Greenwood High senior is West Point-bound this summer
Treyton Thomas wants to go to college where the emphasis is on his education, not distractions like empty hours between classes and house parties. You now, maybe a place like the United States Military Academy at West Point. That’s a place where he would fit.
And so he will, the 2020 Greenwood High School class valedictorian and president, after he earned a nomination earlier this year to the famous academy along the Hudson River just north of New York City. Treyton will leave Greenwood in late June to begin a 12-year commitment to the Army, and though he doesn’t know exactly yet where it might take him, he’s resting assured that he’ll get a top-notch education alongside thousands of other cadets from across the country who are like him in their dedication.
Troy and Brenda Thomas’ son wasn’t so sure he could get a West Point appointment. Only about 10 percent of those who try are ultimately successful, and the lofty ACT college entrance exam score he thought he would need was daunting. But he had to try, he knew, to get where he wanted.
As a GHS sophomore, Treyton knew a friend whose dad had gone to the Air Force Academy, and that at first got him thinking about the possibilities.
“I kind of glanced at them,” he said of the various military academies of each service branch, but was well aware how high the criteria were. “I really didn’t take it seriously that I would go to the academies.”
As Treyton was building a high school resume that would eventually land him atop his graduating class academically and is filled with multiple leadership roles, the idea developed. During his junior year, he began talking with an Army liaison officer who took an interest in his West Point potential. By last winter, he was applying to attend week-long camps run by the Army, Navy and Coast Guard academies.
Treyton was at first rejected for the West Point Summer Leadership Experience, which he said was “disheartening.” But then, by some quirk he still can’t explain, a second message arrived that said he was in. He also was accepted to the Navy and Coast Guard camps, and did all three last summer. The Navy camp at Annapolis was “all right,” Treyton said, and the Coast Guard version was like a mini boot camp. By the end of summer, he was thinking West Point. He completed applications to all four military academies, but was hoping West Point was where he might land. He entered the nomination process through U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy, and then waited. Without that nomination, you don’t go. Treyton easily passed the physical tests required for West Point, and figured he had enough leadership credentials to qualify. His main concern, he said, was academics.
He knew that the average West Pointer scores a 30 on the ACT. Treyton took it three times, with scores of 27, then 26, then 27 again.
“I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t know if I can do this,’” he said. “I wasn’t going to give up. This was my dream is to go here.”
During Homecoming week of his senior year in Greenwood, Treyton got a call from Rep. Duffy’s office that he had earned one of the two nominations available this year in the district. That call put him in an “ever long wait,” he said, to get final approval of his acceptance to West Point. As a Plan B, just in case, he sent out applications to some colleges.
The Greenwood basketball team on which Treyton was the starting point guard was playing a game in Cornell on the evening of Feb. 6. The varsity played first that night, and as Treyton and his teammates were in the stands watching the junior varsity game that followed, he got a text from his liaison officer.
It said, “Hey, you should go to check your portal. I think you’ve got some good news.”
There it was, his official acceptance into the Academy.
“That was an electric night,” he said. “Lots of hugs happening.”
When he reports for basic training on June 29, Treyton will be the first Greenwood graduate since Shawn Arch in 1987 to become a West Point cadet. He’ll first have six weeks of what’s known as “Beast,” that period when the Army lets everyone know who is boss.
“They try to break you down into nothing and then they try to build you back up to a leader,” he said.
After basics, Treyton will become a plebe — a freshman — in the U.S. Military Academy. He’ll have 28 major areas from which to choose to study, and is leaning toward systems engineering as of now. His days will be long, he knows, up at 5 a.m., classes every day, extracurriculars, athletics. Leave from base will be limited, although each cadet is assigned to a host family in the New York area who they will visit to “get away” from the daily grind.
Summers, Treyton said, are when cadets earn their stripes.
“Summers are dedicated to military training,” he said. “The summers are when they turn you into soldiers.”
Almost all West Pointers graduate in four years. They come out as Army second lieutenants, and are then placed in 5-year military assignments. That could land Treyton at The Pentagon, overseas, or at an American base. After that commitment ends, he will have another three years of Reserve duty to fulfill. Treyton expects his four years at West Point will be like an extension of high school, albeit considerably more difficult. Unlike regular college, where students often have only a few classes a day and empty hours to fill, he’ll be following a rigid schedule. There’ll be no time for partying and other distracting activities, and that’s just fine with him.
“I always knew since I was young that I didn’t want to participate in that stuff,” Treyton said. “That’s where I want to go and do something that doesn’t accept those things. That just goes with my personal beliefs.”
Treyton said he looks forward to making strong bonds with his fellow cadets, as they endure “Beast” training and learn their skills and military ways. There’s a strict honor code to be followed, and he’s prepared for it.
“You’ve got to follow the rules,” Treyton said. “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”
Finding a place where those high morals are upheld every day is where Treyton said he’s always wanted to be.
“This was like my ideal college,” he said. “Everyone is like me, where they value their education. They don’t want to screw off. That’s exactly what I’m looking for. You can trust everyone.”
It surely doesn’t hurt that a West Point appointment means a free college education, and even a monthly income. True, there’s a long commitment in return, but Treyton said it’s a cost he’s more than willing to pay.
“People ask me, ‘Are you sure you want to give away 12 years of your life?’” he said. “I think it’s the best thing you can do as an American.”
“People ask me, ‘Are you sure you want to give away 12 years of your life? I think it’s the best thing you can do as an American.” -Treyton Thomas