An aerial view of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where West Point Cadet Tyler Sutherland will soon spend a semester as part of the Academy Exchange Program.
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Leader & Times
Third Class Cadet at West Point Academy in New York and 2009 Liberal High School graduate Tyler Sutherland continues to stand at the top of his class. His dedication to his future military career remains his primary focus, and that determination has awarded him honors that few experience – even at the prestigious West Point Academy.
Sutherland will be traveling 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, in Carson County this summer in order to work and study at the Pantex Plant. According to the Pantex Web site, the plant is “charged with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The facility is managed and operated by B&W Pantex for the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration.”
Sutherland is majoring in nuclear engineering, so when the opportunity presented itself, he knew he had to jump at the chance to work at the highly classified facility.
“West Point does what is called AIAD, which are Academic Individual Advanced Development programs,” he said. “During the summer, every cadet has the possibility of doing one. We either have to do one of those, or a military version of that or a physical version of that.
“This year, I pursued one through the nuclear engineering department here because I am a nuke major,” he added. “That was one that I was very interested in.”
The interview process, Sutherland said, was rather extensive. Due to the subject matter dealt with at Pantex, it was imperative for him to receive Top Secret Clearance in order for him to work on the grounds.
“Because it is Pantex and what it is all about, I had to call and talk to all of the top guys at Pantex,” he said. “It was about an hour-and-a-half that I was on the phone with them. They ended up choosing me as one of the cadets to come. There are two cadets going. We are going at different times, but two of us are going.
“I had to get what is called Top Secret Clearance,” he explained. “Because of that, that is why deciding who was going to go on the AIAD was a big thing. They wanted to make sure that the cadet was a decent person, they wanted to know that because to be able to go we have to get Top Secret Clearance. That allows us to see highly classified information and top secret stuff. So, some of the people back at home (in Liberal) had to talk to private investigators about me. To get Top Security Clearance took about two months.”
Sutherland is not aware of what the exact nature of his work at Pantex will consist of. He said due to the highly classified information housed there, officials could not discuss over the phone what he will be doing while he is there from May 22 to June 25.
Sutherland believes his experience at Pantex will help him better grasp an understanding of his chosen major – nuclear engineering.
“I chose Pantex because of what it is,” he said. “It is big in where they assemble and disassemble all nuclear weapons and work with all that technology. With what I will be doing as a nuclear engineer in the future and possibly after my military career, I want to work with nuclear weapons and some of that technology. So, I figured this was a great start towards that.”
What makes this opportunity so prestigious for Sutherland is the fact that he is the first cadet ever to be accepted at Pantex. Another cadet will be spending time at the plant later in the summer than Sutherland, but he will be the first.
“I will actually be the first cadet ever to be sent there,” he said. “They have never had someone that they have wanted to let come. Anytime you work with nuclear weapons, it is top secret stuff and not many people have that clearance. They have had it open before, but Pantex has never really considered accepting cadets until now.”
If the honor of being accepted to study at Pantex was not enough, Sutherland will soon spend a semester at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs as a part of the Academy Exchange Program.
“I got chosen to participate in the Academy Exchange Program, which every year West Point and Air Force as well as West Point and the Naval Academy, they switch,” he said. “For example, 12 of our cadets will go to Air Force and 12 of their cadets will come here. They do an exchange to introduce our guys into working with Air Force guys and Navy guys. It is to kind of get used to the different branches and different mentalities.
Not just any cadet is invited to spend time at another academy. Sutherland had to maintain a specific grade point average, and then be chosen through an application process.
“To be eligible, the qualifications are you have to have a 3.0 in all three pillars: military, academic and physical,” he said. “I believe 200 people in my class were eligible and from there you could apply and they chose 10 to go to Air Force, 12 to go to Navy and two to go to the Coast Guard Academy. At the end of last semester, there were 1,177 cadets in my class.”
Sutherland looks forward to his time at the Air Force Academy, there he will learn to do something he has never experienced before.
“At the Air Force, I will be doing their Jump Program – I will be jumping out of airplanes,” he said with excitement. “I will be getting Jump Qualified through the Air Force.”
Sutherland is only a sophomore at West Point. However, he has maintained the highest of standards thus far. Those that know and love him are certain this isn’t the last they will hear of his accomplishments.