clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

WEST POINT: FIRST CAPTAIN OF ACADEMY HAD GOOD TRAINING ON MISSION

Mark Jennings, the highest ranking cadet at West Point, holds the same assignment that Gen. Douglas A. McArthur and Gen. John Pershing did when they attended the military academy.

That assignment is being the academy's official representative, meeting high-ranking government officials and famous celebrities. But, Jennings, 25, said, "the high point of my time here was when I baptized and confirmed my roommate last spring."Jennings, from Utah, and Bill Nyfefler, from Colorado, became best friends when they were roommates the first year Jennings was at the academy. The LDS cadet's quiet example made quite an impression, and Nyfefler, who claimed he had no interest in any church, was baptized after three years of friendship.

Jennings' comment that baptizing his friend was the high point of his time at West Point is quite a statement, considering that he has a long list of impressive accomplishments.

One of the most rewarding - and most demanding - opportunities came when he was appointed the academy's brigade commander, or First Captain, at the beginning of this academic year. He is the first LDS cadet to hold the position in more than 40 years.

"Essentially, it means that I'm responsible for the training, discipline, conduct, and achievements of all 4,400 cadets who are here," he explained.

In addition to regular school assignments and academy requirements, the LDS cadet plans and coordinates academy-wide activities, makes travel plans, and monitors cadet compliance to academy standards. There are many nights when he gets only three or four hours of sleep.

Additionally, the 6-foot-1-inch St. George, Utah, native, who is graduating this month with a degree in philosophy, also serves as elders quorum president in the West Point Branch.

"And he does a good job at that, too," remarked Branch Pres. Gary Rhay, who is also an instructor at the academy.

Jennings attributes much of his success at the academy and in his Church calling to those who work with him. One of those is senior Mike Lawter, another LDS cadet, who is one of his six primary officers and assists him in his responsibilities. Lawter serves as operations officer.

The brigade commander said he learned a lot about leadership while serving as a missionary in the Korea Seoul Mission, where he worked as an assistant to the president for his last six months. "Being a missionary was excellent preparation for what I'm doing here," he reflected.

"The organization in the mission field is very similar to the organization here. You learn to help and care for those you are working with. You learn to give of yourself. That was the key to success in the mission field and it's the key to success here," the brigade commander said.

Before he left for his mission, he had graduated from Dixie College and signed up with the Utah National Guard. "I hadn't even thought about West Point at that time.

"When I came home, I decided I really enjoyed working with people," he said, "and I started thinking seriously about West Point." He attended a semester at BYU before entering the military academy - as a freshman. No matter how much schooling a cadet has upon entering West Point, he must start over and complete a four-year program.

Interestingly enough, when Jennings first started at West Point, he was discouraged from becoming very active in the branch, according to his mother, Dianne Jennings.

"A friend who had a military background said that Sundays were the only times for the plebes (first year cadets) to unwind," she said. "But Mark decided that the blessings he would receive would be well worth the time and effort that it took to do what was right."

The gospel is the top priority in his life. "The gospel is the most important thing in my life. It always will be."