Monday, April 20, 2009

Get Rid of Service Academies?

My uncle sent me this article asking what I thought about it. Basically the author is recommending to get rid of the service academies. He argues that the education is inferior and the cost greater. He also says that some commanders prefer non academy graduates.

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships. After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I've concluded that graduates of the service academies don't stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I've been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

A few things struck me about this guys argument and I must say that I actually find his point of view pretty interesting. To avoid sounding completely defensive and self indulgent I have to acknowledge that the guy has some points. Where I think he misses the boat is that a service academy is not all about the education. I think that anyone who knows anything about service academies know that it is not the education, it is the character building. Anyone can get an education at one of our nation's universities. If you cannot get into one chances are there is one where you can get in. ROTC is much more selective than the admissions department of our nations universities, but the author did not compare the ROTC program and the service academy program. He is placing all his emphasis on the traditional education. I would venture to say that not everyone can make it through a service academy. The attrition rate from freshman to senior year is a testament to that. This is not to say that I think that academy graduates are better than ROTC because I don't. In fact I rarely notice the difference or care. However, in a country that values diversity amongst it's citizens why would we shun it in the commissioning of our officer corps? It is my belief that officers from ROTC, service academies, and OTS serve as a great representation of our nation's youth and all provide value in service to our country.

I think his article also shows how obsessed our country is with credentials. Just because the professors don't have doctorates the author is assuming the education is less than that of ROTC schools. I think its a pretty ridiculous to make that argument especially since all three academies consistently rank amongst the best undergrad programs this country has to offer. According to the author's reasoning we are safe to assume that school rankings should be decided by number of doctorate teachers. I think the author fails to acknowledge that much of the value we as society place on degrees stems from the value employers place on degrees. Service academies are generally viewed in a positive light by corporate America and I doubt many companies are looking at the number of doctorates teaching at an applicant's institution. I don't think this guy would place too much credibility on my Personal MBA quest?

With all that being said I really think that it doesn't matter where you come from, it comes down to "what have you done for me lately." Good people, good officers, good whatever always rise to the top no matter where they came from. I have seen this in hockey a million times. A kid comes out of no where and makes it to the big show. Although I do agree with the author that once in the service, people normally cannot tell whether you came from OTS, ROTC, or an academy. I believe that each commissioning source provides a unique perspective and skill set that is valuable to our country. Discounting that based on purely economic savings is reckless to say the least. Remember these academies aren't just breeding military leaders, they are breeding our nations leaders. Would you want all your political leaders to come from the same senate seat? Would you pick an NHL team with players from one junior league? I wouldn't.

No comments: