West Point cadet Simone Askew made history at the U.S. Military Academy on Monday by becoming the first black woman to captain the Corps of Cadets. Askew, 20, hails from Fairfax, Virginia, and now holds the highest command post in the cadet chain of command at West Point. The group she’s now in charge of includes some 4,400 cadets and Askew, speaking with reporters, said the gravity of the new position was not lost on her.
“It’s humbling, but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates with me,” Askew said. She will also be tasked with implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between the Corps and the academy administration in the new role.
Her appointment as commander of the Corps of Cadets comes a year after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point weathered a controversy over a photo in which a group of graduating black female cadets were shown with their fists in the air, a gesture that was widely taken as a political statement — something the academy takes actives steps to prevent.
Pat Locke, a 1980 West Point grad, said that more than anything, the controversial photo showed what a rarity young black women are at West Point. Locke was one of two African-American women among the first group of female cadets to graduate from the academy.
“What that photo said to me was how few black women are graduating,” Locke said. “We average less than 20 African American women graduating each year out of a class of 1,000. And yet, out of that 20 we got a first captain. Isn’t that amazing?” She added, “I can’t believe this has happened in my lifetime. “When I entered the Academy in 1976, the men did not want us there. Now 40 years later, everybody recognizes the talent and skills women bring to the game.”
Askew is an International History major and member of the Army West Point Crew team. She has completed Air Assault School, is a recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Military Leadership, among having raked in several other accolades while at West Point.
Perhaps most importantly, though, she’s made her mother, who said she’s always recognized leadership qualities in her daughter, very proud. “That leadership is something I’ve seen throughout her life — wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life,” Pam Askew told The Associated Press. “And to serve others, as well.”