At West Point, the Meaning of 'Honor' and 'Riot' A West Point inspection held after a fire drill incensed the school's cadets, leading to protests and accusations that administrators violated the academy's honor code. The incident report called the acts a "riot." Robert Siegel talks with Greg Bruno of the Times Herald-Record of Orange County, N.Y.
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At West Point, the Meaning of 'Honor' and 'Riot'

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At West Point, the Meaning of 'Honor' and 'Riot'

At West Point, the Meaning of 'Honor' and 'Riot'

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On April 19th, something happened at the United States military academy at West Point and, depending upon whose account of what happened, it was either hijinks in uniform or rowdiness unbecoming 1,000 future officers. It all had to do with a fire drill, and a series of room searches. Reporter Greg Bruno has been covering this story for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York, and he joins us from New Windsor, New York. Greg, take us back to the morning of April 19th. What happened at West Point?

Mr. GREG BRUNO (Reporter, Times Herald-Record): Sure. Cadets were told that there would be some sort of fire drill. So before dawn cadets were awoken about 5:20. All of the cadets exited the barrack. Shortly after units of drug sniffing dogs showed up, entered the barracks and cadets were told at that point that they were not to go back in, not to get ready for class. That there would be a drug search. Uh, the official terminology for the search is the Health and Welfare Search, but the point that cadets have been pointing to and, and, and some of the folks that I've spoken to that was the sticking point, I suppose, was the fact the canines were there.

SIEGEL: Ah ha.

Mr. BRUNO: So it was, in essence, a drug search.

SIEGEL: Now were the canines there from the military academy's security service or were they there from the local police...

Mr. BRUNO: Surrounding areas. West Point often calls in local law enforcement to assist with these types of searches.

SIEGEL: Well eventually the search is complete. I gather they're not turning up any drugs.

Mr. BRUNO: We're not hearing that they turned up anything.

SIEGEL: And then what happens?

Mr. BRUNO: Well then later in the evening, at about 10:30, a disturbance breaks out in the courtyard of the barracks area. This disturbance escalates into things being hurled from barracks windows, items on fire, obscenities, and even what cadets call the naked man, cadets that run around without their clothes on. So it sounded like a little chaotic for a short time.

SIEGEL: Now a little chaotic on a scale from what happens at the academy after a football game and a riot, where do we place these events of April 19th.

Mr. BRUNO: Judging from cadets that we've spoken to this was nothing more than spirit. Something similar to what might happen after a football game but never unsafe, never done in a dangerous way. But speaking to police officers and firefighters who actually responded, they saw this as something that doesn't happen that often. So there are some disagreements as to the scope and the size.

SIEGEL: And something unpleasant I gather.

Mr. BRUNO: Something unpleasant, sure. but the point seems to be not necessarily what we call it, but the reasons why the cadets decided they need to do this. The cadets felt that they were being tricked into a search of their rooms. The leadership of West Point did not see it that way. Some cadets said that the reason that they decided to hold a disturbance was because they thought they had been lied to, which is a big no-no for a cadet at West Point who is bound by the core principals of duty and honor. And the honor code strictly states a cadet will not lie, cheat or steal.

SIEGEL: Well do we know if any cadets have been disciplined for what happened...

Mr. BRUNO: Uh we, we have not heard, uh, that the cadets have been disciplined. In fact West Point officials have said that there have been no disciplinary actions taken, and there most likely will not be.

SIEGEL: When you heard about burning objects being thrown from windows of the barracks, were you able to find out if those were small burning objects, or if they were, you know, large things, mattresses or something like that being thrown through...

Mr. BRUNO: Yeah, I think they were small objects. One of the cadets explained to me what's known as an M-R-E bomb. M-R-E is meals ready to eat come with little heat packages, you can withdraw those heat packages from a meals ready to eat, throw it in water, and then some sort of high school type chemical reaction takes place and a loud explosion is the result.

SIEGEL: This sort of demonstration against what had been done in the morning, however high-spirited it was, do you get the impression that that sort of thing happens often at West Point, or it's unusual for cadets to do that?

Mr. BRUNO: I think of this scope and the size it's unusual. It's not uncommon for cadets to be boisterous and excited certain nights of the week, or a little louder on post than other nights. But I'm hearing that the size of this incident is what made it unique. Typically you don't have a 1,000 to 2,000 cadets screaming and shouting and, and throwing things from the windows all at once.

SIEGEL: Well Greg Bruno thanks for talking with us.

Mr. BRUNO: Thanks Robert.

SIEGEL: On this story that's reporter, Greg Bruno of the Times Herald Record of Middletown, New York, talking to us about what happened at West Point on April 19th.

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