WASHINGTON — For the first time in West Point's 215-year history, a black woman is leading the 4,400 cadets at the Army's prestigious military college.
Cadet Simone Askew assumed the post of First Captain, the highest position in the cadets chain of command, earlier this month. She describes the distinction as humbling and exciting. But her toughest challenge at West Point, she says, has been personal, not professional.
"I think my mom will tell you that I don’t call her enough," Askew said. "That’s definitely one of the toughest. It’s difficult when you have a duty to an organization that creates an environment where the work is never ending. In theory, I could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I’d still have emails to be read."
Askew, from Fairfax, Va., was in elementary school when she set her mind to leading troops. Attending the annual Army vs. Navy football game sparked her interest in attending West Point.
She joins an impressive roster of former First Captains: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the top commander in the Far East during World War II and Korea; Gen. Vincent Brooks, who was the first African-American First Captain at the academy and now leads U.S. forces in South Korea; and Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander in Afghanistan charged with overseeing President Trump’s new strategy there.
Askew competes on the crew team, studies international history and aspires to a career as a military intelligence officer.
“My thesis this year will be regarding genocide prevention,” Askew said.
Lt. Gen. Gwendolyn Bingham, the second African-American woman to achieve that rank in the Army, said Askew's positive attitude and tenacity will serve her well as she advances. Bingham, who joined the Army in 1981 after earning her degree in management from the University of Alabama, said she'd been told as a young captain not expect to advance much further because of her race.
Battalion command, the province of lieutenant colonels, was out of her reach. Now, battalion command and several other commands in logistics dot Bingham's résumé.
“Never tell somebody what they can and cannot do, and what they can and cannot become,” she said.
Askew demurred when asked whether she aspired to Bingham’s rank. For now, she said, she plans to be a great second lieutenant after graduation in 2018.
“I’m grinning from ear to ear,” Bingham said. “I love her professionalism. I love her positivity. I’ve often found that a positive attitude will take us one half the distance.”