I really liked this note from Marine Lt. Nathan Cox,
one of those "bitter grunts," as aviators call them. He has some problems with
the academies, most notably in failing to teach genuine leadership. Is this a
system that provides the agility we need in our military leaders?
But Cox mounts a passionate and persuasive defense of
their worth. Please read all of this before deciding whether he is right or
I am a Naval Academy graduate and Marine
Infantry officer with two Iraq deployments and four years' time in
service. . . .
With regard to the quality of the education,
I found the Naval Academy quite demanding academically, and I have heard
anecdotally from exchange cadets that it is quite a bit different in that
regard from West Point. Most of
the military officers with master's degrees teach the introductory level and
professional courses while the civilian and military PhD's teach the higher
level stuff. Grade inflation does
not exist. Anything over a 3.0 requires
a major amount of work and many bright people struggle just to pass. I found the higher level history courses I
took to be outstanding, although I admittedly didn't take civilian courses I
could compare them with. I never
experienced any of the problems posters cited at West Point involving
instructors not knowing material.
The problems I had were with the leadership
training or lack thereof. The actual formal leadership training I got was
not helpful at all, ranging from completely irrelevant academic
"leadership" classes that seemed pulled from corporate boardrooms to
ballroom dancing lessons (yes, those really happened). Midshipmen are
given less actual responsibility and freedom than a private right out of boot
camp and are forced to comply with a byzantine and illogical set of rules,
known as midregs. Midregs often violate
the spirit and sometimes even the letter of the UCMJ and also occasionally
contradict each other, generating a destructive contempt for "stupid rules"
among midshipmen that did not serve me well in the Marine Corps.
The end result of this "training"
is graduates who have little experience in actually leading people when their
actions have consequences and a misperception about the importance (and
effectiveness) of working within the system and its rules. The system of student government that exists
is ineffective at teaching leadership skills because the elaborate midshipman
rank structure provides no actual power or responsibility.... As a result, Naval Academy graduates don't
know what it's like to make decisions that will cost the government money, make
a real difference in the status quo or determine whether people live or die
anymore than ROTC graduates do. In
reality, Academy graduates probably have less experience because they're so
much more sheltered. The real problem is
that there is absolutely no effort made to evaluate whether what the Naval
Academy does makes better officers. It
is simply assumed that because the Naval Academy does it, it must work. The reasons given for some of the training we
had were literally laugh out loud ridiculous, but no one has ever checked with
graduates, after some years in the fleet, to get feedback on what training
methods helped us and what did not. . . .
I believe the fundamental problem lies with
the leadership of the service academies and how they are held accountable. The mission of the Naval Academy is supposed to be to develop midshipmen
morally mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of
duty, honor and loyalty et cetera, but in reality, the overriding goal of the
Academy's leadership is to avoid getting in trouble. I should qualify
this by saying that my observations are four years old, but I really doubt much
has changed. When I was there, it was absolutely clear that the thing
that mattered most to the Superintendent, more than Beating Army and certainly
more than preparing midshipman for war, was staying off the front page of the
Washington Post. Every time he talked to us, it was invariably
60-70% sexual harassment and/or alcohol, 20-30% Beating Army and whatever
was left over for anything really relevant. The way that the Naval
Academy handles midshipman is designed primarily to reduce to an absolute
minimum the chance that they will do something to embarrass the
academy, not to give them experience that will be useful as combat leaders. .
. . During my first deployment, we spent a good
three months fuming because we couldn't figure out how to get to island caches
in the Euphrates. Pretty pathetic for
the Marine Corps, yes. Eventually, we
either waded or borrowed/rented Iraqi fishing boats and made our way over. These operations were conducted in complete
ignorance of any small boat doctrine and could easily have resulted in
disaster. The importance of controlling
aircraft effectively is obvious to any infantry officer or pilot that has been
in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Naval
Academy has ample time and resources to accomplish these tasks. They could be taught quite easily by
eliminating the bullshit filler/time wasting stuff that took up a good 20 hours
of my week when I was there. Eliminating
noon meal formation and inspections alone would save a good 4 hours a week
spent standing outside having the shine of your shoes inspected (not a skill
that helped me as a platoon commander).
One thing I don't understand is why West Point
isn't better at this. It has a much
narrower skill set to train to and it seems to me it could easily make all its
graduates into very proficient infantrymen, a skill set applicable to every
career path in the Army (witness the 507th Maintenance Company) by
graduation. Apparently, however, this is
not the case.
If West Point is anything like the Naval
Academy, and I suspect in this case it is, the reason academy training isn't
superior is due to the military's system of ruthlessly stamping out any incentive
for risk-taking. We are taught over and
over that, in a tactical situation, any decision is better than no decision and
"he who will not risk, cannot win". When
it comes to training, equipment acquisition or doing pretty much anything that
isn't a tactical decision, however, senior officers can be relied on to chose
the course of action least likely to result in a substandard fitrep with the
precision of a metronome. It seems more
than a little ironic that we are taught to take calculated risks with Marine's
lives, but to avoid at all costs risks to our promotion chances. This mentality
does affect tactical things, for examples, the Marine Corps' insistence that
Marines in Iraq wear their full flak, including neck, throat, eye, hand, groin
protection and front rear and side SAPI plates. . . .
Back to the service academies. I don't really think there is much chance of
them actually going away. While I agree
that, at this particular moment in time, there is little difference between
ROTC and academy graduates, this may not always be the case. . . .
The service academies give the military a guaranteed source of qualified
officers. For example, since the war
started, the number of officers the Marine Corps has been able to recruit from
PLC and ROTC has steadily dropped while the number of 2nd Lieutenants
commissioned from the Naval Academy has almost doubled, from roughly 160 a year
to about 270. The number of ROTC
officers followed public opinion, declining as the war got less popular.
.... Do our service academies need
to be improved? Yes, they do. Would we lose much more than just a source of
officers by closing them?
Absolutely. I feel strongly that
making the purely financial decision to close the service academies, based on
the assumption that civilian colleges will continue to indefinitely provide the
number and quality of ROTC graduates they do now, would be a mistake. Nevertheless I am glad you brought the topic
up. I hope the discussion it generates
will force the service academies to seriously defend why it is they exist and
improve their training to justify themselves. There is no doubt they have been sitting in a big, fat comfort zone for
at least the last several decades, telling themselves over and over how great
they are and they could stand to be held accountable for how well they
accomplish their stated mission.
1st Lieutenant, USMC"
I also like seeing a
man who puts his name behind his views.