Class of 1972 ‘Grips Hands,’ links with Class of 2022

By Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

April 25th, 2019 | In Focus, News
  This year’s Plebe class is affiliated with the Class of 1972 and along with attending major events throughout the class’s cadet career, one group of Class of 1972 graduates has decided to take the affiliation a step further. In March, members of Company E-3 from the Class of 1972 started a one-on-one mentorship program called “Grip Hands” where members of the class have been paired with Class of 2022 cadets for the purpose of building personal relationships across the Long Gray Line. (Left) Class of 2022 cadets from Company E-3 sit down with three members of the Class of 1972 during their visit in March. Courtesy Photo

The Long Gray Line at the U.S. Military Academy stretches back through history linking together current cadets with those who have donned the cadet gray before them and commissioned in the U.S. Army upon graduation from the academy.
The ties between the present and the past were strengthened with the creation of the West Point Association of Graduates’ 50-year affiliate program in the mid-1990s. The program links together an incoming class at West Point with the members of the class that will celebrate its 50-year reunion during its graduation year. The Old Grads then follow the current class from R-Day through graduation taking part in important events such as March Back, Ring Weekend and Branch and Post nights.
This year’s Plebe class is affiliated with the Class of 1972 and along with attending major events throughout the class’s cadet career, one group of Class of 1972 graduates has decided to take the affiliation a step further.
In March, members of Company E-3 from the Class of 1972 started a one-on-one mentorship program called “Grip Hands” where members of the class have been paired with Class of 2022 cadets for the purpose of building personal relationships across the Long Gray Line.
“I was really excited to have a personal connection with our 50-year affiliate program and have that opportunity to reach back and view the Long Gray Line,” Class of 2022 Cadet Reed Bauer said. “Sometimes, we get caught up in the day-to-day grind of West Point and we lose the perspective of the 100s of years of history this school has.”
Seventeen members of the Class of 1972’s Company E-3 agreed to take part in the program, which was initiated by retired Col. Chuck Coleman. They were paired with the 31 Plebes in E-3 with most members of the Class of 1972 being assigned two cadets.
“I was really excited about it. I think everyone was,” Jim Barnes, USMA Class of 1972, said. “When we started working with the cadets, it was very good. They were very open with us and they seemed very excited about the program. It seems like it is going really well.”
The pairings were made mostly based on geographic location and the cadets were presented with their affiliate’s bio and contact information during a ceremony at West Point March 29, which was attended by three members of the Class of 1972.
“I like the fact that we are on a more personal level instead of me just saying as a member of 1972, ‘Hey, 2022, you’re my affiliated class,’” Coleman said. “I can go to a specific couple of cadets in E-3 and say, ‘You are my E-3 Class of 2022 cadets and I am going to be with you for the next three years until you graduate and beyond.’”
Each Plebe was paired with a Class of 1972 member and given the chance to make contact, build a relationship and have a mentor from the Class of 1972 if they choose to take part in the program. In the few short weeks since the ceremony, multiple members of the Class of 2022 said they have already began reaching out and building a relationship they hope will continue through their time at West Point and beyond.
“I am hoping that when leaving West Point and going into the Army I can ask him questions because he has seen stuff I haven’t. Also, he said if I am ever in trouble, need help finding a job whether that is in the Army or after the Army he can help me,” Class of 2022 Cadet William Kiley, who first emailed then talked with his sponsor on the phone, said. “He can help me out when I have questions or if I am confused about something. I think it is super helpful to have. There are a lot of resources at West Point, but right now I just have a one-on-one relationship with a man who is a very valuable resource.”
Whether it is advice about their time at West Point, life in the Army or after serving, the goal of the program is to give current cadets someone to turn to with questions. Bauer said he emailed his sponsor following the ceremony and hopes to lean on his experience serving in the infantry and military intelligence branches, which Bauer said are his top two options.
“It reminds us that they are our brothers in arms,” Bauer said. “They have been through West Point, they have been in the Army and they know what it is like on the other end of this profession. They have perspective that they can help us and grip hands with us to bridge that gap in-between the 50 years that separate us.”