Tommy Gascoigne had dreamed of going to the U.S. Military Academy since he was 8 years old, but that dream does not come easily.
“To be accepted to West Point, students must pass a physical examination and a rigorous physical fitness test, not to mention an impressive transcript with good grades and SAT/ACT scores as well as excelling in sports and leadership,” according to the Academy. “A congressional representative or senator must also nominate the student in order to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.”
Clearing those hurdles doesn’t make for smooth sailing upon arrival at the idyllic campus along the Hudson River in New York.
“The hardest part of West Point for me was in the first semester, transitioning from freedom in high school to a ‘locked-down’ environment where time management is essential,” Gascoigne said. “As a first-semester plebe, I had a very hard time balancing school work, physical fitness, sleep, military duties and having a social life.”
It didn’t become easier after that, but the 2016 Pahrump Valley High School graduate made the adjustments necessary to thrive in an environment that is simultaneously academic and military. The result was the following announcement from the academy:
“Cadet Thomas R. Gascoigne Jr., son of Thomas and Laurie Gascoigne of Pahrump, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday, June 13,” read a “hometown release” from West Point. “While at West Point, he concentrated his studies in chemical engineering with elective courses in nuclear engineering. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army within the field artillery branch and will report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Field Artillery Basic Officer Leadership Course.”
“Once I mastered time management, I could balance my daily schedule and get time to be with myself, which consisted of going to the gym and creating friendships that will last a lifetime,” Gascoigne said.
Gascoigne was a football player and a wrestler at Pahrump Valley, although his contributions on the football field outweighed those on the wrestling mats.
“Honestly, I wasn’t that good at it,” he admitted.
Perhaps, but it was his work ethic that stuck in the mind of Craig Rieger, who coached Gascoigne in both sports.
“Tommy put the time in at the weight room,” Rieger recalled. “He had a good attitude and it is great to see what he has accomplished at West Point.”
Lessons from the mats stuck with the newly minted second lieutenant.
“Many things I learned as a wrestler have carried over into my life as a son, brother, teammate and army officer,” Gascoigne said. “As a football player and wrestler, coaches (Joe) Clayton, Rieger and (Fred) Schmidt instilled self-discipline, never quitting, physical and mental toughness into our teams.”
On the football field, Gascoigne was a key player on the 2014 and 2015 Trojan teams. His best season came as a junior, when, listed as a 5-foot-8, 190-pound fullback, he led the team in rushing with 506 yards on 119 carries as Pahrump Valley went 4-5. Gascoigne led the team in rushing again as a senior, carrying 100 times for 432 yards for a 3-6 team. The Trojans threw the ball a lot more in those days.
“I coached Tommy since he was about 6 or 7 years old,” Clayton said. “He was on my very first Pop Warner team, Rush. Always had a smile on his face, and he loved playing football. He loved the competition.”
“Tommy was a good student-athlete for Pahrump Valley High School,” Rieger said. “Tommy was a hard-nosed, north-south running back. He ran hard, was physical and was a good teammate.”
“Tommy was involved in some of my fondest memories of coaching youth football in Pahrump,” Clayton added. “One of the most coachable and dedicated football players I have ever coached in my career.”
The life of a cadet is not supposed to be an easy one, and it wasn’t.
“His semester workload consisted of 17-24 credit hours, military leadership duties, formations, physical fitness, Saturday military training, military competitions such as the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition and intramural athletics,” according to the release from West Point. His summers involved Cadet Basic Training, known as “Beast Barracks,” Cadet Field Training, “Air Assault School,” Cadet Leadership Development Training and Cadet Troop Leadership Training.
There also were academic internships at the Army Research Lab in Maryland and at the Nevada National Security Site.
The reward for all of that is a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and a five-year commitment to active duty. But Gascoigne’s commitment will be for eight years “as an additional service obligation in order to be assigned to the Black Lions at Fort Benning,” according to the academy.
“I was commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer, so I need to attend the FA Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I will learn the FA Officer job,” Gascoigne said. “After four months of BOLC, I will report to 1st Battalion-28th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia for my first assignment, where I anticipate I will serve as a fire support officer.”
His former coaches have little doubt that the future looks bright for him.
“My feelings about Tom are that he is a quality young man, and the sky is the limit given his drive to succeed,” Schmidt said.
“It was no surprise to me that he was so dedicated as to attend and graduate from the prestigious West Point,” Clayton said. “I am so proud of him and what he represents.”