Simone Askew Becomes First Black Woman to Lead West Point’s Cadets

Askew will assume the highest position of the cadet chain of command.

U.S. Military Academy Class of 2018 Cadet Simone Askew was selected First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, the highest position in the cadet chain of command. / 2nd Lt. Austin LaChance

Simone Askew, drawn to a career in the military at an early age, is now making history in the field as the first African American woman to lead the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s Corps of Cadets — the highest position in the cadet chain of command.

Askew, 20, will assume her duties as first captain for the 2017-18 academic year on August 14 at the prestigious, predominantly male public institution founded in 1802. She currently leads 1,502 cadets as the Regimental Commander of Cadet Basic Training II.

As first captain, Askew will be responsible for the overall performance of approximately 4,400 Corps of Cadets. Her duties will also include implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between the Corps and the administration.

“Simone truly exemplifies our values of duty, honor, country,” Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, commandant of cadets, said in a statement.

“Her selection is a direct result of her hard work, dedication and commitment to the Corps over the last three years. I know Simone and the rest of our incredibly talented leaders within the Class of 2018 will provide exceptional leadership to the Corps of Cadets in the upcoming academic year.”

A native of Fairfax, Va., Askew is an international history major and a member of the Army West Point Crew team. She is also developing leaders as the Cadet-in-Charge of the Elevation Initiative.

Not only did Askew hold the highest female Recondo score during Combat Field Training II for the class of 2018, she is a graduate of Air Assault School, an EXCEL Scholar, a member of the Phi Alpha Theta Honorary National History Society and a recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Military Leadership.

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Askew also made history at Fairfax High School as the founder of the Black Student Union. In addition, she was the president of her class as well as captain of the volleyball team.

Askew’s mother, Pam, told NBC Washington that as a third grader, her daughter expressed interest in pursuing a military career while watching midshipman march into a Navy football game.

“She saw them all in formation and rose up and asked me, ‘What does it take to lead that?’” her mother said.

She added that her daughter “takes a lot of pride in West Point and she has always been a leader.”

Askew received appointments to both the Naval Academy and West Point but had an affinity for the Army.

Pat Locke was one of West Point’s first females. Locke graduated in 1980 and had a career as an air defense artillery officer for 21 years. She currently is Askew’s mentor.

Her mentee becoming the first Black woman to assume duties as first captain is highly significant for Locke.

“It’s unbelievable for me that this has happened in my lifetime,” she told NBC Washington. “I didn’t think I was going to see it.”

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has a total undergraduate enrollment of 4,348, of which 81 percent are male students and 19 percent are female students, according to U.S. News & World Reports.

West Point literature states that 1,193 cadets were admitted into the class of 2016, of which 1,002 were men and 191 were women.

Last year, a photo of 16 Black women in the class of 2016 with raised fists circulated social media. The academy began receiving complaints that the photo violated a code of conduct regulations, “a list of political do’s and don’ts for service members and cautions against ‘partisan political activity’ when in uniform.”

According to the New York Times, “The 16 cadets in the photo represented all but one of the Black women in a graduating class of about 1,000, a meager 1.7 percent.”

The photo was not political, but rather was intended to demonstrate unity and pride. The young women took several spur-of-the-moment shots recreating “old corps” photos in a nod to the school’s 19th century predecessors.

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The academy superintendent said other groups have used raised fists during the year at West Point, including him.

School officials conducted an inquiry and found the women did not violate regulations and no punitive action was taken. Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the academy superintendent, said raised or “clenched” fists have been used by other cadets and even himself.

“Groups at West Point have used the clenched-fists in the past year to represent support for a team, or pride in serving the Army and Nation,” Caslen wrote.

Askew breaking ground in her position is of significance to current Black female cadets and those to come.

“It’s a great step, not only for women, but for African American women,” Askew’s younger sister, Nina, said.

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  • Congratulations Cadet Askew and may you find great success during this tenure. Outstanding job! Hooah!

  • My Army daughter, who fired a much higher Expert score than I ever did with M-16, was, in just a few short weeks, on a much, much smaller scale, slightly similarly promoted from barracks room commander, to squad leader, Student Platoon Sergeant, and then Student First Sergeant, in charge her Training Company’s routine activities and movement and their off duty time. It was a lot of extra work, nothing I’d ever aspired to when I was in the Army, but more power to her, and more power to Askew, in that we can be quite reasonably certain the Army at West Point didn’t lower standards and allow multiple practice runs for Captain Askew the way they reportedly did for the recently-tabbed first female Army Rangers.


      “In the two months since I have graduated, I have spoken with countless fellow tabbed Rangers on the topic, both from my class and from previous classes. Every morning, my Facebook news feed is filled with statuses from my peers, with links to articles on the topic and discussions on the progress of the females left in the course. We are universally in awe of what these two female Rangers have accomplished. Everyone I have talked to is of one mind. They earned it. Without the same wide shoulders, large frames, and high testosterone levels of their brother Rangers, they earned it. Unfortunately, the naysayers will continue to talk trash and belittle CPT Griest and 1LT Haver’s historic accomplishment. In response, I would like to close with a recent quote from MAJ Jim Hathaway, the current RTB executive officer:

      ‘No matter what we at Ranger School say, the non-believers will still be non-believers. We could have invited each of you to guest walk the entire course, and you would still not believe, we could have video recorded every patrol and you would still say that we “gave” it away. Nothing we say will change your opinion. I and the rest of our cadre are proud of the conduct of our soldiers, NCOs, and officers; they took the mission assigned and performed to the Ranger standard. Rangers Lead the Way!'”

      • You believe the brass and their press releases if you choose to, I served in the Army some time back and my daughter’s an Iraq combat vet. From multitudinous experience, we both choose to mistrust most of the Army’s official pronouncements. But West Point’s old and solid and up-front enough to trust, probably, and, like I wrote, we can be quite reasonably certain the Army at West Point didn’t lower standards and allow multiple practice runs for Captain of Cadets Askew; she must have earned her position.

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