North Ridgeville grad getting chance to hobnob with powerful players of military, political world

North Ridgeville

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A 2015 North Ridgeville graduate who took an unusual route to gain admittance to West Point is making the most of his time at the United States Military Academy.

Jeff Reffert enlisted in the U.S. Army between his junior and senior years of high school with a goal of joining ROTC at Norwich University in Vermont.

His plans changed when he was encouraged by North Ridgeville Clerk of Council George Smith to apply to one of the service academies after he met Smith at a meeting of the North Ridgeville Republicans.

Reffert didn’t get accepted to West Point, but instead was given the opportunity to attend a prep school affiliated with the United State Military Academy. After completing the year of prep school, he gained acceptance to the elite military academy and is currently in the middle of his first year.

“So far, so good,” Reffert said of his experience.

Outgoing and personable, Reffert used those qualities to earn a spot as a company representative on the Cadet Public Relations Council. As part of his duties, he’s often selected to give tours and lunch with VIPs who make their way to the campus, and it’s allowed him to rub elbows and break bread with some of the more influential people in the country.

Already he’s lunched and chatted up former CIA director and retired Gen. David H. Petraeus. Last week, he met with retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III, who served as commanding officer in Iraq and as commander of the United States Central Command as well as the vice chair of the U.S. Army, during his career.

Reffert said many of the VIPs – especially those who are West Point grads – are interested in how things are on the campus now as compared to how things were when they went through the school.

“They are so fascinated with what we are doing and they compare it to their own,” Reffert said.
Meeting and talking with Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the campus for a dinner earlier this year, was another highlight.

Reffert and another cadet were given an opportunity to speak with Pence before he gave a speech after a dinner. He asked Reffert about his background and was impressed Reffert went from enlisted to a commission in the U.S. Army. Reffert also told him February marked the three-year anniversary of his original enlistment date and the 20th anniversary of him becoming a United States citizen after being adopted from Russia by his parents, Gary and Janice.

“He shook my hand and made me feel like I was the vice president,” Reffert said. “It was really humbling.”

His typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until 11 p.m., Reffert said. The weekends are taken up by a half-day of military training on Saturdays, and Sundays he uses to complete “90 percent” of his homework.

“It’s a jampacked schedule, but if you manage your time, you’ll be fine,” Reffert said.

Classes have been challenging, he admits, but he’s holding his own academically. He actually failed a class in the fall called Military Movement, which is basically a gymnastics class. But the administration at West Point does all it can to make sure cadets don’t wash out. They took note that even though he failed the class, he was at every class, gave a solid effort and would seek out extra help.

He took the class again and was able to pass.

He’s also proven to be one of the most squared-away students in his class. He won so many of the weekly uniform inspections his unit stopped conducting them.

He’s majoring in defense and strategic studies with a focus in grand and general strategy. This summer he’ll head to Washington D.C. where he’ll spend three weeks working at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency helping try to find a way the country can protect itself against the threat of what is known as electromagnetic pulses.

Such pulses, if unleashed correctly, could take down the entire electrical grid.

“Anything with Wi-Fi or electricity would be totally out of commission,” Reffert said.

Reffert said he doesn’t feel he’s missing out on the college experience so many of his peers are living through. In talking with him, he indicates he’s not one to drink, so he’s not missing out on consuming mass amounts of alcohol, and he’s not one to sleep the day away.

“I couldn’t survive at a public university,” said Reffert, who said he embraces the discipline of a military existence.

He came home for Christmas and said his friends respect his decision to join the military. He said when they ask him questions about the turmoil the world finds itself in and possible military conflicts, he politely tells them he does not yet have the knowledge or experience to provide a good answer.

“There are people far more qualified to answer this than me,” he said of his typical answer.
It appears in the case of Reffert it might not be that way much longer.

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