« End Communism AND the Embargo in Cuba | Main | Jane Harman and Rod Blogojevich »

19 April 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

William R. Cumming

My belief is that all the undergrad service academies should be abolished and retained as graduate military study universities. While the persons attending could be adjusted to the needs of the various services for various disciplines such as civil or electriacl engineering, history or science or whatever and pick outstanding grands that also which to serve a minimum of 6-10 years after graduation in the military. The Pick of the Pack so to speak would then go on to doctoral programs in civilian universities after a minimum of three years of active service. The reality is that COIN and military reform generally will not work as long as retention rates from the Adcamies is so low and so dependent on outside economic opportunties. I of course after being essentially drafter, voluntered as a college-op for OCS which I completed in 1968 at Ft.Sill, Oklahoma! When I was lucky enough to enter FRG after further schooling I was told I was the first unassigned Artillery butter-bar LT to have arrived in the last six months. Most of course were going to RVN or FRG only after lengthy schooling. I was lucky and tried to learn and help all I could while in FRG. Served largely in support of FRG units. My OCS commander was a WEST POINTER as was the XO of my battalion when I arrived in FRG. Fine men and officers but strangely neither had good ARMY careers. Perhaps it was officer ops that determined the fates of even the WEST POINTERs. It was then at Ft. Monroe VA and always wondered about that puzzle palace.


I know nothing about the quality of education at the service academies. I can assume the good points: esprit de corps, intensive submersion in military life and culture, and so on. I can also assume the counter-argument posed by Ricks: lack of interaction with future civilians.

I can appreciate someone with more knowledge on the subject educating me.


COL I posted the same article over at OP-For.com, you ought to look at the comments I have thus far received. Part of the problem is I am not sure that anyone is reading the whole article. The proposition I found most interesting was his idea of getting rid of the War College. From what I have seen (BTW not a War College Graduate) it is neither rigorous or populated by faculty who are truly "Strategic Thinker."


".. services' war colleges,...These institutions strike me as second-rate."
Yes indeed, outsourcing was one of Cheney's great ideas, why not outsource teaching how to think. Ricks provides little to back up his suggestion of utilizing civilian schools to train our officer corps. Ricks should be reminded that the ‘best’ corporations in America hire from those same schools. Obviously GM, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs not to mention what was once one of the top 10 companies in America, Enron, all hired from these schools.

Shifting the service academies from training junior officers to a graduate program focused on development of mid grade field officers strikes me as a far better use of resources, not just of money and staff., but of time as well. The idea should be pursued, but not in a knee jerk fashion.


Please stop with the acronyms.

What Is FRG, WRC?

I am too damned old for acronyms and puzzles.


Forbes' article on America's top colleges says it all:


Especially notice how West Point ranked #6 overall, ahead of several Ivys.

John Kirkman

Keep the Academies.
Ricks is familiar with price but not value.
I learned things as a military cadet (not one of the academies) that were never mentioned at my Big Ten school.
Honor at civilian institutions refers to grade point, not character trait.


I don't understand his cost argument. West point student body is only medium size university (about 4K), using his number it's ~$800m/yr. Big deal.

I'd say, build another academy and let West Point competes for the 'best of' crown. Nothing produces better result than making the best compete harder against more diverse idea and people. Give them more resource.

The cost of that useless airborne laser ($2.5B) plus that botched surveillance satellite (~$6-10B) should cover the cost for decades to come.


You should check Forbe's methodology. 25% weight to student rankings on 'rankmyproffessor.com' and 25% by a weighted listing in "who's who in America"? I know my alma mater complains about these ranking systems, this is one of the reasons why.


During my time as a Marine Corps officer (57-66) I served with officers commissioned via Naval Academy, NROTC, Platoon Leaders Course, VMI, Citadel, Naval Aviation Cadet, and one Air Force Academy graduate. Most of these officers had one thing in common, they were graduates of The Basic School. The 6-9 month course that teaches new officers how to be basic Marine infantry commanders. With this experience in common the diversity of background and education becomes a good thing. The service academies provide a small, but very important, percentage of the officer corps and should continue to do so, but I really question the apparent requirement that all officers have a MS or PHD to be considered for promotion to O5 or above.


Hi Colonel Lang,

Andrew Bacevich made the same suggestion a few years ago in his book "The New American Militarism". Bacevich, a West Point graduate and retired US Army colonel, argues that the service academies create an officer culture separate from that of civilian America, with a sometimes dangerously elitist mindset. Bacevich writes that the services themselves would be better led with an officer corps trained at civilian universities, and thus educated with real-life experience in the culture of the country they were to serve. He thinks that only the military graduate schools should be retained. He also argues for the reinstatement of the draft, because citizenship should require service of some kind to the country, although he doubts that this is politically feasible today. I tend to agree with him on both topics. I think one of the unintended consequences of ending the draft was the creation of an elected elite with no military experience, which one could argue should be essential to political leadership. Would love to hear your thoughts on both topics.



Completely anecdotal.

I have a good friend (I am closed to somebody who knows) ....Naval Academy graduate/Tank Commander (using authority to reinforce unfounded claim)........diversity cause of low entrance requirements......

stopped reading when I read a dre

Cold War Zoomie

I don't have a dog in this fight. One thing that stuck out to me, though, was Rick's reference to a Community College education. My experience is that many community college courses were better than their counterparts at large, state run universities - smaller class sizes and faculty who are working in the "real world" rather than climbing the ladder in academia are points in their favor, for much less cash to boot.

This topic segues into a posting I've been wanting to do here but haven't had the time. Do we really need a separate Air Force any more, or should it be absorbed back into the Army?

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

We're discussing lots of intersting subjects. I'm having trouble keeping up.
I agree that this idea won't fly and, at any rate its not a good one. As a purely subjective generalization, the USMA fellows I've met, worked with, and been commanded by have been good officers and technically and tactically proficient. I'm more interested in the War College criticisms. The educational focus at the academies is, I think deliberately, designed to produce officers able to identify problems and select solutions in an efficient manner. The War Colleges are supposed to be where deeper and more creative thinking is taught. If they're not being effective, what's the problem? Perhaps a look at the Bundeswehr archives in order to see how the Kriegsakadamie structured its senior officer curricula might be helpful.


Patrick Lang


You all generally reflect my belief that the public loves the romance of the service academies without regard to whether or not service academy graduates make better officers. Most of the service academy graduates think they do of course. The notion of young Abe Lincoln in a grey coat rising up from nowehere "like a cinderella boy" as the groundsman says in "Caddy Shack" is just too much for most people to think clearly past. Yup, every shirt tail boy from nowhere has a field marshal's baton in his knapsack, just like Petraeus. In his case "nowhere" was Cornwall on Hudson. I don't know what the retention statistics are like these days, but you folks are paying a high price for these schools. pl


Colonel Lang,

The Regular NROTC Program has provided the largest source of regular Naval officers for over 50 years.Its graduates are superior to or equal with in quality to the USNA graduates by most anecdotal accounts.[The last official study at the USMC Basic School showed them on average to be slightly better prepared at the beginning of the course.] The cost of educating and training an NROTC Midshipman is usually calculated as about 1/2 the cost of educating and training a USNA Midshipman.
The NROTC's preparation of its graduates for the mental and physical trials of war is well known. Perhaps less mentioned is its emphasis on the moral aspects. "An NROTC Midshipman does not lie cheat or steal." [Incidents of cheating,rape,murder, theft, are unheard of in the NROTC]. All things considered, I think Tom Ricks may be on to something.

NROTC 61-65
USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

Douglas Southall Freeman, truly a wonderful historian, analyzed the problem of command in the Army of northern Virginia in "Lee's Lieutenants" and concluded that the best predictor of success in combat among the officers of that Army was a military education. He was referring to graduates of West Point and the V.M.I as well as those who had served as commissioned officers in the "old army" without having attended those schools.

You'll probably say that that would be comparing apples and oranges, since there was no such thing as R.O.T.C. in those days. I think Freeman's conclusion was correct inasmuch as it applied to "Lee's Miserables". However, that was then and now I think that West Point functions as a kind of institutional back bone for the army. As well as producing an annual crop of lieutenants, of course. The academies probably aren't indispenable but I'd say they're of value in the system of military (and naval) education.

The comment about the Marine basic officer course being 6 to 9 months long struck me. I think the army would do well to double the length of the branch basic courses to 6 months.


Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

You wrote: " I don't know what the retention statistics are like these days, but you folks are paying a high price for these schools."

But what are the rentention statistics in any of the liberal arts fields: physics, music, classics, etc.?

And yet people are enamoured of the idea of liberal arts education - failing to accept that only 5% of the student-body can benefit from a liberal arts education let alone make its living in those fields.

If the retention rate is low perhaps the service academies are accepting too many students and of the wrong disposition.

William R. Cumming

For Delundenwarf! FRG equals Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR equals the German Democratic Republic. West and East Germanies before the wall fell.


Sir. There is a pretty sane discussion over at Abu Muqawama on the issue, with several students weighing in. http://abumuqawama.blogspot.com/2009/04/close-war-colleges.html


I think Annapolis' losing record of 5 and 22 in the annual croquet match with St John's is one the more reason to shut down the academies. If we can't win in croquet...

Patrick Lang


It has been my misfortune to have had to deal with too many engineers who had not absorbed the lessons of the core curriculum in the humanities.

I have seen your students and am filled with admiration for what you and they are doing. pat


The dissolution of service academies is a completely ridiculous notion. Though the popular media tends to focus on the failures of the academies, and, admittedly, not all officers who receive a degree/commission are "great" officers, the service academies offer unparalleled education, training, and opportunity (not ordinarily available to participants in other commissioning programs). Based on personal experience, I will focus on the United States Naval Academy, and, for comparison, I will contrast my experiences with that of a typical NROTC midshipman. Though Academy midshipmen may appear cynical (you try attending a regimented, disciplined, bureaucratic institution for four years, with minimal freedom, while your contemporaries drive around in their new cars, wear civilian clothes, drink excessively, and compete for comparable officer billets), the vast majority of midshipmen are dedicated to their subordinates, the service, and the nation. The pressures placed on the young men and women attending the Naval Academy are, at times, insurmountable to the NROTC midshipman. Therein resides one of the primary advantages of the service academies: combat is chaotic, disorganized, and stressful; Academy life, intentionally, is also chaotic and stressful. As an Academy midshipman, you cannot just give up for the day, you cannot just “kick back” and enjoy a few beers; as an Academy midshipman, you are constantly inundated in a military environment for four years, save for those precious few hours of liberty on the weekends. Though the faculty may “lack doctorates,” this fact must be taken with a military-specific perspective: though the service academies intend to provide graduates with a degree, the primary purpose of these institutions is to graduate commissionable officers. At the Naval Academy, those faculty members without doctoral degrees are typically the returning officers who devote their time away from the Fleet or Marine Corps to teach midshipmen; these men and women may not have the “desired” degrees, but their perspectives on combat, leadership, and military ethics are unparalleled. Though I am more than willing to provide additional detail, I would like to avoid being exceedingly verbose. In summation, the service academies graduates with constant military training, exposure to experienced military professionals (not only professors, but prior-enlisted classmates), a tremendous professional/social network, and a unique classroom environment. Ultimately, the curriculum is diverse, the prospective officer corps (in training) is dedicated, and the result is exceptional.

Patrick Lang

Alexander, Nightsticker

Have at it! as I saId, hell hath no fury like a service academy grad scorned.

"The pressures placed on the young men and women attending the Naval Academy are, at times, insurmountable to the NROTC midshipman." Wow!

Are you going to stand for that, Nightstalker? pl


I'm not so opposed to having service academies, but I am concerned with other, what I see as attitudinal, problems in our military establishment regardless of the sources for obtaining officers, and I think some of the attitudinal issues may vary somewhat by service. For instance, I saw the Army "private club" mentality reflected
most clearly in the War College program. If you were not selected for either physical attendance or the correspondence course, then you were not able to even volunteer to take the course even if you remained in active service to the maximum time in grade (LTC for me). This was clearly less enlightened than the Air Force program, which encouraged all officers to seek the highest degree of professionalism possible while still serving. I actually had the temerity to submit a paper on this subject to my commander (3-star), requesting him to pass it up the chain for consideration, but was turned down. We really should encourage all officers to seek maximum professionalism regardless of whether or not they make the "in group" of Colonel and above. I believe this should not be so difficult to do, but there is another area that is probably less easy to manage and that is related to individual "leadership style", which is a potential problem in the entire civil-military establishment (yes: President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense and subordinates, Secretary of State, CIA chief, etc., all the way down - true leadership that avoids arrogance, and encourages and seriously considers dissenting views. I used to recommend Norman Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence to officers under me, realizing however that incompetence is not limited to the military, and by now this should have become clear to all of us.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad