- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Like other new cadets reporting to West Point this summer, Shoaib Yosoufzai is bracing for the ice-water shock of a military education — the marching, the drilling, the cramming, the shouting.

But the trim 20-year-old acknowledges carrying an additional burden as the academy’s first cadet from Afghanistan.

“I am an ambassador of my country,” Mr. Yosoufzai said after arriving at the U.S. Military Academy this week. “It will be a challenge for me.”

Less than four years after toppling the Taliban, the United States is providing a military education to the young Afghan as part of a program that takes in cadets from around the world.

By Monday, Mr. Yosoufzai’s thick mop of black hair will be shaved down and the Pashto speaker will be taking orders barked in English. He said the change is worth it for the chance to serve his country as a military officer in four years.

“I think the experience that I carry from the United States will help my people and my country,” he said.

Mr. Yosoufzai is a walking symbol of the relationship between the venerable Hudson Valley training ground and the faraway country now struggling with a surge in violence. West Point officers have provided tips to Afghan officials starting their own national military academy, and a Afghan delegation toured West Point a little more than a year ago. Among the visitors was Mr. Yosoufzai’s father, Col. Hamdullah Yosoufzai, who is now dean of academic programs at the country’s fledgling military academy.

Mr. Yosoufzai decided when he was a sophomore at Kabul University that he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps to help his country’s military become more professional. He could have pursued a military academy education in Kabul where his family lives, but instead applied to West Point, which he calls the top military academy in the world.

He comes to the academy as part of the international cadet program designed to generate good will and inculcate American military ethics and values abroad. The long-running program has taken in cadets from dozens of countries, from Nigeria to Singapore to Croatia.

“Some of the kids come from countries where the extracurricular activity is dodging bullets,” said Capt. Robert Romans, head of the academy’s international cadet program.

This year, 21 international cadets are coming to West Point. Capt. Romans said the international slots are very competitive, and Mr. Yosoufzai ultimately was accepted on the strength of his application, not his family connections.

Mr. Yosoufzai and 1,249 other cadets will be officially inducted into West Point on Monday for “Beast Barracks,” a six-week basic training course featuring long runs in the sun and lots of orders.

Mr. Yosoufzai has been making three-mile runs and lifting weights to prepare for the summer shakedown. But he faces other hurdles unique to foreign students.

Mr. Yosoufzai came stateside last fall to improve imperfect English skills at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The early move also softened the culture shock — things like switching from a diet heavy on the staples of bread and rice to America’s bounty of burgers and bagels and the like.

“Here I find butter on everything, so it was a little strange,” he said.

And then there’s filling in cultural knowledge gaps. West Point wears its history on its sleeve, with images of the famous alumni such as MacArthur and Eisenhower watching over cadets. Mr. Yosoufzai, sitting in a hall decorated with giant portraits, was able to identify Gen. MacArthur (he saw a movie about him) but drew a blank on President Eisenhower.

Mr. Yosoufzai seems unfazed by the tough haul ahead. Although he will be the only cadet entering the Afghan army after graduating in four years, he still sees himself as just one more link in a long gray line.

“I’m not alone,” he said. “If they can make it, I can make it.”

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