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West Point's first female commandant advises future cadets

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 20, 2016

Jackson and Samantha Sullivan are twins, the children of a Fort Bragg battalion commander, each bound for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point later this year.

But will their experiences be the same?

Samantha wanted to know: As a female cadet, will she be fighting biases her brother won't?

Before a Fort Bragg dinner on Saturday, the first female commandant of cadets at West Point assured a room of future cadets that the academy, like the Army, has come a long way toward gender equality.

Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1990, a decade after the school's first female graduate, said the Army, and fellow cadets, will be looking for good leaders and teammates.

If you work hard, be yourself and exemplify the school's motto of "Duty, Honor, Country," then "you will do just fine," Holland said.

Holland, who was named to her post at West Point late last year, spoke to five future cadets before a West Point Founders Day Dinner hosted by Gen. Robert B. Abrams and the Fort Bragg-Sandhills Chapter of the West Point Society.

More than 214 years after the school's founding, Holland was a guest of honor and the keynote speaker of the event, which featured current and past Fort Bragg officers, as well as current and future cadets.

Not only a graduate and current commandant, but also a former history professor at West Point, Holland said times have changed at the campus overlooking the Hudson River in New York.

"I've noticed a definite shift in attitudes to female cadets," she said. "The issues of gender ... I'm just not seeing it like we did decades before. I think we've come a long way.

In a small conference room before the dinner, Holland addressed concerns from her future charges.

With 99 days until "R Day," also known as Reception Day or the day cadet candidates report to West Point, many of the questions dealt with that preparation.

What type of shoes to bring? Should they study up on chemistry?

Holland advised the future cadets to take their first year seriously.

That means arriving on campus in top physical shape and not being distracted academically.

"You cannot over prepare from the physical condition standpoint," she said. "It will be demanding, no matter where you are academically."

For the future cadets, the encounter was a preview of something some had dreamed about for years.

They hope to serve their country, follow in the footsteps of family and friends and represent something bigger than themselves.

"It's just that feeling of pride, that service," said Bradley Wanovich, describing a recent visit to the campus.

"You guys are ready, aren't you?" Holland asked with a smile.

If they had not, the future cadets wouldn't have had to look far for inspiration.

In addition to the dinner's host, Abrams and several Fort Bragg leaders are graduates of West Point.

Abrams, who commands U.S. Army Forces Command, graduated in 1982.

His deputy, Lt. Gen. Patrick Donahue, graduated in 1980.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, graduated in 1983.

Other Bragg leaders with West Point degrees include the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke; and the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Raymond "Tony" Thomas.

And even Holland has ties to Fort Bragg, further bolstering the installation's relationship with the "The Long Gray Line," as West Point graduates are known.

Early in her career, Holland served in the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg as a battalion logistics officer and then as a company commander.

With several Fort Bragg children in the upcoming class of cadets, those connections will only continue to grow.

And Holland said they would do just fine amid the difficult learning environment, assuming they work hard and stayed away from distractions.

"We'll see you in 99 days," she said.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

©2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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Brig. Gen. Diana Holland addresses the audience after assuming command of the U.S. Corps of Cadets in Cullum Hall at West Point Jan. 5, 2016. Holland is the U.S. Military Academy's 76th commandant and the first female to serve in the position.
VITO T. BRYANT/U.S. ARMY

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