EDMOND — Brynnen Sheets Hahn not only was exposed to the magnificent military heritage at West Point, she became part of the lore. The Edmond native was one of the first group of elite women to attend West Point, graduating in 1980.
The adventure has only continued since then — with a distinguished career in the military followed by another as a high school math teacher. In the meantime, she got married and raised three children. Her husband, Robert, is a fellow West Point graduate. The couple became the first graduates of the military academy to marry.
During a recent visit to Edmond, Hahn, 54, recalled how it all started with a letter she received in November 1975. Thousands of young women, seniors in high school, got the letter — based on their ACT and SAT scores.
It was from the government, and it urged them to apply for admission to the military academies. Before this, women had not been admitted to the academies.
Hahn was a senior at Edmond Memorial High School and already considering the University of Oklahoma. But her family, which includes a brother and two sisters, had ties to the military, moving only a few years previously from Lawton.
Her father is a Korean War veteran. The idea of a military career appealed to her, and she applied.
Once accepted to West Point, she wasn't quite sure what to expect.
That didn't stop her from making the trek to the famed U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., founded by order of President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.
After nearly 200 years, women were now going to be cadets.
That transition didn't sit well with some of her male counterparts and even some of the school administrators.
More than 30 years later, she can't discuss some of the incidents.
“I'm just not comfortable talking about it at all,” she said. The challenges of being the first female cadet were part of her daily life for four years.
“Physically I was in good shape and ready for it,” the former high school athlete said.
It wasn't easy for that first female class.
Of 119 female cadets, just 62 graduated four years later. Hahn had a hard time, even on graduation day, believing the academy would actually honor the female cadets for their hard work.
“I was never sure until I got the diploma,” she recalled.
Today, she says, female cadets no longer face discrimination or harassment.
“I talked to a woman who graduated from Annapolis in 1992 and even by then there were no problems.”
While at West Point, she made history again when she became part of the first women's basketball team. She had played basketball at Memorial.
“We had fun and played other teams like Yale,” she said.
Great military minds
Even casual observers of West Point know it was a training ground for some of the greatest military minds in American history. Southern Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee and the North's eventual supreme commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, attended the academy.
Others included World War II legends Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. Omar Bradley.
She remembers an encounter with Bradley.
“We were in line to eat and ordered to look right,” she said. “There, Gen. Bradley was visiting. He was in his wheelchair.”
The man who commanded 1.3 million troops in the assault on Nazi Germany died a few years later, in 1981.
Once commissioned from West Point, Hahn served at sites around the world including Germany and Fort Sill. There was also her marriage to Robert in 1980.
Because of the uniqueness of two West Point graduates marrying each other, the couple's story aired on the “Good Morning, America,” network television program.
“We were in the airport getting ready to leave on our honeymoon and I overheard this other couple say ‘They're the ones who were on TV.'”
Legion of Merit
She was on active duty until 1988 and was in the U.S. Army Reserve until 2001.
It was tragedy that reactivated her in the Armed Forces. Looking from her home in Connecticut, she could see the smoke from the World Trade Center, attacked Sept. 11, 2001.
She was then stationed in the Washington area doing intelligence assessment for a four-star general.
Her two months of active service in the hectic times following 9/11 did not go unnoticed.
She earned the Legion of Merit, awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
She recently retired as a math teacher in Stamford, Conn., and will be joining her husband, who works as an executive with Serco, a British international services provider with offices in Reston, Va.
The couple are the parents of Gretchen, 26; Brian 23, and Nathaniel, 20. Brian is an Army second lieutenant serving a tour in Afghanistan.
She still enjoys her regular visits to Edmond to see her parents, Meredith and Ladona Sheets.
“Edmond is a great town,” she said. “It was when I was in high school, and it still is now.”
It's the military, and her West Point roots that have charted her life's direction.
“I love the military and I love the people of the military. It's been just great,” she said.
I love the military and I love the people of the military. It's been just great.”