“Get Off Your Butt And Go To West Point”: An Army Aviator Lands In The Department Of Behavioral Sciences And Leadership

Lissa Young


Dr. Lissa Young was born in San Francisco, California, but grew up in Venice, Florida. Her father graduated from the Military Academy in 1956, but did not speak much about it, and became a surgeon when Lissa was a child. She grew up spending a lot of time outdoors with her sister, riding horses, swimming, and playing sports. She enjoyed school, and attended Warren Wilson College, but not feel that she really belonged there. Finally, the wife of her father’s West Point roommate told her, “You need to get off your butt and go to West Point.” Lissa rushed to put in a packet and was accepted. Her experience over the four years was, with a few exceptions, generally positive. She played softball her plebe year before switching to women’s soccer, which was making the transition from club to corps squad. She branched Aviation, and in the basic course she almost got kicked out of the branch for having arms that were too short, but she proved to her instructors that she was able to reach all the controls in the cockpit. She started out flying the UH-1, but then transitioned to the OH-58 while assigned to the 4th Aviation Brigade at Ft. Carson, Colorado. During that assignment, she spent quite a bit of time flying at the National Training Center with an Air Cav unit. In the advanced course, she transitioned to the Chinook, and then commanded A Company, 1st Battalion, 159th Aviation at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. In 1996, she earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology and returned to West Point to teach in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, stating “I found joy” in teaching at the Academy. After Command and General Staff College, she took command of a second company, Company B, 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation Regiment at Ft. Wainwright, Alaska, the Army’s only high-altitude search and rescue company. While in command, as an outreach program with the University of Alaska, she helped recover a 10-million-year-old Ichthyosaur fossil, using her heavy lift assets while conducting some unique training with her Soldiers. She was then selected not only to become the Regimental Executive Officer, but also to return to the Academy as a permanent professor when she was involuntarily discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. She then worked for Raytheon for 4 years, selling air traffic control systems in the Middle East before being offered a faculty position in the USMA Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. She applied to PhD programs around the country and was rejected by nearly a dozen before being accepted at Harvard. Before returning to the Military Academy, she developed a program for deploying Soldiers called “Social Perspective Taking,” designed to increase cultural awareness, and she helped start a rum distillery in Ipswich, Massachusetts. After returning to West Point, she helped develop an Entrepreneurship course, and has worked with the Cadet Radio Station and the Women’s Soccer and Lacrosse teams. In this interview she talks about her childhood, attending Warren Wilson College, and becoming a scuba instructor before attending West Point. She discusses being a “haze magnet” as a plebe, and notes how treatment towards women changed between her time as a Cadet and her return to the Academy a decade later. She describes being arrested and investigated under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and feeling very alone and afraid. She reflects on her time at Harvard, and returning to West Point to teach as a civilian. Finally, she analyzes what West Point and her service mean to her.


name Lissa Young
institution USMA
graduation year 1986
service Aviation
unit 4th Aviation Brigade; A Company, 1st Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment; B Company, 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation Regiment
specialty Huey / Chinook High Altitude Rescue Team / OH-58 A / A+ / C
service dates 1986 2002