Dear citizens of the United States of America,
The US Army is many things to many people, and given the history of the United States, our military tradition maintains three separate rank structures. These are Enlisted, Warrant Officer, and Officer ranks. This segregation of duties by pay grade and responsibility level may not be the most egalitarian solution to serve the republic, but it endures because it is effective at producing units that are willing to close with and destroy the enemies of the United States.
Recently West Point has come under fire for allowing 2LT Spencer Rapone to graduate and attain a commission in the US Army. These links will take you too some obvious criticism of the Academy itself, and the response from the Academic leadership.
The United States Military Academy at West Point has served this nation in years of war and peace since being founded in 1802. A new nation, on only the second Presidential Administration ( Thomas Jefferson, who would go on to found the University of Virginia in 1819) it has served as a cornerstone of the US Army. For centuries, West Point remained a top Engineering school and provided civil and combat engineer leaders to tackle such problems from irrigation to establishing fortifications. West Point has a proud history.
But having a proud history is meaningless if your standards have fallen. However, West Point is just as well known for producing less than stellar results, the “ring knockers” or “West Pointers” are often the butt of the jokes from the lower enlisted and non-commissioned officer ranks. And West Point graduates leave the US Army at a higher rate than their Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officer Candidate School (OCS) cohorts.
In short, West Point does NOT produce a superior officer.
What West Point does produce is a steady addition to the “West Point Protection Society.” This is where a West Point Captain arrested for a DUI was quietly shuttled between General Officers purview until the paperwork requiring him to be separated from service was conveniently round filed somewhere. This Captain went on to be promoted to Major, having survived by the active protection of Senior West Point alumni over his career.
West Point continually leads all commissioning sources for the lowest retention rate, as whatever dreams of glory a Cadet had upon pinning on a gold bar have been sufficiently shattered by the time a Captain’s railroad tracks adorn the uniform. We expect at least 50% of any given year group of West Pointers to leave the service at or shortly after 5 years when they have completed their active duty service obligation. A quarter million dollars worth of taxpayer money to see around 500 West Point graduates go on to enrich themselves in private industry without having to pay lip service to “Duty, Honor, Country.”
West Point does not produce the most disciplined officers, the discipline problems associated with West Point heavy Infantry Basic Officer Leader’s Course (IBOLC) classes at Fort Benning are rather legendary.
West Point does produce a toxic culture of “The Commander is ALWAYS right” no matter if an Army regulation specifically prohibits the activity the Commander wants to implement. Having tried to explain to a West Point graduate (who was give two company commands in a row and FIVE attempts at Ranger school by other West Point commanders in order to make sure he was likely to be selected for Major) that he couldn’t replace Army Regulation with a Memorandum For Record taking away rights and privileges granted by said Army Regulation and that IG would likely get involved and not end favorably for him. I was told, “shut up, when you are in command you can do it your way.”
West Pointers are extremely good at organizational politicking, and also very good at always finding the key job they need to make trend for promotion. And because the West Point Protection Association is alive and well they will make use of their organizational politicking skills to advance themselves. When West Point produces less than half of all Infantry Officers in the Army, I’ve had the distinct displeasure of having to serve in an Infantry Battalion, where the BN Commander, BN XO, and EVERY company commander was a West Point graduate. The OCS commissioned Officers served as XOs, the S4, and every other non Key Development position that is necessary but not sexy for promotion boards. That BN Commander even hand picked his Rear Detachment OICs directly from his OCS population, because he knew that it was a thankless job that needed to be done right.
In my humble opinion after serving with many Officers from every commissioning source (and I’m not as an ROTC graduate) the best commissioning source for excellence in creating well rounded Army leaders is ROTC. This is because over a thousand Colleges and Universities across the United States participate. And it is all voluntary, and very few ROTC Cadets get a “full ride” scholarship. But even a “full ride” ROTC scholarship costs the US Taxpayers less than the quarter million dollars that it costs to put each and every Cadet through the Academy.
Officer Candidate School (OCS), on the other hand, costs the Taxpayers even less than ROTC. And despite having lower promotion rates to the Field Grade rank of Major, OCS has been the only answer to fill the vacant Officer positions for the US Army in wartime. Because ROTC is voluntary fewer people volunteer during wartime for ROTC, and West Point’s total “surge” capacity is about 100 bodies total, four years AFTER the start of a conflict. OCS can crank out a fresh batch of 2LTs in 14 weeks, and can expand classes as needed. And this accounts for many of the problems OCS officers have with promotion to the Field Grade ranks, because the Army over commissions year groups with OCS graduates for war, and then separates them via the “up or out” policy to “right size the year groups.” This may sound cynical and jaded, but it is the reality for OCS alumni who learn very early that they are second class citizens of the Officer realm, having never worn the title of “Cadet” and only “Candidate.”
And yes, OCS has also let some poor leaders graduate as well when “quantity of Lieutenants” was more desired by the Army than quality. There is no such thing as a perfect commissioning system that will be able to accurately predict how a leader will perform under fire, but a Candidate with 2LT Rapone’s clear hatred for America would be easily washed out and sent out “needs of the Army” or back into civilian life. OCS is not there to teach someone “college stuff” OCS is there to prepare college graduates (or people with enough college credit to qualify attendance at OCS) to lead troops in combat.
LTG Caslen wrote in his rebuttal about inviting people to the streets of Baghdad or Kandahar to see the positive impact that West Point has had. You would be disappointed, both cities are still rough and not very friendly to Americans. During the “War on Terror” the contributions of West Point have not been spectacular, not even above average enough to merit serious scholarship to see a larger impact on military outcomes.
In closing, I will go back to where I started and say that the US Army is many things to many people. But it is YOUR Army, and you should have your say in how YOUR Army reflects whatever values that you feel are important to making this nation more free, and a more positive influence on the world.
Would quietly ending West Point harm your vision of what the US Army should be? Has West Point become a special interest for a small minority of people who are a drain on public resources?
Or is somehow, the cost of throwing a quarter million dollars worth of education at 1,000 for a grand total 250 Million per graduating class (that’s a cool Billion dollars to graduate 4 classes) a responsible use of taxpayer dollars? Are the “intangible benefits” of creating an “in club” within the Officer ranks truly in the best interest of America?
When you think about what America should be, and what the American Army should be, is West Point a requirement for your vision? If it isn’t, why is West Point still here?
Thank you for reading,
The humble author who shall remain anonymous as UCMJ still applies.