This article featuring Cadet Jennifer West of the Army cross country and track & field teams originally appeared in the online edition of the Fort Meyers (Fla.) News-Press on December 9, 2009. It was written by Sam Cook.
Cadet Jennifer West picked up the nickname "General West" before she entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
A 2008 graduate of Fort Myers High School, West commands attention.
Like E.F. Hutton, when she talks, people listen.
West returned home Thanksgiving week to bend the ears of 80 students and 10 counselors at Ida Baker and Fort Myers high schools.
Her pitch: West Point is more than a training ground for the U.S. Army.
"I'm not a stone-cold soldier being trained," she says. "I'm also a student. I'm getting a fantastic education."
If you aren't sold on this option, West has more ammunition.
"Not only is West Point the premier leadership institution in the United States," she says, "but it was also recently ranked first in the nation by Forbes magazine."
According to an August story in forbes.com, the U.S. Military Academy:
- Graduates 80 percent of its students in four years.
- Is fourth in winners of Rhodes scholarships since 1923 (ahead of Stanford).
- Leaves its graduates without a penny of tuition loans to repay.
- Starts its second lieutenants at a salary of $69,000.
"Many bright and promising students do not consider a career in the Army," West says. "West Point creates doctors, lawyers, Rhodes scholars, high-ranking civilians (CEOs and corporation presidents) and excellent officers."
West, 20, thrives on the intense work ethic and challenges it provides.
"I qualified on an M-16 my first time," says the sophomore from Cape Coral. "I was recruited to run cross country and track and had the opportunity to run in all three seasons on varsity."
She won the steeplechase at the Yale Springtime Invitational and placed third at the Patriot League championships. Her spring semester 3.92 grade-point average led 19 Army track and field team members on the Patriot League academic honor roll.
"She's a very determined woman," says Reed West, her father. "She's doing quite well right now."
West, whose interest in West Point surfaced in seventh grade, ranks in the top 2 percent of her class in the academy's three pillars - academic, physical and military.
She realizes tough standards limit admission, but wants students to consider and strive for it.
West says the camaraderie is second to none.
"Because everyone lives with each other and goes through the same scholastic and military training experiences, it brings cadets together in a way that a conventional university can't compare."