Free Markets, Free People
Let’s Close All The Service Academies
And while we’re at it, let’s close the War Colleges as well.
That’s the prescription the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks puts out today as a great way to save federal funds. Why is it the ideas these guy’s come up with to trim the federal budget are always aimed at the military and never at entitlements and the like.
Anyway, here’s what Ricks proposes:
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.
Now, I’ll admit it’s been a while but I’m sure the dynamic is pretty much the same now as it was when I was in.
I was an ROTC grad. Anyone who believes I was as well prepared as a West Point grad to function at the same level as them doesn’t know what they’re talking about. In today’s parlance, the West Pointers were “shovel ready” while most of us ROTC grads hadn’t even begun the bid process yet.
Of course I’m talking about my initial entry into the Army as a 2LT (of course our NCOs thought none of us were worth a crap). I had a good idea of what to expect, what was expected of me and what I’d experience, but I was far behind my West Point peers in real actual experience.
In fact, as I observed it, at company grade (the ranks 2LT, 1LT and CPT are considered “company grade” ranks), the West Point grad and the OCS grad were usually the best officers (and with obvious exceptions, I felt most of the OCS grads were a touch better than the WP guys) while the ROTC guys were playing catch-up. Around the 5 year mark, at the rank of CPT, everyone was pretty much even.
Again, these are my observations, but as we moved into the field grade ranks (the ranks MAJ, LTC and COL are “field grade” ranks), the ROTC and West Pointers began to pull away from the OCS grads. However, at both levels, West Pointers were right there among the best because they’d been taught and taught pretty well to function at both levels.
So I don’t buy this fellow’s two-year informal study at all.
I mean think about it – I went to one drill a week, not a number off them daily. And, in advanced ROTC, I went to ROTC classes three times a week. If you believe that schedule can compete with 4 years of being steeped in the military culture, visiting various military posts and schools, lectures from leaders in your field and having real, actual leadership and command responsibility during that time, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn in which you’d be interested. Not even close.
Ricks’ tries the usual academic elitist argument as well:
They remind me of the best of the Ivy League, but too often they’re getting community-college educations. Although West Point’s history and social science departments provided much intellectual firepower in rethinking the U.S. approach to Iraq, most of West Point’s faculty lacks doctorates.
Of course, as regulars here have had the opportunity to discover, PhD’s aren’t all they’re cracked up to be as the one who roams the comment section here demonstrates almost daily. Obviously the “intellectual firepower” Ricks notes would seem to be a fairly important to a school of that type. I don’t remember any of the schools with ROTC adding to that process of rethinking our strategy in Iraq.
That’s because you’ll find some of our finest military minds teaching at West Point. They’re also immersed in a culture that inspires and promotes that sort of thinking. What they bring to those schools can’t be bestowed by any sheepskin. Many of them are serving officers who come from a stint in the field to the classroom where they bring a freshness to their teaching which is utterly unlike the stale academic atmosphere found in most traditional institutions of higher learning.
Lastly, the comparison to a community college education is pretty ignorant because it ignores the purpose of the service academies. They do what they are there to do and do it well. And I have never heard an academy grad complain about his or her education. Their ability to earn advanced degrees at elite civilian universities seems to argue that it is much more than the level of a community college (unless we now have community college grands routinely headed to Harvard, Yale and Princeton as WP grads do).
I’d apply the same arguments to the War colleges. They’re there to serve a part of a very important process – to provide the transition from field command to higher command and staff positions involving policy, strategy and international relations for the brightest and best. They’re very selective. They also provide the next generation of the nation’s senior leaders the opportunity to begin networking among those with whom they’ll most likely be serving as general officers.
So, as you might imagine, I find Ricks conclusions based in some fairly poor assumptions based in conversations instead of any real experience. Not that such conclusions are surprising anymore – we’re no longer strangers to journalists who think a couple of years and a couple of conversations somehow bestow a depth of knowledge about a subject which is simply irrefutable.
Personally, I’d much rather Ricks take a look at the massive waste to be found in most of the rest federal government’s spending and tell us why it’s involved in programs that build museums for Liberace, bailing out failing car companies, or paying to research the mating habit of wombats, or sea slugs, or whatever.
Who knows, he might actually know something about those subjects. If we’ve got to get rid of something, I personally think this is a good idea.