There are brothers in arms and bands of brothers, and now there are Noah, Sumner and Cole Ogrydziak, three Texas brothers who began their cadet training together at West Point this week.
For one of the few times in its long history, the U.S. Military Academy accepted three siblings into the same class. Eighteen-year-old twins Sumner and Cole and their 19-year-old brother Noah, of Nederland in southeast Texas, have each signed on for four years of academics and military training. If all three make it through the rigorous program, they will simultaneously toss their caps into the air as newly commissioned second lieutenants in the Army in 2017.
"It helps knowing that your brothers are here, even though we're going to be separated all across campus in different companies, but I'm sure we'll see each other and it will help keep morale a little bit higher," Sumner said after a bus dropped the brothers off early Monday along with some 1,200 new arrivals.
Within hours of their arrival, the brothers swapped their running sneakers for black dress shoes and were issued gray T-shirts. Close-talking junior and senior cadets drilled them on how to toe a line (figuratively and literally) and marched them under rainy skies in short gray lines. Over the next six weeks, they will take part in West Point's cadet basic training, a rigorous civilian-to-military shakedown sometimes called "Beast Barracks."
The three Ogrydziak brothers received presidential appointments, which are available for children of career military personnel. Their father, Coast Guard Capt. Randal Ogrydziak, is a deputy sector commander based in Corpus Christi, and their mother Kristine served in the Coast Guard for 10 years. Both grandfathers served in military.
Though Noah is older, he spent a year at West Point's prep school. Now he is entering the academy the same year as the twins, who were each accepted this year. Noah, with a year on the Hudson River grounds under his belt, has passed along some tips to the twins. Still, Cole needed some brotherly prompting Monday to recall the advice.
"Just things to be ready for ..." Cole said.
"... How to fold your socks," offered Noah.
"How to fold socks and shirts," Cole said.
"How to salute," Noah said.
"How to salute."
"Ranks and insignia."
It's not uncommon for siblings to attend a service academy at the same time, but three entering together is rare. West Point is aware of two previous cases there, the most recent in 1981 when twins Rose and Anne Forrester were admitted into the same class as their older brother, John. Rose Forrester Burwell, out of the military and living in Williamsburg, Va., recalled that the three siblings would make a point of meeting for brunch about once a month at the academy.
"Even though you don't see your siblings, I always thought in the back of my mind, `Well at least I know there's two people here that love me,"' Burwell said.
Despite the family's military heritage, the Ogrydziak brothers did not grow up with a burning zeal to join the Long Gray Line (their eldest brother is studying chemical engineering at Lamar University in Texas). But the family does value discipline and achievement. At their Texas home, Randal and Kristine keep photo albums of their sons as they progressed from little boys in overalls to teen-aged achievers. One shot shows the trio as Eagle Scouts, another shows Noah at 14 with tennis medals.
Randal said a TV documentary following service academy students around piqued their interest and a visit with West Point cadets in Houston got the boys fired up.
"If you go to West Point, they're going to push you really hard," Cole said. "In the end, they want you to succeed. Whereas any other college, they just want your money."
Noah wants to work with high-tech networks with the Signal Corps. Sumner is thinking about engineering or aviation. Cole wants to study medicine.
The family will avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in education costs for three brothers. And like any West Point graduate, the brothers will be obligated to serve in the Army after graduation -- something their parents have already thought through.
"They're going to be in harm's way, I've been there myself," said Randal. "And I applaud them for doing this. But as a father, it's like, `Geez, am I doing the right thing?' I think so."