Branch Week: Gathering information for right career choice

Story and photos by Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

September 13th, 2018 | News, News and Features
 A representative from the Aviation branch talks with cadets during Branch Week Tuesday.
  A representative from the Armor and Calvary Branch talks with a cadet during Branch Week Tuesday. Representatives from the 17 branches open to cadets are on post Monday-Friday to enable cadets to learn more about the branches available upon graduation.

For three years, the Class of 2019 has been working to learn about all the branching options open to them upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy. Now, it is time to make their final rankings and express their preferences.
This week marks the annual Branch Week at West Point where representatives from each of the branches open to cadets after they graduate from USMA set up displays to talk about their branches and answer questions. For Plebes and Yearlings, the week is geared toward educating them on what their options are. Cows, on the other hand, are expected to spend the week talking to branches that interest them and start narrowing down their preferences.
The real pressure falls on the Firsties who have until Monday at 11 p.m. to finalize the rankings that will be used to place them into branches. Branch Week marks their final opportunity to ask questions, explore the branches and make sure they know which ones they prefer.
“I have pretty much narrowed it down already, but I think for me it is really solidifying my top two or three,” Class of 2019 Cadet Benson Moore said of what he hopes to gain during his final Branch Week. “I am in a position where I don’t think I will drop any lower than that, so just ironing out the difference between one and two and making sure it is the right move.”
For their first two years at West Point, cadets have forced rotations through the branch displays, but for their last two years they can go at their leisure and also attend symposiums. Moore said he is leaning toward putting Aviation at number one on his list, but wants to finalize his decision this week.
“For me, a wide mission set,” Moore said of what he is looking for in a branch. “I am thinking about going Aviation so it is a lot of technical skill and something we don’t get a lot of training on here, so making sure it is the right arena for me to excel in is big. The last few years have been a lot of infantry training throughout the year. You pretty much know what to expect with that. Branch Week is the time to explore all the other branches. So it is a lot of interfacing with all the guys who come out from different units and teachers as well.”
Before the window closes Monday, Firsties have to submit a list ranking the branches from one through 17 for men and one through 15 for women, who can opt out of Infantry and Armor. Their lists are then used to place them in branches mostly based on their class ranking and the number of seats available.
“Many people outside of West Point think West Pointers can get whatever branch they want. That is not the case. If everyone here at West Point said they wanted to go Aviation, we couldn’t send them all to Aviation,” Capt. David Black, the engineer branch representative, said. “We have about 95 slots for Aviation. Now we start going through the two columns of the (Order of Merit List), so the number one cadet, what does the number one cadet want? His first branch pick is Aviation. We obviously haven’t used up any of the Aviation seats. The next question is, is he medically qualified for Aviation. Yes he is. The next question is did he pass the (Selection Instrument for Flight Training)? Yes he did. Because he met that criteria, he gets the Aviation branch. Then we go to the second cadet.”
The higher a cadet’s ranking in the class, the better chance they have of getting their first choice. Black said he always recommends no matter what their rank is, for cadets to put thought into the entire list and rank them in the order they actually want.
“The recommendation we always give is you should list the branches as you want them. Why would you try to war game it? Put aviation number one even if you are the goat of the class,” Black said. “It doesn’t change anything. If you don’t shoot for the stars, you have no idea if you will hit them or not. Don’t play this game of, I am going to put what I think I will get number one. You should list it one through 17 as you desire it because you don’t know the allocations.”
To help with their final list, cadets rank the branches five other times during their time at West Point—once as a Plebe, once as a Yearling and twice as a Cow. Those lists enable them to start thinking about their preferences and also creates data points that can be used during the assignment process.
“The biggest thing I am looking for is a branch where there is room to grow and room to develop,” Class of 2020 Cadet Liam Furey said. “Currently, I am thinking Cyber or Military Intelligence because I kind of like the intelligence community aspect. I am looking for a branch that will let me get tactical and technical at the same time.”
While working on his rankings, Furey said he has found you have to seek out information about the branches which interest you so you can make the best decision. That holds especially true, he said, if you are looking outside of branches like infantry, where you are given less exposure.
“They really expose us to the combat arms. They make you go into the field for Buckner. You go out in the field for CBT. You understand what infantry is and you can decide if this is what I want to do,” Furey said. “All the other stuff, you have to talk to people. With Cyber, unless you go down to the first floor of Thayer and talk to the instructors who are Cyber officers, you wouldn’t know what they do. A lot of it is seeking out mentorship and seeking out guidance to determine what is right for you.”
The members of the Class of 2019 will learn their branches during Branch Night Nov. 14.