A friendly visit

West Point cadets come to Jersey City to learn about culture

West Point cadets stop at Christ Hospital for a lesson in healthcare.
West Point cadets stop at Christ Hospital for a lesson in healthcare.

For the 15th year in a row, cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., paid a visit to Jersey City in early April as part of the annual program called Winning the Peace.

Each year, Richard Boggiano, currently as a councilman, previously as a member of the Jersey Police Department, greets them.

“I go with them everywhere they go every year,” Boggiano said. “This year they had a big celebration at the Liberty Science Center for their 15th anniversary.”

But celebrating isn’t the reason they come. The cadets come to Jersey City to learn about other cultures, Boggiano said.

The cadets spent time with Coptic, Jewish, and Muslim groups among others, during a three-day tour of the city for their class. They come to explore the city’s varied ethnic communities as part of a cultural immersion field trip.

In addition to the military skills they learn at West Point, the Jersey City visit is designed to teach cadets the political and social skills they might need when the countries where they are deployed make the transition from war to peace: the subtle art of coalition-building, and the complicated business of understanding and working with populations whose language, religion, and way of life differ from their own.

While they took the usual tourist trip to places like Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty, they also visited houses of worship and areas of the city such as Little India where they met and talked to people from around the world.

The semester-long class at their academy culminates in the ride from the academy’s campus in Orange County, N.Y., to Jersey City.

Many of the cadets said this was an opportunity to meet with and talk to people from around the world and to learn about their cultures as well as their issues, before they get deployed as soldiers.

While Boggiano accompanied the cadets to the Goldman Sachs building for breakfast one morning, he also shared their visit to an Egyptian Christian church, the St. George and St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church on Bergen Avenue.

“These trips provide a great opportunity for the cadets to come here to Jersey City and learn about what Jersey City has to offer,” Boggiano said. “These trips expand their perspectives.”

Often, the cadets also get into frank discussions about foreign policy, economics and social change within the ethnic communities they visit.

The cadets visited Christ Hospital, City Hall, Goldman Sachs, the Liberty Science Center, the Historic Loews Theatre, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and Ellis Island.

The cadets also visited the Islamic Center of Jersey City, the Egyptian Coptic Church, the Historic Bergen Church, and a Mormon church, Jewish synagogue, and Hindu and Sikh temples. They had lunch with representatives of the Pakistani and Indian communities.

A perfect city for this program

Boggiano said he learned about the program via satellite telephone from his son in 1984.

“He was deployed in a battle zone. I could hear the gun fire in the background. This was 2:30 in the morning. He told me he was coming back to the United States to take part in a program called Winning the Peace. I’d never heard of it, but I said I would look into it,” Boggiano said, and he did.

Both of his sons had attended West Point.  He called there, and found that the program was looking for a city which had a rich ethnic population.

“They were looking to go to New York City,” Boggiano said. “But New York was concerned about terrorism at the time and didn’t want them to come there. So I suggested they come to Jersey City instead. They didn’t know where Jersey City was. But they came.”

Boggiano said it turned out to be a great opportunity for the cadets and the city, and intermingling of cultures from which everybody learned something.

“Every year I accompany them when they arrive,” he said. “I’m with them for the three days. One of the great lessons we all learn is how people of different backgrounds can live together in a place like Jersey City.”

Learning about healthcare in Hudson County

During one of the days, representatives from CarePoint Health-Christ Hospital welcomed the group of 25 West Point cadets to learn about the healthcare system and industry, diversity in healthcare and emergency management. Speaking to the cadets were hospital administrators, the hospital chaplain and other healthcare leaders.

They spent several hours at Christ Hospital for breakfast and an information session.

Hospital administrators, chaplain, and other healthcare leaders were among those who addressed the cadets.

This included Ahmed Shedeed, president of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, members of the Jersey City Police Department, and members of the Jersey City Faith community.

“These kids really impressed me,” Boggiano said. “We all had a fantastic time.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com