“No excuse, sir!” West Point life lesson #2
Reception day or “R-day” is the first day of orientation for a New Cadet entering West Point. This is the first day of a New Cadet’s summer training known as, “Beast Barracks”. R-day is a day that every West Point graduate remembers in vivid detail.
I can remember the butterflies in my stomach and the terrible feeling of despair at the realization that maybe I made a mistake by deciding to attend West Point. I remember the feeling of my hair falling off my head as an old Italian barber, with a heavy Broklyn accent, shaved my head nearly bald. R-day is a long, hard day filled with confusion, regret, and self discovery.
A New Cadet never wanted to hear the statement “Report to the Cadet in the Red Sash”. The Cadet in the Red Sash was a “Firstie” or a senior that was neatly dressed in his “white over gray” class uniform with a crimson sash wrapped neatly around his waist. The Cadet in the Red Sash was a mythical and daunting figure of intimidation that would make any New Cadet tremble in fear.
I had the pleasure of interacting, involuntary I might add, with the Cadet in the Red Sash. I met up with him almost immediately during my R-day experience. He asked me a silly question that I really could not answer and when I tried, he stopped me and stated, “You have only four appropriate responses, New Cadet – yes sir, no sir, no excuse sir, or sir I do not understand.” No matter what he asked me I always tried to answer with all the reasons that ran through my mind. It did not matter what he asked me, he would stop me and demand that I answer his question. Finally I responded, “No excuse, sir.” At which he barked back, “That is right, New Cadet, there is no excuse for you, now get out of my face!”
No matter what situation I found myself in with an upperclass cadet, it seemed like, “No excuse, sir!” was the only acceptable answer. It frustrated me tremendously as there was always a good reason why I found myself in whatever predicament I was in at the moment. I was never given the satisfaction to fully answer a question and spent days popping off with, “No excuse, sir!”
I was weeks into my Beast Barracks experience and feeling sorry for myself, when my team leader looked me over one morning during a Saturday morning inspection. After berating me about my sloppy uniform, my unkept room, which I spent hours cleaning to what I thought was perfection, he finally asked me, “New Cadet Rheam, do you know why I don’t care about your excuses?” I was taken aback. My Team Leader was a pain in my side and seemed as if his personal mission was to make my life miserable. Our only interaction for three weeks was him barking orders at me and constantly correcting me for every minor detail about every facet in my life. “No, sir” was the only response I felt was appropriate of the four options I was given on R-day.
“New Cadet, I don’t care about your excuses,” my Team Leader stated, “because excuses won’t keep your soldiers safe, they won’t defeat the enemy, and they won’t bring your soldiers home safely to their families. Try writing home to a parent that the reason his son or daughter will never come home again, was because of some excuse.” He paused and stuck the bill of his dress white hat firmly into my forehead, “If you want to live a life of excuses, then you need to do an about face and leave my Army, because there is no place for you here. America’s sons and daughters deserve better.” He walked out of my room and left me alone to reflect on what he just said to me. I vowed to never excuse my actions again and to this day, I think twice before I begin to offer an excuse in any facet of my life.
Excuses are easy, but personal responsibility is hard. You want to live a life of significance? Then stop excusing your poor decisions, take stock of your life, and begin living a life of excellence, free of excuses. Don’t like where you are in your life? What is your excuse? If your answer to that question is anything other than “No excuse, sir!” then I suggest you read my post again.