Back to the Point from which I started

Bill Pearce | 22 Mar 2017 | Comments

The United States Military Academy (USMA) sits along the banks of the Hudson River at West Point in a semi-mountainous and hilly area just north of New York City. Founded in 1802, the academy has been our nation’s premier source of leaders in both the military and civilian sectors for over 200 years. The academy’s mission, “to educate, train, and inspire” the next generation of U.S. Army officers, is serious business for the academy leadership. I’m proud to be a part of the team helping to support that mission; because for me, it’s personal.

I joined the Atkins team in December 2016 on a project to renovate and modernize the cadet barracks. I have a strong connection to the academy which makes this work especially important to me. I can still remember when I arrived at West Point on a hot July day as a new cadet and spent my first two months in the granite-faced Eisenhower Barracks.

The barracks were new and spotless at that time, but the only conditioned air in the hot summer months was provided by an open window—which didn’t really cool the rooms as much as prevent them from getting hotter. While durable and aesthetically attractive, granite also soaks up heat energy during the day, then releases that heat once the outside air begins to cool—the net result is a very ‘warm’ experience inside those buildings around the clock. Back then, the buildings were designed to house cadets and stand the test of time—there wasn’t much emphasis on comfort, energy efficiency, or sustainability to the extent we have now.

Today, the barracks show their age and are in need of renovation. Upgrades are required in utilities like power (we didn’t have smartphones or tablets back then), water (with measures being taken to conserve), air quality (open windows also lead to water damage and moisture-related problems), and other ‘standard’ amenities we’d expect in a prestigious learning institution.

When I graduated from the academy, I was anxious to leave West Point and join the U.S. Army. Like most graduates, I continued to develop a deep respect and love for what the academy had taught me in those short four years. After several military assignments in Germany and the United States, I was fortunate to return to West Point as an instructor in the Department of Mathematics, where I was able to see West Point and the cadets from the viewpoint of the faculty. I came to better appreciate the important mission of the academy and the need to provide the best possible training and education for these future leaders of our military. I admired the academy’s success in adding new facilities or making renovations while maintaining the traditional, granite-themed cadet barracks and teaching facilities, reflecting the historical nature of the 200-year-old academy.

Near the end of my military career, I took command of the New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The district was responsible for providing support to the academy in the management and execution of its new construction program. I spent many hours at the academy, working with its leadership to ensure the program was on schedule and successful. Over this three-year period, we worked with West Point on a significant program to replace or upgrade facilities, including construction of a new cadet gymnasium and renovation and construction of faculty housing.

From cadet to instructor to district engineer, I have interacted with the academy throughout my lifetime. My brother preceded me at the academy and we overlapped one year as cadets. We even worked at the academy at the same time: he as a Corps of Cadets Tactical Officer, mentoring and guiding cadets, while I was an academics instructor. As a final touch, I also married Sarah, my OAO (cadet slang for my One And Only), at the Cadet Catholic Chapel the day after graduation. The military wedding included the bridegroom and all other military attendees in the Army Blue uniform, and the traditional exit from the chapel with an Arch of Sabers formed by my fellow classmates. Years later, when I returned as an instructor, our family’s first-born son was born at the Keller Army Hospital located on the West Point Post.

I cannot help but feel a strong personal connection to the academy. And I feel blessed to be able to pay it back in the form of providing the best support possible as we work with the academy in the renovation and upgrade of its historical facilities.

I close with one final thought echoed by all USMA graduates: BEAT NAVY (again)!