Morton West Point cadet shares college experiences

Christina Smith

While some college students enjoyed spring break last week, one Mortonite spent the week telling local students about his college.

Derek Henricks, 19, a cadet at West Point, said he wanted to come home and tell students and adults about what he does at the academy.

Henricks spoke at several schools and a Morton Rotary meeting.

Henricks, who is in his second year, said a typical day starts with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., four hours of class, lunch and more classes before afternoon sports.

“Every cadet plays some type of sport,” Henricks said. “I am on the intermural basketball team.”

West Point is a Division I school, with football, hockey and basketball teams.

On average, Henricks said most cadets spend five or six hours at night studying and do not go to bed before midnight.

“It’s like any college because you receive a bachelor’s degree in a major,” Henricks said. “My major is American politics, and I am excited about the classes I’m going to be taking.”

So far, Henricks said he has taken gymnastics and an alpine skiing class for part of his required physical education courses.

Cadets get Sundays and some Saturdays off and holiday breaks.

Besides physical education classes and a cadet’s classes for his or her major, cadets also take military science courses in preparation for serving as an officer.

West Point graduates enter the Army as second lieutenants and see active duty within two years.

This summer, Henricks will spend three weeks backpacking in China and a week in Japan.

Henricks said he led a platoon at Ft. Bragg, N.C. for three weeks last summer.

Initiation

During a cadet’s first year, Henricks said, a cadet is called a “firstie.”

“Freshman students have to look at their plate during meals, unless you’re addressing somebody and you have to pour upperclassman cadets’ drinks,” Henricks said.

Henricks said his worst task was delivering upperclassman cadet’ laundry.

“Older cadets could ask a ‘firstie’ to recite a current news story, joke, quote or the number of days until the next break at any time, and you had to be able to answer him or her,” Henricks said.

“The purpose of the knowledge is to help freshmen pay attention to details and not be flustered when pressured,” Henricks said.

Choosing an academy

Henricks said he started looking into West Point during the spring of his junior year, adding the application process took about a year.

Good grades, being on an athletic team, passing a physical and a nomination from a congressman or senator are the requirements for the academy, Henricks said.

In Henricks’ case, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood nominated him for West Point.

Henricks said he learned about the academy through his brother’s friend, Lance Dietz, who graduates from West Point in May.

“A month after graduating from high school, I started basic training at West Point,” Henricks said.

Henricks graduated from Morton High School in 2006. His parents are Greg and Carolyn Henricks.

Henricks has an older brother, Drew, who is a senior at Cederville University in Ohio; a younger brother, Dylan, a freshman at MHS; and a younger sister, Kelsey, who is in fourth grade.

Although he considered other military academies, Henricks said the Army caught his attention.

“I was drawn to what the Army offered, which is interaction with people,” Henricks said.

 After graduating in 2010, Henricks said he wants to learn how to fly helicopters, which requires at least a year of flight school.

Henricks said his four-year tuition, valued at $300,000, is free, with graduates paying back the government through five years of active duty.

Despite not knowing what he wants to do after graduation, Henricks said he does not plan on getting out of the Army when his five years ends.

Only 10 percent, or about 500 cadets at West Point, are women, but Henricks said the number is increasing.

Henricks said his favorite part about the academy is seeing the quality of leadership and instructors in the Army.

“I have pride in the organization I am a part of,” Henricks said.

“What drives me are the men and women I deal with on a daily basis,” Henricks said.

For more information about West Point, visit www.usma.edu.