By Hannah Johlman
Every year thousands of high school students apply for one of the most prestigious educations available in the country, but few are accepted to the U.S. Military Academy. West Point looks for students who are physically fit with excellent grades, high morals, and exceptional character. So, it was no surprise when Ally and Amanda Martin, fifth generation ranching sisters from Two Dot, Montana, received consecutive appointments to the school.
It was almost eleven months ago – the last Monday in June – Ally Martin left the family ranch for her basic training in New York. Then this June, her younger sister Amanda will follow her back east, eager to begin her own career in the military and thankful for her ranching background to have prepared her for the many demands of West Point.
Serving in the military was something that Amanda was always sure she would do someday, whether it was through a military academy or through the ROTC program in college. When she received her appointment notification to West Point, she accepted with no question.
Ally, on the other hand, just knew she wanted to run track in college. It wasn’t until she was contacted by the track coach from West Point that the pieces fell into place.
“Once I was in, I was pretty set that West Point was where I wanted to be. Coupled with the fact that I would get to serve, it just seemed like it would be the best choice,” Ally said.
When she found out she received the appointment to West Point, Ally took the weekend to think about it before accepting. Going to the school means four years of all-expense paid higher education, including room and board, at the expense of five years of service after graduation. If at that point, Ally chose to not re-enlist, she would be required to serve in the Inactive Ready Reserve for three years.
“It’s kind of a big decision,” Ally said of devoting the next nine years of her life to the military. “And ultimately, I made the right one, it’s been exciting.”
It wasn’t the 2,200 miles away from home that made Ally’s first year at West Point hard but adjusting from small town academics to that of an elite college was difficult, especially because West Point uses the Thayer method of instruction – where cadets teach themselves the material, then come to class prepared with questions.
“It took me two months to figure out how to manage credit hours and how to teach myself the material in the six hours that I had to do homework. Then, we’re all required to do some sort of athletics as well,” Ally said.
Her first semester, she ran track but switched her sport second semester when she made the brigade’s Sandhust team, which she describes as a military skills competition team. Being on a team is important because it is a place to make friends outside of class. Cadets rarely have down time with weekends full of military and academic training, or barrack inspections.
“Trying to figure out how to do the time management system is really a lot, but you get used to it and get in a groove,” Ally said. “From 5:30 in the morning until … well, completion of business is at four o’clock but we still have practice and meetings until after seven. You get used to four and a half hours of sleep pretty quick.”
Although nothing could fully prepare her for her first year at West Point, Ally said that growing up on the family ranch has helped prepare her for late nights and early mornings, hot days and hard work.
“Getting up at night to do land nav stuff wasn’t a big deal because we’d go check cows and things in the middle of the night at home, so I could at least help my peers with that,” she said. “And I wasn’t afraid to get dirty.”
Ally is looking forward to helping Amanda through her first year at West Point. She said there are many rules to get accustomed to. For example, first-year Cadets cannot talk to upper classmen, they have to walk along the walls and, while they can go to the Mess Hall, they cannot sit down in the cafeteria without an upperclassman accompanying them.
“I know the kind of quality people they take here now that I’ve come here, and I knew Amanda was going to get in,” Ally said. “It will be nice to have somebody here with me, I’m excited and happy for her.”
It has been a goal for Amanda for many years to serve in the military after college. She is beyond excited to leave for West Point and begin the next step.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do since I was younger and has always stayed with me,” Amanda said. “West Point was definitely my top choice. So, when I got accepted, I was so thankful and so relieved that I would be able to go.”
And, like her sister, Amanda thinks she will rely on her agricultural background to give her a solid foundation at the academy.
“You don’t get to just not feed the cows today, or not get up at 5 a.m.,” she said. “And we’ve both been introduced to guns and the safety of that and working hard when it comes to ranch work.”
Moving to New York doesn’t even make Amanda nervous, who said that living in Manhattan would be her dream city someday. But back in Two Dot, there will always be some very proud parents.
“Ally has had a really good first year and the opportunities she’s had there are amazing. She’s about to head to Iceland on an environmental studies trip, the opportunities are unbelievable,” said their mother, Tonya Martin. “It’s hard work. It’s hours and hours of work, but it’s pretty cool what they’re involved in. We’re very proud of them and we’re excited.”