For Gig Harbor’s Niquelle Cassador, her dreams of attending the United States Military Academy at West Point and also serving a mission as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were at one point mutually exclusive.
But on Wednesday, Cassador, 20, will become the first female West Point cadet in more than 20 years to leave the academy for an LDS mission as she begins her mission training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. From there she will continue on to her mission site in Cleveland.
Cassador’s ability to attend both West Point and serve on a mission is possible because the Mormon Church lowered the age requirement for missions several years ago. The previous age restrictions, requiring members to be 21 years old, prevented many LDS West Point cadets from being able to participate in a mission because cadets are required at the beginning of the junior year to accept a five-year military commitment.
To leave for a mission after their sophomore year would have meant a gap of several years for many cadets.
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“It’s a matter of luck and timing,” said Cassador of her ability to go on a mission. “There were plenty of women before me who I’m sure would have gone (on a mission).”
Cassador first heard of West Point after spotting a cadet in an airport terminal years ago. She said the challenge of West Point is what drew her to the academy.
She also credits one of her teachers at Peninsula High School, Dr. David Morgan, for her inspiration to attend a military academy. Morgan was the subject of a paper Cassador wrote in her junior year of high school and served as her biggest inspiration for the discipline and challenges provided by the military.
Coming from a non-military family, her decision to attend a military academy came as something of a surprise to many.
“I don’t think a lot of people expected to go into the military,” said Cassador with a laugh when recalling her announcement of her decision on West Point and a military career. “But my family has always been really supportive.”
Cassador feels very privileged, in fact, because she wanted to go to West Point, whereas many cadets she has met at the academy are there because of family pressure, she said.
Cassador will be on her LDS mission for one-and-a-half years, after which she will have to reapply to West Point, and receive another congressional nomination.
But she remains optimistic of the hurdles faced her her readmission to West Point.
“It shouldn’t be too risky,” Cassador said, adding that in her reapplication process she will only be competing against other people who have dropped out or left the academy for other reasons.
As for her future in the military, Cassador is “trying to keep an open mind.” She is unsure of what direction she wants to take, beyond that of being an officer.