Second Lt. Bryan Coward officially became an officer and a gentleman May 26, 2007 upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, together with 977 classmates — members all of the “Long Gray Line.”
“I wanted to do something bigger and be a part of something special. I think West Point was for me,” said the 22-year-old, a 2003 graduate of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla. “When I visited West Point and spoke to graduates, it seemed like a community of people I wanted to be with.”
Coward is the oldest of Tony and Sandee Coward’s three children. Bryan’s younger brother, Nicholas, just completed his freshman year in environmental engineering at the University of Miami. He wants to become a physician. Their younger sister, Meredith, is a senior at Charlotte High this coming year. She is the president of the student government association and the district student government president for Southwest Florida. The family lives in Pirates Harbor, south of Punta Gorda.
“It’s a challenge having these extremely competitive children. Trying to stay on top of what’s going on so we can carry on an intelligent conversation with our children is very challenging,” Sandee admits. “‘Jeopardy’ is what it’s like sitting at our dinner table with our children.”
Bryan obtained his appointment to West Point with the assistance of the former U.S. Rep. Porter Goss. Goss later became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President George W. Bush.
“You start the process of applying to the academy during your junior year in high school,” Bryan explained. “It seemed like a good fit for me since I was on the high school swim team and I practiced twice a day for four years. I had the work ethic.”
At times, the academic courses at West Point can be an uphill struggle, the newly minted lieutenant said. His sophomore year was his toughest during his four years at the U.S. Military Academy.
What was so tough about year two?
“Physics I and II, multi-variable calculus, microeconomics, macroeconomics, probability and statistics, philosophy, military science, environmental geography, Spanish,” Bryan said. “I can’t even remember all my courses that year.
“I think some times, endurance is even tougher than the academics at West Point. You have to endure for weeks and months at a time. You have to set a goal and be willing to keep trying,” he added.
Bryan graduated in the top half of his class with a major in business management and a minor in environmental engineering. He now has a military obligation of five years in the regular Army and three years in the Army Reserve.
In a few weeks he will report to Fort Benning, Ga., for a six-week course in basic officer leadership training. After completing that course, he will spend the next four months at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for engineering officers training. If he’s lucky, he will return to Benning for Ranger School. Finally, he will be sent to the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, some time next March.
“I chose the 1st Cav because it’s a good division and it’s in an area I really like, outside Austin, Texas,” Bryan said. “Right now I think the Army is the best it’s ever been in the country’s history. A lot of these soldiers have been deployed three or four times (to the Middle East) in the past five years.
“I’m looking forward to leading 35 to 40 guys. It’s rewarding to work with soldiers — to learn everything about them and what their goals are,” he said. “There are some incredible people who are soldiers. I’m a 22-year-old guy, and you’ve giving me your sons and daughters to be responsible for. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s a great privilege.”
Sandee, his mom, teaches fifth grade at Toledo Blade Elementary School in North Port, Fla. For Bryan’s 22nd birthday, she got her son involved with the students in her class this past year.
“During the year, I showed my 22 students a National Geographic movie about West Point,” she said. “My kids got all involved in learning more about the military academy. They wrote Bryan letters and asked him questions,” Sandee said. “He sent all 22 of them e-mails that I put up in class for them to see. Then Bryan and two of his West Point buddies showed up in my class and answered lots more of the children’s questions. My students were ecstatic, and the West Pointers were amazed at their questions.”
“Graduating from West Point is being part of something bigger than yourself. It means a lot to have a connection to some of the people who graduated from ‘The Point’ throughout the centuries,” Bryan said.
Will he make the U.S. Army a career?
“I don’t know yet. If I love it, I’ll stay,” the young lieutenant said.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, June 17, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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