Here's a guest column that follows on Bob Bateman's column on Friday, from an old friend I know from Forts Benning and Bragg.
By Col. Johnny Brooks (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
As I work quite a lot with USMC lieutenants and captains on a daily basis, I can tell you, there are good ones and bad ones, same as in any Army. Anyone who wants to proclaim the USMC officer corps as the creme doesn't have a good perspective. I don't think there is any difference in the competence level of USMC lieutenants/captains and Army lieutenants/captains.
As for military training at West Point, it is in need of changes. I have been torn for years about what West Point is doing. I sometimes think all cadets at West Point should come from the ranks. I sometimes think that West Point should be a non-degree producing school like Sandhurst. I sometimes think that West Point should worry more about producing officers than about producing Rhodes, Hertz or MacArthur Scholars. But each time I come back to the fact that ours is a different society. If the service academies did not offer a degree, who would go? A degree was not essential in the British Army til lately, while it has been in ours for 50 years. Got to tell you when I was a company commander in the British Army, I had to replace two platoon leaders. Having commanded two companies in the U.S. Army I never had a lieutenant so bad I had to relieve him. Which system is better?
I once suggested to the leadership of West Point that they should require all graduates to be fluent in a foreign language. I was summarily executed and informed that four years of foreign language does not fit into the engineering curriculum. I have recommended that they reduce the academic admissions standards in order to get a more rounded cadet, one who more than likely would stay in the Army for a longer time and make a career of it. I was summarily executed because you don't win Rhodes Scholarships that way. Numerous other points of discussion have also been canned.
You only need a couple of Dave Petraeus's in a decade, but you need a lot of Johnny Brooks to have an Army. Still, they want everyone to have the potential to be a Petraeus. So, they go for the gusto and it is an academic institution -- or, as my son said, "An Ivy League School with uniforms." Abizaid hated that when I told him that is what cadets referred to WP as. And, as for cadets complaining about inspections; there is nothing keeping them there but a free education. They can quit any time they want. No guards are on the inside of the gates keeping cadets in.
I'm getting too emotional. I love the place, but believe you me, West Point struggles with combatting the American societal norms in order to produce a reasonable product.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.