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.
Nadja West’s military career includes several historic firsts.
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.
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.