BG(R) Arvid Emerson West, Jr. grew up in Wisconsin. His high school guidance counselor encouraged him to apply to Annapolis, where his son was entering his youngster (sophomore) year. He applied, but did not make the alternate list at the Naval Academy. He did, however, obtain an appointment to West Point. He entered the Military Academy with the Class of 1956, and played football three of his four years. He branched Infantry, and upon graduation, he was assigned to D Company, 187th Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division. In 1963, he deployed to Vietnam as an advisor to the 5th Battalion of the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade. In 1970, he returned to Vietnam, and after an assignment as the Executive Officer of 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, he was assigned to Command the 1st Battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment near Hue. In 1973, after a stint at the Pentagon, he was assigned to West Point in the Office of Military Instruction. From 1975-1977, he served as the Second Regimental Tactical Officer, and was in charge of Beast Barracks (Cadet Basic Training) when the first class with women (USMA 1980) started in the summer of 1976. After leaving West Point, he served in both Germany and Hawaii, confronting leadership challenges as the Army ended the Vietnam era and transitioned into the All-Volunteer Force (VOLAR). Since retiring in 1991 as a Brigadier General, he has served in the Department For Public Safety in Missouri.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his experiences at West Point, playing football, and serving as an Infantry Officer in the Army. He discusses his two deployments to Vietnam, as an advisor and as a Battalion Commander, and provides his observations. Leaving Vietnam was difficult because “you feel for the folks you leave behind.” On his second tour, one of the challenges he faced was a lack of the appropriate level of leadership throughout his battalion. Both his Officers and his NCOs were often too junior for the positions they held. He describes his experiences at West Point, both serving in the Office of Military Instruction and in the Tactical Department. He was at West Point when the Vietnam War ended, and he comments on the sense of disappointment among the faculty when Saigon fell. As the commander for Cadet Basic Training during the summer of 1976, he recalls several of the issues related to bringing in the first class with women, such as physical issues, identifying proper running shoes, and the pressure the leadership placed on the squad leaders to ensure Beast was conducted to standard. He also references the Class of ’77 Honor Scandal, and how it affected that class’s leadership. Finally, he reflects upon what West Point means to him.