What Do Cadets Do?

 Posted by on September 16, 2013  West Point
Sep 162013

I am frequently asked what exactly I do at West Point during the summer and throughout the school year.  And it’s quite understandable.  Much of what we do is shrouded in rumor, hearsay, and preconceptions from a careful public image that our Public Affairs Office endeavors to cultivate. So, I’ll attempt to paint an honest portrait of time spent at West Point.

Summers focus on military training, but also include leadership opportunities, academic or physical trips, and leave (time home).  Incoming plebes attend six weeks of Cadet Basic Training (CBT – Beast Barracks), and rising sophomores (yuks or yearlings) attend four weeks of training at Camp Buckner.  Between the two remaining summers, all cadets must complete a leadership detail (usually serving as a member of the cadet cadre for CBT or Camp Buckner), a four week visit to shadow a Platoon Leader in an Army unit (CTLT), a three week field training period (CLDT), and a military/academic/physical Advanced Individual Development (IAD) opportunity (schools like Airborne and Air Assault fulfill this requirement).  Any time remaining amidst these activities is spent as leave.

Our school year is, quite honestly, pretty similar to a normal college student’s academic semester, with a daily schedule that more closely matches high school.  During the academic term, the focus is on academics.  We do not do military training and we do not conduct group physical fitness training (except for intramural sports).  Our time is largely spent attending class and studying.  A typical day has four or five hours of class, optional breakfast and mandatory lunch, a club meeting or extracurricular sport practice, homework, and sleep.  A bit more mundane than most would assume and, indeed, a bit mind-numbing as the weeks go by.


My Dad’s Favorites

 Posted by on September 13, 2013  Reading Lists
Sep 132013

My dad, Robert S. Hume

From my Dad:  For those who like military history, books that explore leadership, or intriguing works of fiction, I have listed some of my favorites.

Favorite biography: Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, New York: Back Bay Books, 1974. An engaging biographical history and a must-read for every American. This book tells the story of our first president – a remarkable man of character who was the right leader, at the right time in history, to forge the America we know today.

Other early American history:

Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004 (564 pages). A great non-fiction history that describes the events surrounding George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776. This Pulitzer Prize winning book documents what many argue was a critical event that marked an important turning point during America’s Revolution.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, London: Simon & Shuster Pocket Books, 2003 (574 pages). A fascinating historical fiction novel of early American exploration. The author very aptly describes the personalities who made the Lewis and Clarke expedition possible. One really gains an appreciation for the magnitude of the event in the context of the time period and the real courage and conviction required to fulfill President Jefferson’s vision for conquering the American West.

Any Civil War buffs? How about Gettysburg by Stephen Sears, New York: Houghton Mifflen: 2003. A Fletcher Pratt Award winning book (best nonfiction history about the Civil War). This is a more recent history of the Gettysburg campaign that I have found to be an excellent reference for my work at the Army War College.  You may also enjoy one of these historical fiction novels: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg and The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara. Another historical novel and sequel to the Killer Angels.

How about from the cold war period: This Kind of War, T.R. Fehrenbach’s classic treatise on the “forgotten war” in Korean.

Interested in reading about the harsh life of early American seafarers? Check out In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, New York: Viking Press, 2000. This is a chilling account of the true story that motivated Melville to write his famous classic tale. “Jaws” author Peter Benchley calls it a wonderfully told “true story of unimaginable horror.”

A note about historical novels. Want a more lively and captivating view of history? Try a historical novel – a work of fiction set in a historically accurate time period. As you can see above, I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction when reading about history. Although the author often takes latitude in using fictional characters or describing the thoughts and motivations of historical figures, one can learn much about the context of the period described. They offer the best of both worlds. Typically a gripping and very interesting fictional story, told from the viewpoint of a fictional or historical character, and set in a historically accurate time period or often describing historic events. A good author captures the human emotion and drama that is often not found in a traditional history book. While interesting to read and no doubt helpful in understanding the history of the period, historical novels should not be used as primary sources for scholarly work.

Two of my favorite historical novels about Greek antiquity are written by Steven Pressfield:
Gates of Fire. An epic novel of the ancient Spartan Battle of Thermopylae.
The Afghan Campaign. A riveting tale that exposes the harsh life of an ancient Greek soldier. Located at the crossroads between the far-east and the middle-east, Afghanistan has a long history of dealing with occupying forces. This is a soldier’s vivid account of Alexander the Greats foray into the tribal lands of early Afghanistan.

Robby here: I will sometimes feature guest posts by family members and friends – they offer an alternate perspective, serve as a check to my (admittedly biased) opinions, and help round out the content of this website.  My dad, a career Army officer, is an avid reader of biographies and historical novels, particularly focusing on military history.

I, Robot

 Posted by on September 13, 2013  Science Fiction
Sep 132013
I, RobotI, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Published by Gnome Press, 1950
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 253
Buy this book through Amazon.
Synopsis: Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world--all told with the dramatic blend of science fact & science fiction that became Asmiov's trademark. (adapted from Amazon.com)

In the twenty-first century, the first image that most people associate with “I, Robot” is Will Smith  – violently blasting his way through hordes of evil robots.  Not many are familiar with the nine short stories written and collected under the same title by Isaac Asimov, more than half a century prior to the release of the Blockbuster film.  Asimov’s masterpiece is a seminal work of science fiction, a pioneering light that thinks critically about what was the largely-unexplored field of robotics.

The series of loosely-linked stories focus on the use and impact of robots in a human society not too far in the future.  The robots are servants of mankind, bound in their actions by the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot must not kill a human being.
  2. A robot must not put itself in danger except to save a human.
  3. A robot must obey humans unless their orders conflict with the first two laws.

Asimov’s stories are short and to-the-point, yet they teach powerful lessons about technology, society, and dependance on others.  Seeing the movie is no excuse for not reading the book.  It is a powerful and inventive classic that continues to puzzle and intrigue readers today.


Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

 Posted by on September 13, 2013  Science Fiction
Sep 132013
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the SeaTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Published by Pierre-Jules Hertzel, 1870
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Buy this book through Amazon.
Synopsis: French naturalist Dr. Aronnax embarks on an expedition to hunt down a sea monster, only to discover instead the Nautilus, a remarkable submarine built by the enigmatic Captain Nemo. Together Nemo and Aronnax explore the underwater marvels, undergo a transcendent experience amongst the ruins of Atlantis, and plant a black flag at the South Pole. But Nemo's mission is one of revenge-and his methods coldly efficient. (adapted from Goodreads)

This book, a classic and one of the first that can be called “science-fiction,” unquestionably validates Verne’s status as the forefather of the genre.  It reads as a travel log, telling of an unlikely trio’s journeys around the world and under its surface. Verne writes in colorful language of an eclectic mix of undersea adventures, all with the eccentric Captain Nemo at the helm.  Descriptions of the Nautilus and other scientific marvels within the book are decades ahead of their time and challenge present-day writers to exercise every fiber of their creativity when authoring new and fantastic tales.  Yet it is the moral conundrum that the protagonist faces that makes this book worth every cent of its cost.  Professor Aronnax, Nemo’s guest aboard the Nautilus, is torn between exploring the depths of the world with Nemo and his crew or returning to the dry land from which he was uprooted.  It is a bit of a long read, but is without a doubt one of the most profound contributions to science-fiction.