Will West Point cadets be expelled?

The recent news that five West Point cadets, including at least one football player, overdosed on cocaine containing fentanyl during spring break in Fort Lauderdale has captured national attention, at least in part because it seemed so out of the ordinary. Typically, the biggest scandals that have rocked the US military academy based in Orange County have involved cheating.

Paramedics were dispatched to an Airbnb in Wilton Manors, Florida on Thursday, March 10, following frantic calls to 911 for help. Five of the six Airbnb guests were cadets. All six were taken to hospital and two were initially placed on ventilators.

The US Military Academy confirmed on March 23 that all cadets had been released from the hospital, but provided no further information other than that the incident is still under investigation. A 21-year-old man who allegedly supplied the contaminated cocaine was arrested on March 12.

West Point has yet to announce any disciplinary action, but the cadets are already facing harsh judgment in the public sphere given their acceptance into the nation’s top military academy. Every student who attends the federally funded, tuition-free school is considered a member of the United States military and must serve at least eight years after graduation. The process to attend West Point is extremely competitive, requiring excellent academics and at least a personal recommendation from a congressman like a US senator or someone in the military. The academy emphasizes honor and character.

So how did the West Point cadets end up in Florida behaving like typical college kids partying on spring break?

Because they’re like other students – to a certain extent, argued Timothy Ringgold, a former senior US Army officer and 1977 West Point graduate. stars. They are all that, but they are still susceptible to the same peer influences as any other student at any other college,” he said. “They are all adults, they are in the army, they should be more responsible. But we shouldn’t be surprised that they aren’t.

However, by using a controlled substance as a cadet at West Point, they risk being de-enrolled, the term meaning expulsion to a military college. Greg T. Rinckey, a former Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) and founding attorney for the law firm of Albany Tully Rinckey PLLC, specializing in military law, has represented several military students, including separate officer cadet cases from West Point who were deregistered on drug charges.

If it can be proven that the cadets knowingly ingested the drugs, he said, not only will they be deregistered, but they could also be criminally prosecuted for illicit use or possession of a controlled substance and be required to reimburse tuition fees. The total bill could be $150,000 to $200,000 per cadet – unless they are freshmen, which is seen as a kind of grace period to test young cadets’ dedication to the service.

If cadets are required to repay tuition but fail to do so, the amount owed could be seized from their tax refunds or bank accounts.

“Uncle Sam invests a lot of money in the education of these cadets, and if they don’t serve, the military wants their money back,” said Rinckey, who said he thought the cadets would be facing an opt-out process. based on known facts about the incident.

Cheating is usually a caddy’s worst offense

Ringgold, who now teaches a course in ethics and leadership at Ursine College in Pennsylvania, was himself implicated in what was then the biggest infidelity scandal in West Point history. in 1976, in which he acted as a whistleblower for 153 cadets who he claimed were unfairly penalized for collaborating on homework. His daughter recounted the episode in a book, “Choose the hardest right.”

Although Ringgold himself didn’t cheat, he still risked expulsion for speaking out. He was allowed to re-register following an investigation.

To this day, cheating and lying continue to be the top offenses committed by cadets, said Augusto Giacoman, a 2004 West Point graduate, former Army captain and now a partner in a consulting firm part of of the Price Waterhouse Coopers network. This is mainly due to the cadets’ strict code of honor, he said. “Cadets do not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.

Not only do those who violate the code risk deregistration, Giacoman said, but “if I know my roommate lied about something and I don’t report it? I get kicked out.

Both graduates said there was very little drug use at West Point when they were cadets. During Ringgold’s time, the most commonly used illicit drug in school was marijuana. “There were people, lots of people, smoking marijuana at the time, but it was very quiet.”

Giacoman said the drug use pattern didn’t change much when he was enrolled. Occasionally there were reports of taking pills or cocaine, but that was not the norm — alcohol was. “I would say about 80% of us drank on duty.”

Rinckey agreed that hard drug use at West Point is very rare. “Do I think West Point has a drug problem? No. Of course, there are drugs, but is there a major problem? I do not see it. Cadets undergo urinalysis randomly and quite often. So you never know when you’re going to get tested” – a deterrent to drinking much more than alcohol.

Spring break is a welcome escape for cadets

When Ringgold went to West Point in the 70s, Florida was not yet a spring break destination, a drastic change from today. This week, Miami’s mayor declared a curfew for the second year in a row as partying college kids turned unruly, even violent — there were two shootings over the weekend.

By comparison, kids in the ’70s were going home for spring break, Ringgold said. “I have no memory of organized trips to Florida. Most of us were itching to get home, to get away from the military academy for a few days.

Giacoman agreed the cadets desperately need a break. “West Point is a strict place and it’s tough. You have classes from morning until early evening…everyone has to do intramural sport…Saturdays you have inspections all day,” he said. “There are just a lot of expectations. It’s very rigorous. »

When he was at the academy, he flew to Myrtle Beach for spring break with his friends. “I understand 100% the cadets who want to loosen up a bit during spring break. What I don’t understand is breaking the law, using hard drugs like that – that kind of behavior is really unbecoming of people who are going to be leaders of people in the military.

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