Story by Brandon OConnor on 02/07/2019WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Under the U.S. Military Academy's draft-style Post Night format things can change in an instant, something Class of 2019 Cadet Nikiay Comer found out the hard way.
During Post Night, Firstie cadets are divided by the branches they received in November and given the chance to select their first duty assignments in order of class rank. Each post has a finite number of spots, and the lower the cadet's rank, the greater the chance the post he or she was hoping for will be off the board.
Comer, a member of the Quartermasters branch, entered the night hoping to start her Army career in South Korea. She was forced to change those plans on the spot when just before her turn to choose a post the last placement in South Korea was selected.
Comer said she had to make a, "game-time decision," with her top choice off the board, and with only 30 seconds allotted to choose she didn't have much time to decide. After walking back and forth in front of the board, Comer made her choice and pulled a Fort Drum, New York card off the board before pausing for a second, putting it back and making a final choice to start her career at Fort Riley in Kansas.
"I pulled off Fort Drum and I put it back and grabbed Fort Riley just to get out of New York and see something new," Comer said. "It is exciting because we did all this in the four years of West Point. To know we are finally going to put it to use at a new place is worth it."
Class of 2019 cadets in every branch except for aviation, cyber, medical services and explosive ordinance disposal made their post decisions during Post Night Feb. 6. While some cadets like Comer were forced to make tough decisions on the spur of the moment, many others ended the evening holding exactly the card they had wanted all along.
Class of 2019 Cadet Oren Dennett, a member of the Infantry branch, entered the night knowing he wanted to serve in not just the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but in specifically the division's 2nd Brigade, which he had spent the summer Cadet Troop Leader Training with. Waiting his turn was, "nerve racking," Dennett said, but as his turn neared he did the math in his head and realized his odds of getting his first choice were pretty good.
"The spots kept going down, but eventually I figured I was probably going to get it and I got relieved. I am excited about the way this turned out. About 10 or so spots before me, I said, there are still four or five left. I am probably in the clear,'" Dennett said. "It was kind of surreal. You walk up there, everyone is cheering and you pick your card off the wall. It is a cool feeling."
The math proved to be a little more nerve inducing for Class of 2019 Cadet Michael Colella, a member of the Engineer branch. He entered Post Night with his heart set on serving with the 173rd Airborne Division in Vicenza, Italy. There were only two spots, though, and one was guaranteed to be gone as his friend, who was the first-ranked engineer cadet, had told him he was going to take it.
That left one more spot, but it came with a catch. The second Italy spot was a Post of Assignment Active Duty Service Obligation (PADSO) post, meaning in order to select it Colella would have to agree to serve three additional years on top of the five required of all West Point graduates. When his name was called, and the PADSO Italy spot was still on the board, the decision proved to be easy for Colella as the benefits of the post far outweighed the cost of extra years in his mind.
"I talked to lots of mentors and I realized I really wanted to pick this first post based off of location," he said. "What is perfect about Italy is it is a really good location and a really good unit. It is the best of both worlds and incurring the extra three years was worth it to me. I had such a great time this summer, talked with a lot of officers about it and they all really enjoyed it there. I didn't see myself going anywhere else."
Choosing their post is one of the last major steps toward starting their Army career for Firstie cadets. They received their rings in August, their branches in November and now with their post decided, the last milestone is graduation in May when they will receive their second lieutenant bars and officially commission as Army officers.
"It is really one of the last steps of all the hard work I have done," Class of 2019 Cadet Jessica Maddox, who will serve in the infantry in 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina said. "It is pretty cool that you get to come here and prove yourself for four years and your hard work determines how much of a choice you have on where you go. So hard work pays off and this is the second step that has shown me that. The first one being my branch choice."