Simone Askew marched into history Monday as the first black woman to lead the Long Gray Line at the US Military Academy. After an early-morning 12-mile march back to the gray stone academic complex at West Point with 1,200 new cadets she led through the rigors of basic training at "Beast Barracks," the 20-year-old international history major from Fairfax, Va., assumed duties as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. That's the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point, notes the AP. "It's humbling, but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates," a beaming Askew, still in fatigues from her march, told reporters. As first captain, Askew is responsible for the overall performance of the corps, as well as implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between cadets and the administration.
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, was West Point's first African-American captain in 1979. The first female in that role, in 1989, was Col. Kristin Baker, now commander of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe, Analytic Center. Women make up about 20% of cadets, usually commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army upon graduation. The academy created a diversity office in 2014 with the goal of recruiting more women and African Americans and increasing diversity among leaders. Pat Locke, one of two African-American women in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980, says, "I can't believe this has happened in my lifetime. When I entered the Academy in 1976, the men did not want us there. Now, 40 years later, everybody recognizes the talent and skills women bring to the game." (Read more West Point stories.)