WASHINGTON, D.C.—During her final semester at Sahuarita High School in Arizona, Simran Patil had the choice of admission to two prestigious military academies—West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy—and after much soul searching she opted for the former.
On May 25th, the Bangalore-born Patil, 22, graduated from this oldest U.S. military academy, now in its 217th year and joined an elite club of less than half-a-dozen Indian Americans who have graduated from this U.S. Army college—including the likes of Sneha Singh of Avon, Connecticut (Class of 2017) and Neha Valluri (Class of 2018) -- that offers a highly competitive cadetship that includes a fully-funded four year college education.
Upon graduation, West Point cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army and serve for five years on active duty.
Patil, who graduated with a bachelor of science in international relations with a track in cyber engineering, on July 7, will begin a Quartermaster Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC), which is a four month course that familiarizes new officers to their branch (job), which in her case as a Quartermaster is essentially the logistics branch of the Army.
In an interview with India Abroad, Patil said, “ As an officer, I’ll be in charge of providing supply support for soldiers and units in field services, aerial delivery, and material and distribution management. After I complete BOLC, I will report to my first duty station, which is Fort Hood, Texas.”
Fort Hood is one of the largest U.S. military installations in the world and focuses primarily on heavy forces.
Describing her experience at West Point, she said, “Coming from a family with no military background, I was unsure what I was getting myself into. The past four years have tested me physically, academically, and mentally.”
She acknowledged, “I failed numerous times, something I was not used to. However, West Point teaches you resilience. Everything I failed in, I ended up eventually accomplishing, which led to much greater feelings of pride and humility.”
“They say everyone at West Point fails in something or another. For me, it was a class called survival swimming, one of many physical courses we must take to graduate,” Patil said. “The class involves strapping on a vest which holds two heavy water jugs and carrying a dummy rifle. While I was a decent swimmer, as soon as I was given the weight I would begin to sink. The extra weight coupled with the various obstacles we had to do under water—that is, swimming through hoops after stepping off a six meter tower--became my greatest physical challenge.”
She said, “I failed the course and had to retake it that summer. I had never failed a class in my life before until that moment. I ultimately passed the second time around, but the scenario humbled be and showed me the importance of perseverance.”
Patil said, “When cadets first enter West Point, we must go through Cadet Basic Training (CBT), a six-week introductory training led by upperclassmen. The most challenging part of CBT for me was ruck marching, which involves walking several miles with a 40 to 50-pound backpack, while holding a rifle.”
“Two summers later, I was assigned as CBT leadership for my leadership detail – a graduation requirement. I was put in charge of 10 new cadets. At this point, I had gotten used to rucking. However, I did not realize how much I had improved at rucking until this leadership detail when every ruck march was relatively easy for me. My new cadets struggled and at times I had to push them up steep hills, something I had never imagined myself doing two summers back.”
Patil said how “Academically, I learned the importance of time management. In high school I could churn an assignment out the night before it was due and still get an A. West Point was different. To earn an A, I learned I had to start assignments weeks in advance and repeatedly schedule meetings with my instructors for additional instruction – and even then, I’d sometimes not get an A.”
“My peers at West Point were working just as hard as me, and our class rank determines our job after graduation, as well as our duty station, making for an extremely competitive environment.”
Patil explained that “in addition to the heavy academic load, I joined the cheerleading team as a way to let loose and have fun. Little did I know, it was a significant time commitment. We had practice every day for 2-3 hours, and almost every weekend I was cheering at a home football game or on a flight to cheer at an away game. While my grades slipped at first, I was able to adapt by using every minute wisely, while having to sacrifice some sleep. “
“Through cheer, I was able to attend various West Point Association of Graduates (AOG) events, where I met numerous successful graduates, many of whom are CEOs of large companies. They would often say, ‘West Point is the worst place to be at but the best place to be from. Hang in there.’”
In the final analysis, Patil said, “Four years at West Point has undoubtedly transformed me. My favorite part about my experience at West Point was the incredible people I met. The best officers are sent to West Point to teach and develop us, so I’ve been lucky enough to receive the greatest development and guidance throughout my four years.”
“In addition, many of my classmates have become my best friends--I’d never met such a well-rounded and driven group of young adults before. So many of my classmates were admitted into prestigious universities like Harvard and Stanford but rather chose West Point because of their desire to serve and lead soldiers.”
Patil said, “I’m fortunate and excited to serve beside such honorable men and women and even more excited to lead and inspire soldiers of my own as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.”
Her mom, Vijayalakshmi ‘Viju’ Patil, told India Abroad that along with her husband, Basavaraj Patil, who also like her, hails from Bangalore, had immigrated to New Zealand from India as permanent residents in 1999 when Simran was a year old.
“After a few months in 2000, we moved to the U.S.,” she said.
Viju Patel has a Bachelor of Engineering in electronics and communication and her husband has a Bachelor of Engineering in mechanical engineering, as well as an MBA from Louisiana State University in 1988.
She said, “We both transitioned to project management for our careers here in the U.S.”
Besides Simran, the Patil’s have a son, Sharath Patil, four years older to their daughter, who graduated in Dec. 2018 from the University of Oregon Law school in International Trade and recently passed his bar exam. He is currently working as an international trade attorney with the federal government in Washington, DC.
Viju Patil said, “We wanted our children to grow up as normal American kids with no pressure with studies until the end of middle school. Growing up in California, Simran learned to ice skate with ease at the age of four and got into gymnastics at the age of five and continued until she represented the state level championship, where she placed 2nd.”
“In high school, she followed her brother's footsteps and joined the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). We had noticed her brother evolving as a young leader after getting into NJROTC and we thought this might be good for her to gain some leadership skills.”
Viju Patil recalled that “they both excelled in NJROTC and became company commanders of the unit, the highest position. At the early stages of high school, she found out that she was ranked number one out of 250 students, which pushed her to maintain her class rank and eventually become valedictorian of Sahuarita High School.”
“In addition, she was part of the track team and cheer team,” she said, and noted that then U.S. Senator John McCain, and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, both representing Arizona, “gave her nominations to West point after very competitive panel interviews, and it was her cheerful, extremely positive attitude drove her into the right direction to succeed.”
Viju Patil was confident that her daughter would “ continue to excel in her career as an officer in the U.S. Army.”