London Towne Elementary grad Eric Wright, 20, recently visited his alma mater to talk about life at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he's a junior.
Wearing a uniform — white shirt and gray slacks striped down the side — he held the attention and sparked the interest of students in teachers Barbara Vogler's and Todd Davis' sixth-grade classes.
In elementary school, said Wright, he loved lunch and recess: "The biggest surprise for me, going into military school, was no recess."
The son of Susan Watson and Randy Wright, he graduated from Centreville High in 2000 and now lives in Balmoral. His sister Allison is a Robinson senior. Wright began his presentation with a short video about West Point, its purpose and its successful graduates.
West Point teaches students about tradition, friendship, discipline, structure, leadership, military history and strategy, academics and physical fitness, plus morals and ethics. Graduates receive a bachelor of science and are commissioned Army officers.
"It's open to both men and women, and we're challenged to do our best," said Wright. "When I graduate in 2004, I'll be a second lieutenant; then I'll owe five years to the Army." Below are some London Towne students' questions, plus Wright's answers:
Q: What's your favorite thing to do?
A: The stress, your freshman year, makes everyone bond really well. About 10 of us go to dinner every day, hang out and catch up. We have lots of shared experiences.
Q: Did you ever jump out of an airplane?
A: I went to airborne school in Georgia and did five jumps — it was fun.
Q: Do you get to party?
A: It's not a party school, but we do get to have fun — mainly as upperclassmen. It's a pretty elite school, so we focus hard on academics. But I play intramural soccer and rugby.
Q: Is school hard?
A: Fairfax County schools set you up really well [to handle] academics at West Point.
Q: Does it cost anything to get in?
A: No, it's free [students receive appointments], and they actually pay you to go there. I get about $400/month.
Q: If you lie, what [happens]?
A: We take the Honor Code very seriously — that we won't lie, cheat or steal. So if a cadet's found to have breached it, he could be kicked out or sent to a mentorship program to learn from his mistakes.
Q: Do you practice shooting with guns, one side vs. the other?
A: Yes, especially in the summer. We have mock battles and shoot blanks out of radar guns.
Q: What do you need to get into West Point?
A: You have to have good grades and be athletic. It's pretty competitive; we develop leaders.
Q: Do you have to have a buzz cut?
A: No, but we have to keep it pretty short, and we have haircut inspections once a week.
Q: Do you have to go to bed at a certain time?
A: We have to be in our rooms by 11:30 p.m.
Q: What time do you wake up? Do you get to see your family?
A: Breakfast formation is 6:55 a.m., so we wake up around 6:20 a.m. I run in the morning, so I'm up earlier. It's a five-hour drive, and I get home about once a month.
Q: What kind of military vehicles do you drive?
A: Humvees, 2 1/2-ton trucks; I've driven a tank before — that was pretty cool.
Q: Do you have to wear uniforms every day?
A: Yes; we have different ones.
Q: What are your academic interests?
A: I'm a geography major — environmental geography — studying the world and cultures. We have to take engineering, so I'm also an environmental engineer.
Q: What are your favorite classes?
A: Geography of the Middle East and Africa. Classes have about 15 people, and the teachers are Army officers.
Q: Can you quit?
A: Yes, until your second year.
Q: What happens if you skip a class?
A: I never have, but you'd get into lots of trouble and might have to walk back and forth with a rifle for five hours.
Pleased with Wright's visit, Vogler said she wanted the students "to realize what they can strive for and achieve."