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West Point Proud of First Afghan Cadet

  • Breshna Omarkhel

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York is the country's oldest military university, founded by George Washington, the first president of the United States. It has produced two U.S. presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now, there's another first: West Point's first Afghan cadet. VOA's Brian Allen narrates for producer Breshna Omarkhel.

This is the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, about 96 kilometers north of New York City. It has a student body of 4,400 cadets. Of them, 56 are foreign students. Only one, Shoaib Yousoufzai, is from Afghanistan.

"Knowledge that I am getting here is valuable for our country," Yousoufzai said. "It is crucial for us to have leaders and people who can take charge in the crucial times our country is going through right now."

Cadet Yousoufzai is studying civil engineering and will graduate in 2009. A West Point education is critical to him and to his country, badly in need of rebuilding.

"I will be able to lead and at the same time design bridges and roads and at the same time help my country," he said.

Yousoufzai's schooling is a joint effort by the U.S. and Afghan governments, a bid to develop a skilled Afghan military and also provide experts in rebuilding the war-torn country.

The cadet was chosen over 200 Afghan applicants.

His West Point program includes rigorous physical training...long marches...and tactical maneuvers. Core academic classes balance military science with the arts and humanities.

Colonel Barry Shoop is Shoaib's sponsor and was on the selection committee. He says there were three main criteria: proficiency in English, talent for math, and the ability to handle cultural differences.

"We were worried about the cultural change in moving out of that kind of an environment, where you are in a family environment, and moving and being away from home for an extended period of time," Col. Shoop said. "Shoaib had traveled to Pakistan and other places and all of those things coming together made him our top candidate."

Yousoufzai has been able to move among West Point's diverse student cultures and is enthusiastic about the American way of life, vastly different from Afghanistan's.

In Afghanistan, the entire nation celebrates Muslim holidays.

In the U.S., Americans tend to keep the holidays personal.

At West Point, religious services are available to all cadets including the several Muslim students.

"I think the freedoms here, you have your choice. You can express what you want and, at the same time, people respect your religious views," Yousoufzai said. "For example, we have our mosque on post and we have services. It is surprising and awesome about the United States."

The cadet is a success. There are high hopes for his future.

"I am absolutely convinced he will be one of the most qualified civil engineers in Afghanistan immediately upon arrival, and he'll be able to do wonderful things not only for the Afghan army but for Afghanistan as a whole," said Colonel Steve Ressler, Shoaib's academic advisor.
The transnational experiment has been a success for both the U.S. and Afghanistan, struggling to rebound with Washington's support.

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