Brig. Gen. Michael Linnington

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Brig. Gen. Michael Linnington found himself back at Trophy Point on Tuesday afternoon, overlooking the historic "West Point" of the Hudson River where Gen. George Washington in 1775 ordered fortifications to block British warships. In 1802, the site became part of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Linnington, 49, of Lower Town-ship, Cape May County, has been here before. As a cadet at the academy, Class of 1980, he saw the trophies of war assembled on this bluff high above the river. There are cannons from the War of 1812, chain links used to block British warships in the Revolutionary War, huge guns captured during the Spanish American War. West Pointers even brought back guns from the Mexican War in 1846-47 and placed them here at Trophy Point.

Linnington had a trophy of his own Tuesday. The kid who grew up in the hardscrabble Villas section of Lower Township became the 71st Commandant of West Point. With his wife, Brenda, West Point Class of 1981, looking on, he took command of the 4,400 cadets who will some day be the leaders of the U.S. Army. He and Brenda were married at the academy and had wedding pictures taken right here at Trophy Point.

"West Point has been an extremely important part of my life and that of my family for over 30 years. It’s an historic place with a proud tradition of service. It produces leaders at a time when our nation is at war. I feel touched and blessed, and with it comes a great responsibility," Linnington said.

For the next two years, Linnington will be molding soldiers with physical and military training. They will graduate after four years as lieutenants and likely head off to war.

"For a nation at war, the demands on our young leaders are especially profound. Leader and character development at West Point is crucial to our success on the battlefield, and that is my focus," Linnington said.

Linnington replaces Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., who will take command of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and is expected to be heading to Iraq. The change-of-command ceremony included such time-honored traditions as the exchange of U.S. Corps of Cadets Colors, the U.S. Military Academy Band, the U.S. Corps of Cadets Color Guard and plenty of speeches.

Linnington greeted two vans full of family members from Cape May County including his mother, Rita, and brothers John, Jim, David, and Carl. His daughter, Tracy, who just graduated from James Madison University in Virginia was also there, but his son, Michael Jr., a West Point graduate now flying attack helicopters, could not make it.

West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Buster Hagenbeck started to name Linnington’s guests but then joked: "I’m not going to recognize everybody because I don’t have the names of everybody in South Jersey."

Hagenbeck recounted Linnington’s career, from graduating West Point to assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, West Berlin and the Pentagon.

"He’s had every tough job in the infantry," Hagenbeck said.

Caslen served with Linnington in Afghanistan and spoke about his abilities.

"I watched him in combat. He was phenomenal. He was a great leader. He will get down and dirty and do the job," Caslen said.

Before the ceremony, Linnington just wanted to talk to his hometown chums about the Philadelphia Phillies, but when the ceremony began, he was deadly serious about his mission and where he was.

Trophy Point has numerous plaques to honor the war dead. The motto "Duty, Honor, Country" is displayed in many locations. Revolutionary War Gen. Henry Knox ordered the first enemy cannons, captured at Ticonderoga, brought here in 1777. This is where "the Great Chain" was stretched across the river to stop the British.

"This is sacred ground," said Caslen.

Brig. Gen. Michael Linnington already knew that.