West Point graduates prepared for peace and war

The West Point cadets who graduate Wednesday morning were in grade school when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan.

Unlike their predecessors, they must prepare for a future in a smaller Army, less focused on combat, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin.

The 4,400 cadets of West Point who come from all 50 states including places like Sugarland, Texas, and Sleepy Hollow, New York, represent the future of the United States Army. When the class of 2014 arrived here as freshmen plebes, American soldiers were fighting and dying in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are graduating into what is fast becoming a peacetime Army.

Lindsey Danilack is the top graduate in this year's class, a distinction which gives her the honor of leading the parade and presenting the cadets to their commander-in-chief, President Obama. She hopes to fly the Apache helicopter gunship, a machine that exists for one purpose only -- combat, which thankfully is almost over for American troops. She'll have to be ready for whatever comes next.

"Whether we're at peace or whether we're at war, whether we're at garrison or overseas, we can handle whatever is given to us," Danilack said.

One thing definitely coming is a smaller army.

"A smaller Army means lower promotion rates," newly commissioned officer Alex Carros said. "It means they will have to squeeze people out who don't meet the standards."

Another thing coming is that newly commissioned officers like Alex Carros will be put in charge of troops who have fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Carros said his nervousness about that command is natural.

"I would have to check someone's pulse who wouldn't be worried. These guys have seen three, four, five combat deployments, and you're just coming out of the academy with really no combat experience at all," Carros said.

The cadets come out onto the parade ground beneath arches inscribed with the names of famous battles like Normandy and Bastogne, constant reminders the Army exists to fight the nation's wars.

Markos Magana, second in the class, has orders to the 82nd Airborne. He won't be going to Afghanistan, but sooner or later he will be sent somewhere.

"The world's a dangerous place and you hear all the time that if you stay in long enough something's going to happen," Magana said.

Just look at the career of Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the superintendent of the Academy. He graduated from West Point in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War when the phrase on everyone's lips was "never again." Since then, he has done two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.

"If history proves itself, I'm certain (this class) will see combat," Caslen said.

Ninety-four West Point graduates were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fact the cadets are never allowed to forget, because each time one dies the name is announced at the next meal.

"You could hear a pin drop go down if you wanted to, and it's just a powerful experience and that just hones in, reminds you of what we're here, what the possibilities are," Magana said.

So take a good look at these cadets because the odds are they will be fighting -- and dying -- for their country before their careers are over.

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