29th March 09:10
"Afghan ready for historic training at West Point"
Afghan ready for historic training at West Point
By Michael Hill
Published June 25, 2005
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Like other new cadets reporting to West Point
this summer, Shoaib Yosoufzai is bracing for the ice-water shock of a
military education -- the marching, the drilling, the cramming, the
But the trim 20-year-old acknowledges carrying an additional burden
as the academy's first cadet from Afghanistan.
"I am an ambassador of my country," Mr. Yosoufzai said after
arriving at the U.S. Military Academy this week. "It will be a
challenge for me."
Less than four years after toppling the Taliban, the United States
is providing a military education to the young Afghan as part of a
program that takes in cadets from around the world.
By Monday, Mr. Yosoufzai's thick mop of black hair will be shaved
down and the Pashto speaker will be taking orders barked in English. He
said the change is worth it for the chance to serve his country as a
military officer in four years.
"I think the experience that I carry from the United States will
help my people and my country," he said.
Mr. Yosoufzai is a walking symbol of the relationship between the
venerable Hudson Valley training ground and the faraway country now
struggling with a surge in violence. West Point officers have provided
tips to Afghan officials starting their own national military academy,
and a Afghan delegation toured West Point a little more than a year
ago. Among the visitors was Mr. Yosoufzai's father, Col. Hamdullah
Yosoufzai, who is now dean of academic programs at the country's
fledgling military academy.
Mr. Yosoufzai decided when he was a sophomore at Kabul University
that he wanted to follow his father's footsteps to help his country's
military become more professional. He could have pursued a military
academy education in Kabul where his family lives, but instead applied
to West Point, which he calls the top military academy in the world.
He comes to the academy as part of the international cadet program
designed to generate good will and inculcate American military ethics
and values abroad. The long-running program has taken in cadets from
dozens of countries, from Nigeria to Singapore to Croatia.
"Some of the kids come from countries where the extracurricular
activity is dodging bullets," said Capt. Robert Romans, head of the
academy's international cadet program.
This year, 21 international cadets are coming to West Point. Capt.
Romans said the international slots are very competitive, and Mr.
Yosoufzai ultimately was accepted on the strength of his application,
not his family connections.
Mr. Yosoufzai and 1,249 other cadets will be officially inducted
into West Point on Monday for "Beast Barracks," a six-week basic
training course featuring long runs in the sun and lots of orders.
Mr. Yosoufzai has been making three-mile runs and lifting weights
to prepare for the summer shakedown. But he faces other hurdles unique
to foreign students.
Mr. Yosoufzai came stateside last fall to improve imperfect English
skills at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The early move also
softened the culture shock -- things like switching from a diet heavy
on the staples of bread and rice to America's bounty of burgers and
bagels and the like.
"Here I find butter on everything, so it was a little strange," he
And then there's filling in cultural knowledge gaps. West Point
wears its history on its sleeve, with images of the famous alumni such
as MacArthur and Eisenhower watching over cadets. Mr. Yosoufzai,
sitting in a hall decorated with giant portraits, was able to identify
Gen. MacArthur (he saw a movie about him) but drew a blank on President
Mr. Yosoufzai seems unfazed by the tough haul ahead. Although he
will be the only cadet entering the Afghan army after graduating in
four years, he still sees himself as just one more link in a long gray
"I'm not alone," he said. "If they can make it, I can make it."