate himself. Wolf recognized Brown’s potential prior to the Soldier’s deployment.
"My first platoon leader, [Lieutenant] Wolf … approached me and suggested that I start considering West Point," said Brown. "I played with the idea [though] I really didn't put too much thought into it at the time."
However, once in Afghanistan, that changed as Brown began to consider his life's goals and ambitions. He began to contemplate about what Wolf had suggested and began to reconsider West Point was the right move for him, he said. As a result, he started talking to his lieutenant about what was involved in applying to the USMA.
"[Lieutenant] Wolf worked hand-in-hand with me when I started to apply. Basically I had to go through an online application; it's kind of tricky being deployed and making it happen, but we got it done," Brown stated.
It wasn't long before Brown got a new platoon leader. As it happened, the new lieutenant, 1st Lt. Eric Zastoupil, was also a West Point graduate who, in time, felt strongly about recommending Brown for an appointment after observing him.
"When he didn’t know I’d have an eye on him, I’d ask his squad leader (and) team leader about him," said Zastoupil. "He is a hard working kid; the ideal Soldier. You say something to him, you give him something to do and he’s going to do it to the best of his ability. That demonstrated to me that he has a work ethic, he has a good sense of purpose, he’s a good Soldier."
Over the next several months, Zastoupil worked closely with Brown, helping him to complete and submit his application. However, tragedy befell Zastoupil in August when an improvised explosive device claimed the lower half of his left leg. Following his medical evacuation, Zastoupil never heard whether Brown had been accepted to West Point or not; that is until last month when the Tomahawk Battalion contacted him and informed him that Brown had been offered an appointment.
"I called him right after that. He was super excited and motivated," said Zastoupil. "It was good to hear his voice again."
To look back on the experience, it is almost as though Brown was destined to attend the Military Academy. Not only were his platoon leaders in Afghanistan both graduates of West Point, Brown said his mother, before she passed away, had wished for at least one of her sons to attend the Military Academy, he said.
"Having fulfilled my mother's desire for one of her sons to attend the Academy, it makes me glad I could bring some honor to our family and to her," Brown said.
Brown is excited about his appointment and will be headed off to the USMA in due time, but that is not what he is focused on at the moment.
"Having gotten that acceptance, my primary task right now is still to operate as a [Private First Class] on the line," said Brown. "That's my foremost goal right now. After that, I'm starting to do everything I can to … be the front guy."
Brown stated that to prepare for his first semester this fall, he has started a workout schedule that is probably the hardest he has ever done and he is eating healthier.
"I've always been up at the front (in physical training) but eating right and working out the right way, I'm doing really, really well," Brown said. "So my main task right now is PT. I'm also figuring out how to enroll myself in some (remedial) math classes because it's been three years since I've been out of high school."
Whatever may happen until he ships off to West Point, one thing is for certain and that is that Brown is poised to join a proud, successful lineage of officers that have served the U.S. Army over the ages.
"If you look at what West Point has produced since 1802," said Rutherford, "what they call the Long Grey Line of Alumni … two presidents, 18 astronauts, 74 Medal of Honor winners, four heads of states of other countries, thousands of generals, legislators, and the heads of business and finance across our country (have graduated from there). People who not only served in our military but continued to serve once they leave and they enter the civilian world. So that's what Pfc. Brown is entering at this time."
This work, Tomahawk soldier a cut above the rest; selected to attend U.S. Military Academy later this year, by SSG Christopher McCullough, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.