“The manifestation of belligerence and success: There exists a rationale that explains the totality of this military brotherhood. For within the psyche of each mind, forged under the shit-storm that is USMA, is a simple appreciation of the luxuries of life. There is a reason for our conspicuous nature in the public eye; most prominently with our civilian college counterparts: we drink harder, yell louder, fight harder, puke prouder, fuck happier, and offend greater. The basic principle behind our caveman nature is the fact that a man deprived will taste the fruits of the world so much sweeter. No civilian college student will ever taste alcohol as a cadet tastes alcohol, nor will he enjoy the thrill of free air, nor appreciate the feel of a woman, nor understand what it is to place your own well-being behind that of a friend and brother. Work hard! Play hard! Live it! Love it! Because then you die!”
I love to drink. It’s true. Let me be clear. No, not a casual drink. Not, even social drinking. That’s all well and good. But I’m talking speech slurring, black out, binge drinking– the kind that would make parents disown their children and respectable people hide in horror. It wasn’t always this way. It was very much a learned behavior. So where did this all start? How’d did I go from a straight laced high school kid with his nose in the books to full on rage mode in the span of a few short years that would land me at the biggest night of drinking of my life? To answer that question, you must first understand the military mindset.
It taste so good when it hits your lips
Everyone has a drinking story. I joined a fraternity/sorority. I snuck into my Dad’s den. Our prom punch bowl was spiked. Whatever. Congratulations, I don’t really care. We’re not even on the same wave length. It’s true when I went to West Point I gave up the “college” life. I know what your thinking…. but you gave up the best party time of your life…..but your wrong. So fucking wrong. Were there all nighters? Yes. Were there long periods of alcoholic drought? Sure. I missed a lot of “Thirsty Thursdays”, “Taco Tuesdays”, Frat parties and whatever else is the bedrock of the average college student’s drinking experience. But that doesn’t even begin to encompass what I gained in return.
Drinking for cadets was never solely about getting drunk. Like everyone at West Point is was a competition fueled by type-A personalities that refused to lose at anything. It was never just about how much you could drink. But could you get black out drunk and still rally in time for that 0630 formation, finish your 2,000 word essay, and score an A on the midterm, crush the gym and return for round 2 the next night? Cadets would often sandbag their entire months stipend and spend it on one night of partying. Hotels in NYC and Cabins in the Catskills were trashed. Whole liquor stores were consumed. Limits were broken.
Every Graduate of West Point– young and old– has their story. Everyone has their baptism of booze. I met a 60 year old grad who told of packing dirty laundry in place of a reserve parachute as a practical joke after a night of heavy drinking. You can imagine the surprise at 8,000 feet in free fall the next day. Drinking Challenges were common. I had a classmate who successfully completed over a 100 consecutive nights of intoxication– which became known as “The Streak”– and still maintained a near perfect 3.8 GPA. Every night, without fail, he would slam pitchers of beer to the cheers of admiring peers as we tallied another tic mark to his awe-inspiring endeavor. Ski trips. NYC trips. Vegas trips. Mardi Gras. DCA Events. Class Weekends. Semesters Abroad. Running of the Bulls. Carnival in Rio. If ever there was a drinking challenge or party spot, chances are a West Pointer had been there, done that, and returned for more– and shared his story with admiring class mates who vowed each in their own way to equal or surpass the accomplishment in their own chase for glory. Iron sharpens iron. And drunkenness begets drunkenness.
That lifestyle didn’t change when we graduated. You only have to attend a military wedding or be in the company of more than one West Pointer in the proximity of alcohol to know what I speak is true. Most people graduate college and spread to the four winds and begin their careers as functional adults. Not Military Officers, we all graduated and moved right in with each other as roommates to places like Ft. Benning and Ft. Sill to begin our military careers fueled by a newfound income and a vow to somehow make up the “missed experiences” of college. The onslaught of tail gates, music festivals, booze cruises, and drunken misadventures on leave ensued. Oh, You got an apartment? cool. You got an apartment above a bar, nicknamed the “F-shack”, and regularly play host to your female bartender “friends” and endless parade of one night stands?
So this is the situation I found myself in two years after graduation. No longer wet behind the ears, and fresh off my first assignment as a platoon leader. I had a nice little pad sit up about a mile from K-State with my West Point classmate of 7 years and roommate of 2 years. We had done it all together: New York City. Central Valley. Philadelphia. Auburn. Atlanta. Aggieville. Lawerence. We had even just returned from a wedding in New Jersey, in which he missed his flight, and I had to extract him after finding him passed out in a hotel room with a broken door and empty bottles of Fireball and Jameson littered across laundry and the left overs of a Dress Blue uniform. With over a decade of drinking experience between the both of us we were by no means beginners at the game. But…. it wasn’t enough. Enter a Class of 2009 grad that had made a bit of a legend of himself as a professional party goer to educate us on the finer points of bachelorhood. We shall call him Yoda.
Go to EDC, you must!
A Veteran of Iraq, Yoda was also a veteran of Miami Ultra, TomorrowWorld, the Playboy NYE Party in Chicago, the Running of the Bulls. Now an O-3 Army Captain making upwards of $70k a year he spend his “off” weekends living in a shitty apartment with bargain furniture eating ramen and protein shakes planning and budgeting for his next big adventure. Yoda gained a reputation as a cadet for helping start a fake fraternity that hosted sorority mixers with colleges all up and down the North East. In short, Yoda was a genius. And his drunken tales of debauchery in far off lands no doubt inspired us to something more. Suddenly, the bars didn’t seem quite as enticing. The beer not as cold. The women…. well, no they were still good. We had been doing it wrong. And needed some change… or more like… needed to expand our horizons and think bigger.
So we did. With a renewed sense of youth, I sat down and bought tickets to Dancefestopia in Kansas City, Austin City Limits, and Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando to cap off 2013. They weren’t quite legendary status– but they were a good start. Dancefestopia came and went. ACL the same. And I had got my intro on the music festival scene…. but my eyes were set on EDC-Orlando.
EDC-Vegas, Ultra, and TomorrowWorld are the trifecta Holy-Grail of EDM (Electric Dance Music) Festivals. Electric Dance Music is a blanket term, used to describe a wide range of percussive electronic music genres. It started to gain popular traction in the United States in the 2000’s, mostly due to the increased exposure of the aforementioned festivals and the break out of a few artists into the main stream (I.E. Daft Punk). I was first introduced to it at West Point where some of my North Eastern classmates, were veterans of Europe’s Dance festivals and some of the underground night clubs and such like NYC’s MPD, started introducing it as a cure all to late night writing assignments and marathon weight-lifting sessions. But outside of a few clubs, I’d never really entertained the idea of attending a major music festival…. until now.
“yeah, bro… I listen to EDM“
EDC Orlando is like the little cousin to EDC Vegas. But not to be under estimated. It’s still well over a 100,000 people gathered for 2 days of mind blasting beats and an all star line up of DJs and plenty of trappings for a single lad. With that in mind, I grabbed my ticket and hopped on a plane to Orlando for my first big EDM festival…
So, with that, by popular request, this will be the first installment of a series of blogs documenting some of the not-so-serious points of the Army Life. What those first years as a single junior officer are like. What it’s like to party in our world and everything that comes with it. I’ll talk about some of the more recent ones first– and then dust of the cob webs in the memory bank and talk about some of the earlier days as well (ahhh…. nostalgia). So stay tuned….
Ty Stephens is a Native of East Texas, and he is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point with a BS in International Relations. After commissioning in 2011 as an Infantry Officer, he has served as both a Armored Platoon Leader and a Battalion Mortar Platoon Leader while assigned to 1st Battalion 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas. He has deployed in support of Operation Shared Accord to South Africa in 2013 and Operation Enduring Freedom- Horn of Africa in 2014. Ty has traveled to the North, Latin and South Americas, Western Europe, and South Asia. Ty enjoys the outdoors and adventure sports.
The thoughts conveyed in this article are the writer’s alone, and the following content does not reflect the official views or policies of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the United States Military Academy or the United States Government.