America's Book of Secrets (2012) s01e09 Episode Script

West Point

NARRATOR: It is the most prestigious military academy in the world where cutting-edge technology converges with battle-proven tradition.
But inside this launch pad for the Army's elite are secrets secrets so fascinating There's things that definitely happen up at West Point.
There are secrets that graduates go to their grave with.
NARRATOR: so compelling You have to go to a smoky bunker where tear gas is being released.
NARRATOR: so controversial Why was J.
Edgar Hoover and the FBI sending so many agents to try to track down this one cadet? NARRATOR: that they've been kept hidden from the public until now.
Sometimes you just have to know facts-- how many weapons, how much ammunition, how far do they shoot.
ARRATOR: There are those who believe in the existence of a book a book that contains the most highly guarded secrets of the United States of America a book whose very existence is known to only a select few.
But if such a book exists, what would it contain? Secret histories? Secret plans? Secret methods? Does there really exist America's Book of Secrets? (whooshing) 50 miles north of New York City, along the banks of the Hudson River, lies the world's foremost military academy West Point.
It is a university unlike any other, steeped in tradition, and where presidents, world leaders and the Army's bravest officers are taught and trained.
Famous alumni include generals like George S.
Patton Norman Schwarzkopf David Petraeus and even former presidents Ulysses S.
Grant and Dwight D.
But what really goes on behind the stone walls of one of America's most formidable fortresses? And what secrets can, at last, be revealed? BILL MURPHY JR.
: The thing about West Point is that it's a mystery to a lot of us on the outside.
It's kind of like a Hogwarts on the Hudson.
All right, new cadets! Step up to the line, not on the line, not over the line! Get off the bus! Move quickly! Walk faster, cadet! Why am I walking faster than you? Let's go! Move back, move back.
What is that smirk for? NARRATOR: Candidates for admission to West Point come from all across America and from every part of the world.
Most are nominated by members of Congress and military officials.
And a few are even recommended by the President of the United States.
DAVID LIPSKY: 50,000 people have begun the process, 12,000 people have actually formally filled out the applications, and there are 1,200 male and female cadets left standing.
The smoke has cleared.
And then they say, "You now have 90 seconds to say your official good-byes to your parents.
NARRATOR: Known by the academy as Reception Day, or R Day, the orientation for the new corps of West Point cadets begins immediately upon arrival.
Put your salute down.
Don't show any frustration on your face.
Look me in the eyes.
Do you understand me, new cadet? NARRATOR: For the next four years, they will face the toughest and most sophisticated educational and military training program in the United States.
A few will drop out, but those who remain will be forever changed, graduating as a commissioned officer in the Army.
ELIZABETH CONSTANTINO: I was a tri-sport athlete, I was a straight-A student, I was my senior class president.
I got there that morning, and I was immediately just engulfed in this high-tone environment.
You're gonna have a long, long summer.
Do you understand me, new cadets? CADETS: Yes, Sergeant! CONSTANTINO: It's very stressful, and I didn't quite know what to do when I got there.
NARRATOR: While other college coeds are decorating dorm rooms and partying with friends, West Point's new cadets sacrifice much of their social freedom to a process some outsiders call "soldierizing.
" MURPHY JR: West Point cadets, they're kids, they're normal people, but that place is hard-core.
It's military from the day you walk onto the post until the day you graduate.
LIPSKY: If they're wearing glasses, they will be issued TEDs, Tactical Eye Devices.
If you have tattoos, the tattoos are digitally photographed and scanned in as part of who you are there.
Your skin belongs to the Army now, too.
NARRATOR: From the moment they arrive, the new cadets must navigate a labyrinth of challenges and secret traditions, beginning with The Cadet in the Red Sash.
CONSTANTINO: I met The Cadet in the Red Sash.
His or her famous line is: "Cadet, step up to my line.
" Do not stand one foot behind my line, do not stand six inches behind my line, do not stand one inch behind my line.
Right up to my line.
CONSTANTINO: It's their very first experience into West Point, it's their indoctrination, and it's very stressful and they yell at you.
That is your left! Go to your right, new cadet! CONSTANTINO: There's a little card you have 30 seconds to memorize: "New cadet Constantino reports to The Cadet in the Red Sash for the first time as ordered.
" LIPSKY: Those are the first words you speak as a Army Leader in Training, so what you see is all these kids who have been valedictorians, who led sports teams, and all they have to do is say one line and they can't do it.
NARRATOR: Before they take a single academic class, each new cadet must conquer six weeks of intense physical and military training known as "Beast Barracks.
" (indistinct shouts) (grunting) LIPSKY: You're learning soldier stuff, you're learning how to be a member of a squad, how to be a member of a unit.
You have to go into a smoky bunker where tear gas is being released.
You have to then take off the mask, and you have to report to your cadet company leader.
Open your eyes! I'm an American s (coughs) I'm an American soldier! PRESTON G.
PYSH: I'm thinking to myself, this place is insane, this is really hard, this is something that I don't know if I can get through it.
LIPSKY: A lot of the kids arrange for other cadets to take their pictures when they come out of the bunker, because there's, like, snot hanging out, tears coming out the sides of their eyes.
PYSH: And that's where the real West Point experience begins, and, you know, it has its name "Beast Barracks" for a reason, because it definitely isn't easy-- it's a very difficult experience.
NARRATOR: Only after they master basic marksmanship explosives and training in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazards-- also known as CBRN-- will cadets return to the main campus in order to begin their regular academic courses.
Now officially freshmen of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the first-year cadets are referred to as "plebes.
" (man shouting drill command) Waiting for them upon their return are approximately 3,600 upperclassmen, and each a survivor of their own very grueling first year.
CONSTANTINO: When the first day started of the academic year, when Beast ended, it actually was a little bit more frightful than I'd imagined, because you have a few thousand upperclassmen, and, of course, they'll stop you and ask you knowledge, which is mandatory military knowledge a plebe should know at all times.
You always serve in the position of attention, new cadet.
Yes, ma'am.
Fix it! NARRATOR: That mandatory military knowledge is contained within a 325-page manual given to all first-year plebes called The Bugle Notes.
And like a sorcerer's book of spells, each phrase and fact within The Bugle Notes must be memorized word for word.
Because upperclassmen can stop a plebe at any time and demand an answer to their often-curious questions.
CONSTANTINO: When you learn that there's 340 lights in Cullum Hall, I know that I'm gonna ask one of the underclassmen, "How many lights are in Cullum Hall?" and they're gonna say, "Ma'am, there's 340 lights in Cullum Hall.
" PYSH: There's one that, "How's the cow? She walks, she talks, she's full of chalk.
The lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the nth degree.
" And so for a person who would hear that, they'd be, like, "What is that? It doesn't even make any sense.
" NARRATOR: Failure to properly memorize the strange facts contained in the Bugle Notes can result in stiff consequences, often in the form of demerits.
These are meant to strengthen the young cadets and also help to weed out those whose commitment may be lacking.
CLARK: Sometimes you just have to know facts.
It's not enough to say, "Well, I'd like to discuss it in this way," no.
We want to know, what time did you arrive? How many weapons? How much ammunition? How far do they shoot? And one of the things that comes out at West Point is, through this plebe knowledge system, is you learn to memorize and respond with facts.
NARRATOR: But there was a time, many years ago, when secret hazing rituals were conducted at the academy-- rituals long ago abolished and forbidden.
And one of the worst and most secret of these was known as The Silence.
It is thought to date back to a time soon after the Civil War, when West Point accepted for admission its first African-American cadets.
SHERMAN FLEEK: The very first black graduate was Henry O.
Flipper from Georgia.
He was born as a slave, and he graduated here in 1877.
Unfortunately for him and others that graduated even up through the years of World War Two, these cadets were silenced.
That was a practice where no one spoke to them.
NARRATOR: For many decades after the Civil War, racism and prejudice was widespread in America, and even the hallowed halls of West Point offered no exception.
Resented by all but a few of his classmates, Henry Flipper endured years when almost none but the faculty would speak to him.
Not during class, not during training, not ever.
KIRKLAND: So just imagine being there for four years and having to endure a silencing for that amount of time.
You can imagine the courage that it took and the fortitude that he had within him in order to overcome that.
NARRATOR: Fortunately for Flipper, the harsh treatment by his peers only strengthened the young cadet's determination and resolve.
He went on to serve as a second lieutenant in the Army's 10th Cavalry-- the first non-white officer to lead the now-famous Buffalo Soldiers.
During the decades that followed, both America and West Point, continued to grow and evolve.
In 1976, the Academy accepted 116 of its first-ever female cadets.
And though none of them were forced to endure the kind of hazing that had been rumored to take place in the past, barely half made it all the way to graduation.
LIPSKY: When they first arrived in the mid-'70s, because West Point is a traditional place, they weren't welcomed really warmly.
So, if you meet a female Army officer who says that they were West Point class of '81 or class of '82, you are meeting a hard, cool person.
NARRATOR: But perhaps the most infamous hazing incident at West Point involved a young cadet named Douglas MacArthur, the future commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific during World War Two.
KIRKLAND: There was a situation where he had to squat over glass for over an hour, and he couldn't do it any longer, he fainted.
NARRATOR: The incident forced MacArthur to be hospitalized and later become the subject of a congressional investigation into the clandestine practice of hazing.
And even though the practice has been officially banned for decades, there are some who admit that a mild form of it is still in existence.
PYSH: You have to read that New York Times every single morning.
You have to know the five articles that you could potentially be asked by any upperclassman at any point in time.
That constant battle of knowing all the things that you're supposed to know, not to mention all the academics, that's the haze.
That truly is the haze.
NARRATOR: Coming up FLEEK: It was a tough time for the American Army.
So he got into a collaboration with a British officer to sell West Point to the British.
NARRATOR: May, 2010.
Army Private Bradley Manning is arrested and charged with aiding the enemy, after providing more than 700,000 secret documents to the Web site WikiLeaks.
According to military officials, Manning first started releasing the classified materials in 2009 while working in Iraq.
It was a stark reminder that the threat to our national security can come from both outside and inside the military.
DAVID RAYMOND: So here you have a young soldier who had access to secret data on a network.
And he allegedly took large amounts of that data that was supposed to be secret and gave that to somebody outside the network.
So, we take it very seriously.
NARRATOR: For West Pointers, the threat of an enemy among the ranks is of critical importance, and a concern that dates back to an era before the site was an academic institution.
Constructed in 1778, West Point was originally built as a military fortress, and was of key strategic importance during the American Revolution.
FLEEK: George Washington called West Point the most strategic location in America.
He who controlled the Hudson would win the war.
LIPSKY: The Revolutionary troops were afraid the British would come down the Hudson and they would separate New York from the rest of the colonies.
And so they picked a spot in the river where the land kind of jutted out and you could get a chain across.
And so there was a gigantic chain that was put from one side of the river to the other, which could be pulled up.
If the British were coming, it would just stop them cold.
NARRATOR: Although the commanders and soldiers at West Point prided themselves on being ready to respond to any attack, nothing could have prepared them for what became the Continental Army's most shocking, and secret, act of betrayal.
(gunshot, horse neighing) In July 1780, General Benedict Arnold, one of George Washington's most-trusted friends and colleagues, took command of the fort.
But just two months later, he would become notorious as America's most infamous traitor.
FLEEK: He was a great combat leader, but he was very arrogant and he thought he was being cheated out of promotions and pay and so on.
So he got into a collaboration with Major John André, a British officer, to sell West Point for the price of 20,000 pounds sterling.
NARRATOR: To communicate with his British coconspirators, Arnold used a method eerily similar to today's high-tech security systems: a series of coded letters that could only be read with the help of a cipher.
FLEEK: John André, who had all the plans, the maps, was heading south after his deliberation and his conspiracy with Arnold, and he was captured by New York militia.
NARRATOR: Luckily, Arnold's plot failed.
André was executed, but Arnold fled to England, where he lived for nearly two decades.
Today, on the wall of the Old Cadet Chapel, only one of the 36 plaques designed to honor America's Revolutionary War generals is illegible, as the consonants and vowels of Benedict Arnold's name have been scratched clean by generations of unforgiving cadets.
But perhaps there was another, more positive and profound legacy left to West Point by its most notorious would-be betrayer.
For it was Arnold's friend, George Washington, who after the Revolutionary War ended, first proposed that West Point go from being a place of shame to a school for officers, one where the virtues of honor, courage and duty would be perpetuated.
But believe it or not, there were those who opposed the idea.
FLEEK: The Americans at this time feared a standing army more than anything else.
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson pretty well killed it, saying that it was unconstitutional to have a military academy.
Personally and politically, it was against his values to establish a professional elite officer corps.
NARRATOR: Eventually, those who believed in the Academy won their argument, and West Point was established in 1802.
A little more than a century later, in 1919, Colonel Douglas MacArthur, having survived the horrors of World War I, returned to West Point, this time as Superintendent.
He soon after instituted a formal doctrine in an effort to eradicate all forms of dishonesty and unethical behavior-- the Honor Code.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: The Honor Code is one of the great things about the military academy.
It says a cadet doesn't lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.
ELIZABETH CONSTANTINO: I've had a few friends and classmates at West Point cheat on an exam, or accidentally copy words into a paper, and they've been relieved from West Point because of the Honor Code.
It is the one thing that binds all cadets.
NARRATOR: But strict codes of honor can be hard to live by, and live with, as was the case with a few of West Point's most notorious dropouts.
FLEEK: In the summer of 1830, Edgar Alan Poe, the great poet, came here.
He'd been in the army two or three years already, was a sergeant major in an artillery regiment, and to make that rank in a couple of years is interesting.
But he soon learned that he did not like it here, and he did everything he could within about seven to eight months to be dismissed from the Academy.
NARRATOR: Another former West Point cadet, LSD guru Timothy Leary, came to West Point in 1940, only to drop out one year later.
LEARY: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
(explosion) NARRATOR: 2006.
In the midst of Operation Iraqi Freedom, rumors began to circulate concerning an incoming West Point cadet known only as "Jameel," the first Iraqi citizen ever to attend West Point.
Although no photos of him are known to exist, and even his very presence is still considered a matter of national security, Jameel is more than a cadet.
He is also part of a long-standing West Point tradition.
: I can tell you that among the foreign cadets that they've had in recent years are Afghan cadets and Iraqi cadets, and you know, a few years back, they started to get cadets from the former Soviet Republics.
MAJOR MICHAEL BURNS: It's no accident that we bring international cadets from parts of the world where there may be turmoil and that we want to build a strong relationship, and we want these international cadets to see the American Army in a positive light.
CLARK: These young men and women who come from other countries will rise in the service in their own countries, and you'll have permanent friendships and permanent bonds of understanding between nations' armed forces.
NARRATOR: Unfortunately, not all of West Point's international graduates have escaped controversy.
Former Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, graduated from the U.
Military Academy in In 1980, only months after being overthrown, he was assassinated in a plot his enemies called "Operation Reptile.
: I graduated West Point in 1988, and one of my classmates was a cadet from Uruguay.
In the middle of his time at West Point, the government of Uruguay, which was friendly to the United States before he entered West Point, actually flipped to being antagonistic towards the United States.
So that's always the danger, is that you never know what might happen.
NARRATOR: Are West Point's most precious military tactics and technologies really safe from enemy hands? And what if one of our nation's best and brightest military minds is captured in battle? Or worse yet, what if he or she disappears without a trace? Coming up FLEEK: The idea of foul play or someone missing is just inconceivable, how that could have happened.
PRESTON PYSH: I absolutely think there's secrets that graduates go to their grave with at West Point.
NARRATOR: West Point.
January 14, 1950.
After receiving a series of mysterious phone calls, 22-year-old sophomore Richard Colvin Cox leaves campus for a dinner with an old acquaintance, never to be seen or heard from again.
Edgar Hoover assigned some of his best agents on the case, trying to figure out what happened.
and to this day, we still do not know what happened to him.
JAMES UNDERWOOD: There were various sightings of him, but for the most part, that was the last sighting of Richard Cox as a West Point cadet.
NARRATOR: The case became a national media sensation.
Later, Richard Cox was reportedly sighted in Washington D.
, Berlin, Chicago and London, but was it really him? UNDERWOOD: The FBI was hearing from people all over the place saying, "Oh, I've seen Richard Cox at a gas station.
" There was even a report one time that someone saw Richard Cox on a television game show.
They were chasing down leads wherever they could find them.
NARRATOR: But where did Richard Cox go on the night he disappeared? With whom did he meet? Was he perhaps harboring secrets? During the decades that followed, investigators uncovered strange clues that hinted of CIA connections and Cold War espionage.
But were they genuine? And might a book of secrets contain the answers to the mysterious whereabouts of West Point's only missing cadet? Born in 1928, Richard Colvin Cox grew up in Mansfield, Ohio.
After graduating from high school in 1946, he volunteered for the U.
Army and became a military police officer at an intelligence office in Bamberg, Germany.
UNDERWOOD: He did the nontraditional way of going to West Point.
He was an enlisted man when he was serving in Germany, in the Army, but he got a congressional appointment to West Point.
NARRATOR: Cox excelled at West Point.
Slightly older than his fellow cadets, he ranked in the top 20% of his class.
On the night of his disappearance, he told his roommates he was meeting a friend he would only refer to as "George," someone he claimed to have known during his years serving overseas.
KIRKLAND: Apparently, he had a number of different, uh, interactions with this, uh, with this man at West Point.
UNDERWOOD: The roommates have a discussion with Cox about, "Who is George?" And what Cox tells them is a pretty bizarre story, that George was someone who, during World War Two, castrated German soldiers, and had impregnated a young German woman, and that he had hanged her to make it appear like a suicide.
NARRATOR: At 5:45 p.
, Cox signed the West Point departure log.
When he had not returned by the following morning, a preliminary search began, and George became a prime suspect.
UNDERWOOD: The identification of George actually became the central focus of the FBI's search for Richard Cox.
Part of the FBI theory was that George had done harm to Richard Cox, perhaps even murdered him.
FLEEK: Back in 1950, even more so than today, you have to be accounted for almost 24 hours a day, the lights out, Taps, breakfast formations.
The idea of foul play or someone missing is just inconceivable how that could have happened.
NARRATOR: Was Richard Cox really murdered by the mysterious German man named George? Or might there be another, perhaps more secret reason for the cadet's disappearance? UNDERWOOD: It was the beginning of the Cold War era.
There was a lot of tangling back and forth between the allies and the Soviets over who was going to control what sectors of occupied Germany.
Cox was right in the middle of that.
KIRKLAND: This is one cadet.
Why was J.
Edgar Hoover and the FBI sending so many agents to try to track down this one cadet? It brings up questions as to what his background was, who he met in Germany, who he might have been working for, or who he worked for after he disappeared from the military academy.
NARRATOR: Might Richard Colvin Cox have possessed classified information that made him a target for foul play? Or had his training made him an ideal candidate for recruitment in top-secret Cold War missions? UNDERWOOD: There was a young woman that the FBI was focused on that was running drugs from South America into Florida.
And this FBI informant that was meeting with her and trying to find out more about her drug activity, one night met a man who accompanied her.
And this man identified himself as Richard Mansfield.
Later, he admitted that as far as his mother and the Army were concerned, he was dead.
Later in the conversation, he tells this informant that Castro won't be in power much longer.
This takes place in 1960.
That's a year before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
That led to the theory that Cox was involved with the intelligence service, that he had been a 1950s version of Jason Bourne.
NARRATOR: In 1982, prize-winning reporter Jim Underwood began his own investigation into the disappearance of Richard Cox.
After interviewing more than 60 people and scouring thousands of federal documents, he published a 12-part series about the case in the Mansfield News Journal.
In it, he concluded that the missing West Point cadet ran away from the Academy to join the CIA, where he continued to work in secret.
But is it really possible that the disappearance of Richard Colvin Cox is the ultimate U.
spy story? UNDERWOOD: I adhere to the spy theory.
It's the only one that makes any sense.
There was never a body recovered.
At one point, they even drained ponds at West Point to try to locate a body.
And as several FBI agents said to me, murders produce bodies.
If Cox was recruited into the intelligence service, I'm sure they never anticipated that his disappearance would become one of the top 50 mysteries in American history.
NARRATOR: Although Richard Colvin Cox was declared legally dead in 1957, his story remains an unsolved mystery as baffling as that of Amelia Earhart, the Black Dahlia or Jack the Ripper.
PYSH: I absolutely think there's secrets that graduates go to their grave with at West Point.
There's things that definitely happen up at West Point that's just really for the Corps and not for your typical outsider.
NARRATOR: Coming up TIMOTHY GATLIN: You may not feel 100% comfortable coming out of an aircraft at 1,300 feet, but you're gaining some courage, some bravery.
KIRKLAND: There's always that possibility that you may be taken hostage.
And so how do you evade capture? NARRATOR: Afghanistan, summer, 2011.
A small U.
Army infantry unit moves across barren terrain, along an unassuming road, surrounded by crumbling walls and a few dusty trees.
Suddenly, an ambush.
Hey, Roger, we have enemy pinned down here in the south.
NARRATOR: For those in charge, decisions must be made in an instant.
And all they can rely on is their experience, their wits and their military training.
GATLIN: You never know what's going to happen.
Hey, hold what you got! Full security to the west! GATLIN: You're going out, you're on a patrol, you're in a city, and all of a sudden, you get attacked.
Go! Come on, come on, come on! GATLIN: So it's never like you see it coming, but there are basic skills that you have to have as a soldier.
And you need to be able to put those skills into action, in a number of different environments.
NARRATOR: But just how does West Point prepare America's future military commanders for the life-and-death stakes of military service? GATLIN: We're really taking individuals coming out of high school, and they're going into an environment where you have to learn how to survive, how to evade, how to resist and how to escape.
NARRATOR: While students at other universities are studying things like anthropology, engineering and literature, the cadets at West Point tackle those subjects and much, much more.
KIRKLAND: We spend a whole semester on the course called Combat Leadership.
You know, a soldier today doesn't want to be just told what to do, they want to be told why they're doing it.
What is the purpose of an operation that we're going on? Based upon the West Point officer's education, they can explain that to the soldier, so the soldier has a purpose in what they're doing.
NARRATOR: The exclusive course load includes everything from military leadership and helicopter aeronautics to cyber security, information warfare, nuclear technology, homeland security and, of course, global terrorism.
CONSTANTINO: All of our military faculty have come back from deployments or from certain bases or training experiences around the world.
And they have a wealth of knowledge and information.
And in all of our classes, we talk about the military.
We talk about events or circumstances, you know, the lessons learned from their deployment or their experiences.
NARRATOR: But the real combat lessons are learned once final exams are over.
After acquiring a full term of military know-how, West Pointers quickly begin an even more brutal regimen-- this time, training with the real Army.
Roger, copy.
Danger close.
PYSH: Your second summer at West Point takes cadets through an experience where they understand all the different branches in the Army.
So you could go to a SCUBA school, you can go to air assault school, where you learn how to rappel out of helicopters.
Rappel! So there's a lot of unique opportunities.
NARRATOR: During each summer, cadets train with soldiers in the U.
Army, where they get crash courses in fields like artillery and aviation.
CLARK: The truth is, it's a really tough, hard slog, and that's the value.
You learn persistence, you learn self-discipline.
You learn about yourself and how you respond under stress.
GATLIN: You may not feel 100% comfortable with coming out of an aircraft at 1,200 or 1,300 feet, but you're gaining some courage, some bravery that you'll have to call upon later on.
NARRATOR: Cadets are trained to handle high-stress situations, like being stuck behind enemy lines.
And army specialists recreate capture scenarios, including P.
But with the Taliban and other terrorist cells offering $100,000 bounties for the capture of an American soldier, just how do West Point cadets prepare for this worst-case scenario? Hey, you're right there.
Don't fire; just hold up.
(man speaks indistinctly) No, we got it.
KIRKLAND: No matter what environment you're in-- whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan, whatever-- there's always that possibility that you may be taken hostage.
And so how do you evade capture? We can train the student in order to prevent them from giving away that type of information.
PYSH: For me, going through some of the most extreme experiences in Afghanistan, I think West Point has prepared me for dealing with those scenarios and dealing with that hardship and profound experience that some people have.
All right, let's go.
Get up there.
NARRATOR: But as unconventional warfare becomes the new battleground for the 21st century, just how are West Point cadets prepared to defeat the enemies of tomorrow? What confidential battle techniques and secret knowledge do they possess by the time they leave America's most prestigious military academy? Coming up Any sort of hacking that we teach is done in a very controlled environment.
To defend a network, you have to know what the threat is, and so we teach them how to be the threat.
NARRATOR: Graduation day, More than one thousand cadets have completed four years of rigorous training and intense academic study.
LIPSKY: By the time that they graduate and they go into the army, they have essentially lived every role in the army that their soldiers are gonna be living, so they know how to lead them when they get out.
It's really, really brilliantly organized.
Class dismissed! (cheering) (camera shutter clicks) NARRATOR: But just how-- and where-- are cadets assigned after four years at West Point? And how is their performance at the academy taken into consideration? LIPSKY: You will pick your post based on your order of merit, which is your military grade, your academic grade and your physical grade.
So if you have done really well at West Point, you can choose your branch.
The army will pay for your medical training, and so the people that have the best academic records will go in for the Medical Services Corps.
And the ones who are really hard-core, the ones who love the army the most, they're really hoping to get infantry, which is the most dangerous, the most high-risk.
NARRATOR: More than 200 years after it was founded, West Point continues to produce many of America's finest leaders, balancing deeply held traditions with the demands of a changing world.
GATLIN: The enemy, it's a living, it's a breathing, it's a thinking entity.
It has the ability to exploit weaknesses.
They are savvy with regards to information technology in cyberspace.
NARRATOR: For the army, like every branch of the of the service, the Word Wide Web has become the new battlefield.
And in order to counter enemy attacks, West Point graduates have been trained in both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.
RAYMOND: Just like technology has changed our everyday lives, technology is everywhere on the battlefield.
The intent there is to, uh, make them understand what the threat is.
We certainly teach cadets some offensive cyber security skills, but we really have to do that in order to teach them how to defend their networks.
Any sort of hacking that we teach is done in a very controlled environment, and the cadets have a solid understanding of what ethical behavior on the network is.
To defend a network you have to know what the threat is, and so we teach them how to be the threat.
(beeping) NARRATOR: Of the roughly one thousand cadets who graduate each year, more than 40% will serve at least 20 years of active service in the U.
But what becomes of the other 60%? September 11, 2001.
When terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center, it was a harsh reminder of just how vital today's military leaders have become, not only with regard to fighting overseas, but also in the protection of American soil.
SEAN MULLIN: I was down at ground zero for about a year as the captain in charge of the National Guard soldiers at ground zero.
I was New York City Street Force Commander.
I was always raised with this belief that it's good to do something for your country.
The mission of West Point isn't just to prepare officers for the army, it's also to inspire within each cadet a desire to serve the nation.
NARRATOR: The commitment of West Point graduates to protect and serve outside the army surged in the years that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
MULLIN: There have been a lot of West Point graduates who have gone on to serve in the government after their military service has ended.
The FBI, the CIA, Department of Homeland Security.
One of my buddies, he's on the SWAT team, he's got the kids, white picket fence.
You know, machine guns in the trunk.
NARRATOR: In 2011, General David Petraeus-- West Point class of 1974-- relinquished command of the U.
and NATO forces in Afghanistan to become the Army's first four-star general to lead America's Central Intelligence Agency.
His assignment served to reinforce the strategic role the Army and its leaders will play in a changing global landscape.
But beyond military battles and matters of national security, might future generations of West Point graduates be top candidates for other, even more exclusive and out-of-this-world professions? FLEEK: There were three members of the Apollo 11 crew.
Two were West Point graduates-- Buzz Aldrin, class of 1951, and Michael Collins, class of NARRATOR: To date, a total of 18 of America's astronauts have been West Point graduates, and that is only the beginning.
: I think one of the key secrets to West Point is that for all the regimentation and the hard work and the focus and preparation for going to war, at the end of the day, it's a leadership academy.
Underneath it all, they really are very ordinary, if high-achieving, Americans, but there's something about the way they look out for each other and the way that they always come back to West Point as one of the defining experiences in their lives.
LIPSKY: Being asked to meet a difficult standard is something that's immensely satisfying.
And that's one of the only places in the world where, on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, you are being asked to meet that challenge, and you're asking yourself to meet that challenge, too.
That, to me, is the great secret of West Point.
NARRATOR: Secret tactics? Secret knowledge? Secret training methods? Will anyone outside of America's most prestigious military academy ever really know the secrets of West Point? One thing is certain: the stakes remain high, the dangers are many, and, as it has throughout history, West Point will continue to stand at the forefront of America's national defense.
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