West Point Academy on the Hudson River, now home to Liberal's Tyler Sutherland
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
Friends call him intelligent, strong, committed, disciplined, and say he is extremely focused. He is 2009 Liberal High School graduate Tyler Sutherland – now Third Class Cadet at West Point Academy in New York and a major in nuclear engineering.
Sutherland aspired to a military career for many years. But it was the summer before his senior year that he knew where he would be going following his schooling at LHS.
“I have been very interested in the Army, ever since I was young,” Sutherland said. “My biological father was in the military. I never knew him very well, but I knew he was in the military, and I looked up to the armed forces. Up until I learned about West Point, I didn’t know much about possibly making Army a career as well as going to college. So, this is like the best of both worlds.
“I went to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program the summer before my junior year of high school,” he continued. “I was chosen at the state conference to represent the state at the World Leadership Conference. There, we heard a speaker that was a West Point graduate, from there my interest was sparked and I started looking into it. Once their wrestling coach started pursuing me, I knew it was where I wanted to go.”
The approval process wasn’t easy. But, Sutherland was determined to attend West Point Academy. It took him, he said, nearly a year to finally gain approval into the prestigious military academy.
“There is a lot of stuff online you need to fill out – different forms and essays,” he said. “They also do a background check and they make you get a Congressional Nomination from a Congressman or one of your senators, also the President can give you one – if you know him well enough. I received mine from Senator Pat Roberts and Congressman Jerry Moran.”
Sutherland is currently a sophomore at West Point Academy. A day in the life of a West Point Cadet bares no similarities to a day in the life of college students simply receiving academic training.
“I usually wake up at 5 or 6 a.m., depending on whether or not I have practice for the Sandhurst team,” he said. “I get up, get my uniform on, we have breakfast formation everyday at about 6:45. From the formation, we march into the mess hall. We eat all at the same time – all 4,400 cadets. We have 15 minutes from the time sit down to the time we have to get up and leave.
“Classes begin at 7:30 and go until 11:55,” he continued. “Then at 12:05 p.m., we have another formation for lunch, and we march into the mess hall again and have 15 minutes to eat lunch. Then we have an hour for ethics training or testing. After that, classes start back up at 1:55 p.m. and they go until 4 p.m. At 4 p.m., I always come back and get ready for practice at 4:20. From then until 6:30 or 7, I have practice.
“At about 7 p.m. we are done with our workouts and things,” he added. “Dinner is from 6:30 until about 7:30 p.m. we can just go in, grab our food and leave. On Thursday nights, though, we do have a sit-down dinner. From 7:30 until 11:30 every night, we have what is called ESP (Evening Study Period) where all fourth class and third class cadets, which are freshmen and sophomores – we all have to be studying either in our rooms or library. Then at 11:30 is taps, they make sure everyone is in their rooms and that is pretty much a day.”
Although West Point Academy expects very high academic performances of their cadets – academics account for only 65 percent of a semester grade.
“We have three different tiers that we are graded on here,” Sutherland said. “We get graded on our academic abilities, we get a physical grade every semester, then we also get a military grade each semester. All three of those are figured, and we are given a grade on those three factors.”
Currently, in a class of 1,177 Third Class Cadets, academically, Sutherland ranked 468 at the end of the last semester, he ranked 107th in the military aspect of his education and 31st physically. Overall, Sutherland is ranked 186. Many are proud of Sutherland, however, he attributes his success to two very special men in his life at LHS.
“Mr. Charles Chain’s class really got me ready for the college level,” he said. “He was my high school government teacher. He really helped me get ready for this. That was probably the hardest class I have ever taken in my life – including classes I have had here.
“Our high school was very good at developing us as potential leaders,” he explained. “I was the captain of the football team, I was the captain of the wrestling team. Being put in that position really helped me develop into a potential leader – maybe not a leader yet, but the potential to one day be one. LHS set the groundwork for me to excel here.
“Coach Mike Pewthers really helped me physically, especially with training before I came here – he did a lot for me,” he added humbly. “So, he is one of the most influential people in my life. He deserves a lot of the credit for getting me ready for this place. He is an absolutely amazing person.”
Sutherland is uncertain where his military career will lead him, however, he has his eye on quite an elite branch of service.
“It all depends if I get my branch preference, we will see,” he said. “I will like to go into aviation and fly helicopters. Not many out of each class get to do that. So, I have to have a pretty high class rank, so we will see if I get to do that.
“In 10 years, depending on whether I get the branch I want or not, I will either be, hopefully, a Major in the Army, hopefully, flying helicopters or working at a nuclear facility.”
Upon graduation, Sutherland said, he will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He will then be sent to his unit. Not all cadets will join Sutherland at that special ceremony, because several will decide the military is not for them.
“We have lost around 200 cadets from my class already,” he said. “We will lose a lot more in this next year. At West Point, they tell you that if you decide this is not for you, you can leave before you start your first class of your junior year. If you leave before that time, you do not have to repay your commitment.
“There was approximately 1,400 in my class,” he added. “We will probably have 1,000 by the time our junior year hits.”
When asked if Sutherland could possibly be one of those that will not continue on at West Point Academy for his junior year, his answer was simple, direct and certain.
“No, ma’am,” he said.
When Sutherland’s time at West Point Academy comes to an end, his extreme military responsibility begins. Many joining the military receive basic training which takes approximately six weeks. With four years of military training under his belt, Sutherland will be accountable for the safety of such soldiers.
“It is important for us to go through this, because ultimately it will be up to us to make sure those soldiers with lesser training come home safe,” he said. “As lieutenants and platoon Leaders, it is our job to take care of 40 young men and get them home safe to their families.
“So, it is very important that we go through this time to develop as leaders,” he concluded. “We will need to be able to make the right decisions, especially in the heat of battle. Then bring all those young men home safe – because their families deserve that much.”