2nd Lt. Tom Jansen is the first Dutchman to graduate from the United States Military Academy in West Point. Photo: Sergeant Major Maartje Roos


By Captain Jessica Bode

Gables, ornaments, stained glass windows, and beautiful stone carvings. It looks like a film set, a combination of Hogwarts from Harry Potter and the Red Keep from Game of Thrones. From every angle, the United States Military Academy in West Point is unique, as is 2nd Lt. Tom Jansen, who became the first Dutchman to graduate here on May 25.

The prestigious officer training academy on the bank of the Hudson River proudly overlooks the green hills. For more than 200 years, recruits have come here to become officers.

Roughly 15,000 Americans apply every year, plus an additional 200 international students. Only 8% are accepted. 2nd Lt. Jansen was one of them.

“It’s a dream come true, but it’s also extremely hard work under a very strict regime,” he said.

Education to an exceptional standard

Tom Jansen: “It’s a dream come true, but it’s also extremely hard work under a very strict regime.” Photo: Sergeant Major Maartje Roos

Many cadets do indeed find the training demanding and are sometimes disappointed. But alumni also acknowledge that all of this soon fades into the background once you graduate.

“Student life is not particularly vibrant here, and we’re no party animals. But you receive an exceptional education and you gain a significant advantage from being trained here. At least 20% of all American officers have studied here.”

The military feels like home

Jansen grew up in a military family, and describes the defense organization as home.

“We lived in Seedorf, Germany, for most of my childhood, because my father worked for NATO in a military capacity. We moved to New York when I was 17, because he became a military advisor there. I wanted to join the military too, but I didn’t know exactly how or in what role.”

It all came together when he was in The Big Apple. “I came across West Point and I knew right away that that was it.”

Recommendations

He was admitted on the strength of his good grades, relevant extra-curricular activities in high school, and a rock solid letter of application. “Don’t forget the recommendation,” adds Jansen. “Americans must obtain one from a senator or a member of congress, for example. For someone from the Netherlands, it could be from a high-ranking military officer.” Lieutenant General Mart de Kruif wrote a recommendation for Jansen, because he believed in the cadet’s dream.

Busy schedule

All 4,400 cadets have breakfast and lunch together, and dinner on Thursday evenings. Photo: Sergeant Major Maartje Roos

Almost four years on, with the diploma almost within his grasp, every minute of his schedule remained crammed with subjects such as psychology, terrorism, American politics, international relations, engineering, French, sports (such as American football), and military studies.

And until the last day, the 4,400 cadets have breakfast and lunch together, and dinner on Thursday evenings. All with military precision, of course.

All soon-to-be officers gather in the courtyard at set times and proceed to the main mess hall in formation. Operating in three shifts, the caterers work around the clock to feed everyone. “It will be lovely and quiet next month when it’s just me and my parents at the table,” says Jansen, who can already picture himself back in the Netherlands.

Mistakes

However well these students have done so far, a single mistake could still delay or even cost them their graduation. Nonetheless, the teachers are not worried about the Dutch cadet. “Tom will be fine. He is level-headed and quick to grasp any situation,” responds 35-year-old Professor Dr. Jason Warner.  “He’s one of the best students I’ve ever had here. And I’m not just saying that because he is being interviewed.”

Praise for Jansen

Fellow cadets, coaches and other teachers also praise Jansen.

“Tom thinks of others before thinking of himself. That’s a special mindset,” says Brent Matthews, international student supervisor. “He would quite often come to see me about problems, but they were always other people’s problems.”

Teacher Major Bond adds: “I hope more students from the Netherlands will join us. West-European students have a lot to offer this academy.”

To the Royal Military Academy

The day after his graduation, Jansen and his family flew home to the Netherlands. Almost as soon as they obtain their diploma, alumni are barred from accessing the grounds. They need to make way for their successors.

“But I have to return to the Netherlands anyway, because in June I will be attending the Royal Military Academy in Breda for a couple of weeks. I registered for officer training there four years ago, but I physically attended the training in America. Now I will join my ‘classmates’ for several weeks. In the new academic year we will go on to specialist training together. It will be good to get to know them.”

He doesn’t know what direction his career will take after that. “But one thing is for sure, I will be placed with the infantry.”