Dublin High School’s Ben Young Graduates from West Point, Heads to Flight School
Dublin High School Class of 2011 alum and United States Military Academy at West Point Class of 2015 graduate Ben Young has been the subject of several OneDublin.org profiles, from the article he wrote in 2010 after being accepted into West Point, to his follow-up in 2011 written during his first semester, to Michael Utsumi’s coverage of Ben Young’s visit to Dublin High in 2013 to inspire fellow students. For the next article in our Life After College Series I met with Ben once again, who is back in Dublin for a few weeks after graduating from West Point and preparing to continue his military adventure in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
James Morehead: Let’s start with where you are now – what degree did you earn and what comes next?
Ben Young: “I am commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army and earned a B.Sc. in electrical engineering. On July 21 I report to the U.S. Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker in Alabama for two years of flight school to become a helicopter pilot and in the end will owe the army eight years of active duty. It’s usually a five year commitment but because of aviation school I’ll owe additional time. After flight school I’ll be deployed to a unit.
“Second lieutenant is the first commissioned officer rank – the bottom of the totem pole! The hierarchy is second lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, and then general officers. After graduation we take a commission and oath to serve and defend The Constitution.”
Morehead: I earned a degree in computer engineering, but not in a military college; how did your experience differ? How was academic and military training blended?
Young: “The biggest difference I’ve noticed from talking to my peer group is that they got into the classes for their major a lot sooner – in their freshman and especially sophomore year. While I took a few introductory classes at the end of my sophomore year, I wasn’t really taking major classes until my junior and senior years. At West Point we take a lot more general education classes – three history classes, three literature classes, plus math and science. The philosophy is that officers need to be well-rounded.
“Military training mostly takes place during the summer. As a result I only had about two weeks at home during the summer before returning to West Point for training. Each summer became progressively more intense in the field. The first year was basic training, the second year covered the nuts and bolts of tactics in the field, and the third year is unscripted exercises – making a move into combat or setting up an ambush. The third year training felt the most realistic. We also had leadership detail thrown in, running basic training or helping to run an exercise. We took military science classes during the academic year which focused on the doctrinal side of the military. I also took a seminar class on officership in my senior year covering moral and ethical dilemmas that we might face. So while there is an element of military academic training during the school year, most of the physical hands-on training happens over the summer.
“Military academies like West Point are pretty much year round – you don’t get much of a break. I did play water polo for all four years which was a blessing because it gave me the opportunity to get away from West Point more than I would have otherwise. Despite everything there was still time for clubs and activities. You name it and West Point has it!”
Morehead: At the two year point you have to formally commit or walk away. Looking back, was there any doubt in your mind that you’d commit?
Young: “When you come back for your junior year, during your first week, you have to sign a contract before you continue. The first two years are essentially test years and you can walk away if you want to with no retribution, and without owing anything. Once you sign the contract and step into classes in your junior year you are on contract with the army. If you choose to leave after committing you either owe the army money or time of service.
“I thought about the commitment a little bit but my mind was made up. This is what I like to do, I like the people I’m around and the environment.”
Morehead: What inspired you to pursue becoming a helicopter pilot as the next step in your military career?
Young: “During my first summer I had a chance to ride in a Chinook, following the contours of the Hudson Valley, and I thought it was awesome, this is what I want to do. I had that goal early on.
“To be accepted into flight school I had to take an aptitude test and a rigorous medical screening before I could compete for an aviation slot. There were only 88 slots this year out of our class of 1,000 cadets. It was a competitive, merit-based decision based on my performance at West Point.”
Morehead: What advice do you have for West Point students who are struggling with the decision to commit?
Young: “There are a lot of resources available to get help and advice, a lot of people to talk to. One thing I really liked about West Point was the instructor availability. Many of the professors can take their professor hat off and put their officer hat on, because many are military officers, and sit down to talk about their career and experiences. Students who are questioning whether or not to commit can learn a lot from these experienced officers, many of whom attended West Point. They really do care about the cadets as people and they will help you make the right decision.
“Most important is to make the right decision for you.”
Morehead: The control of where you live for years into the future is largely in the hands of the military. Have you thought about that, and has it impacted how you approach relationships?
Young: “The commitment definitely effects relationships. I dated a girl this past year and reached a point where there was a huge question mark about my future, and I knew that for me a long distance relationship for years wasn’t going to work. I think you have to find the right person. There are people that can handle the reality of a military life and people that can’t. You have to be cautious and it has effected how I approach relationships.”
Morehead: Regarding the military side of the training was there a particular experience that you remember, that you felt was unique to the military?
Young: “I really enjoyed the physical side of the training, being out in the wilderness. You are out there with a group of guys and gals, and you are drawing from a shared experience. They call it the ‘suck factor’ because it sucks while you are out there sometimes, it’s raining, cold and wet or really hot, but there’s something about the shared suffering that brings people together. Back in class those are the stories you talk about with friends, looking back and not believing what you did together.
“The Cadet Leader Development Training (CLDT), which I took in the summer before my senior year, was particularly memorable. The cadets are split up into platoons, and then each platoon is split into squads. You get a chance to be a member of a squad or a platoon leader charged with receiving orders, digesting them, making a plan and briefing the squad leaders. That experience was a lot of fun. You’re making mistakes, because you’ve never done it before, but they bring in active duty personnel called ‘lane walkers’ who watch and mentor from the sidelines. After each exercise there is an ‘after action review’ where you discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what you’d do differently the next time. I learned a lot from the experience, about dealing with a lack of sleep, a lack of food, and people getting testy. You have to find creative ways to keep people motivated.”
Morehead: Women being allowed to take combat roles in the U.S. military is recent, what are your views on that evolution of the military?
Young: “The West Point Class of 2016 will be the first year that women can branch infantry. Women have been able to go combat arms for several years, but next year is the first time women can be in the infantry. There was a lot of discussion about the transition, not formal but informal, and I think it’s a good discussion to have. I personally don’t have any problem with the change. We’re not the first military in the world have women in combat. I don’t really care if you are male or female, if you can do your job and pull your weight that’s all that matters!”
Morehead: Only a small percentage of the population has any direct experience in the military, or indirect via a family member or friend, and as a result have their perception shaped by the media. Are there any misperceptions you’d like to bust based on your experience so far?
Young: “The biggest thing that frustrates me is that there are a lot of great people in the military and the actions of a very small number of people can ended up blanketing the perception of the military. Perceptions that the army has a problem because of the actions of a single person. There are a lot of very well-intentioned people who are trying to protect the freedoms we enjoy at home.”
Morehead: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice during your senior year of high school, what would you say?
Young: “I would say try to get as many experiences in high school as you can because your time in a military academy is very focused. Be well-rounded because West Point is looking for individuals with multiple talents, they’re not looking for one specific thing. Stay involved, balance your focus and see what is out there. The more you have to draw from, from your ‘kit bag’, the more creative you’re going to be when discovering solutions to problems. The military in general are problem solvers and experience is one of the best ways to become a better problem solver.”
Morehead: Last question – what has Dublin meant to you and how did coming from Dublin help you face the challenge of West Point?
Young: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of Dublin, the family and network I have here. Being 3,000 miles away from home is tough but knowing that Dublin had my back felt good.”