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The Qualitative Point Average: Rebuttal to Bruce Fleming

Bruce Fleming recently published an OpEd piece in the New York Times which provoked a rather emotional response from me as he referred to the Service Academies as “mediocre”. He cited a football star receiving preferential treatment for drug use at Navy. He complains that we only produce 20% of our respective officer corps, and are obsolete compared to ROTC and OCS programs. He insists that Academy officers are burnt-out leaders, incapable of maximizing tax-payer investment. Now, I’ll be the first to affirm that the Academies do waste  extravagant amounts of time and money for senseless efforts; they need work. But to pin the word mediocre upon these institutions, and thus its graduates who’ve done so much for our country, is absolutely ludicrous.

First, allow me to be the first in Fleming’s supposed vast Academy exposure to argue that YES, an Academy graduate is indeed different than an ROTC or OCS counterpart: not better, but different, and importantly so. I can only speak as a West Pointer, but I believe my perceptions are akin to those from other academies. Every waking moment of my life at West Point was dedicated to serving something greater than myself. Sometimes we serve orders from a higher rank; other times we endure sacrifices to serve the comrades on our left and right. But at all times, we are training and learning to better serve our nation. ROTC programs at civilian universities are simply unable to produce the same intensity in the cadets’ day to day lives.

Most undergraduate students strive for good grades in order to boost their GPAs. Cadets study so they have the answers when lives and equipment are on the line. Most university professors are genius PhDs. West Point Instructors are role models who have already inspired courage in the hearts of 18 year old privates facing battle; they have a vested interest in developing the cadets who will one day serve as their Lieutenants when the instructors take battalion and brigade command. Most college students avoid cheating out of fear of getting caught. Cadets do not cheat out of loyalty to a Code and the realization that honor is a virtue that can save American lives and dollars.

Two of the other Lieutenants in my Company are ROTC graduates, the remaining two are OCS. Do they understand and live up to these principles? Sure they do. I put my lives in their hands each day. But I feel my Academy experiences afforded me greater insight into the strategic reasoning behind the missions we execute. We’re groomed by the higher echelons of the institution to carry out its orders of critical importance. I’m not saying that there aren’t ROTC and OCS Lieutenants who do not embrace such a broad vantage point, but I’d argue it’s a mixed bag. Frankly, in order to truly internalize ethical values, a global perspective, and focus them for a lifetime of service, you need more than 3 ROTC credit hours a semester.

True, Academy graduates only comprise 20% of each service’s newly commissioned officer class. That being said, Academy graduates also make up over 50% of our military’s Flag Officer corps, meaning the Generals and Admirals charged with our nation’s defense; certainly not titles assigned to the mediocre. Is this high Academy concentration at the Flag level due to favoritism and networking? Sure, perhaps in some part. No institution in the world is a complete meritocracy. But I’d argue that it’s largely because of the culture in which Academy graduates are raised as committed leaders with a global exposure, dedicated to a lifetime of service to the country.

Secondly, Mr. Fleming believes that the Academy admissions process unfairly values athletics, rather than an “accomplished cellist or people from religious minorities.” For starters, I was both an accomplished violinist in High School and a Hindu-Vegetarian upon applying to West Point. I feel these factors contributed to my application, not hindered it, and I know plenty of graduates who fit either mold as well. Furthermore, athletics is highly regarded in our profession as a conduit to solid leadership under physical duress; something I believe most officers would argue should outweigh academic prowess in a military academy’s admissions process.

Mr. Fleming further grumbles of lowered academic admissions standards in the interests of affirmative action. As one who has served as a minority at war, I will assert that race and religion are huge issues in today’s military. I will speak from first-hand experience as the only minority platoon leader in my deployed Company: race and religion matter, and the army needs leaders who understand ethnic social tension. I am not ashamed of my Academy for attempting to produce an officer corps that is ethnically representative of the soldiers and NCOs it leads. The Academies do not admit cadets because of ethnicity, but a candidate’s ability to understand ethnicity and the unique role it plays in grueling military social dynamics.

Finally, Fleming does bring up the valid point that Academy graduates aren’t maximizing return in military service of the nation’s half-million dollar investment. Around 50% of West Point graduates leave the Army after their minimum five year commitment, I’m sure the other Academies’ statistics are comparable. I understand why this appears as a drastic waste of tax-payer money, but remember that Academy graduates still make phenomenal contributions to the country out of uniform. At every Academy event I attend, I meet hundreds of lawyers, financiers, entrepreneurs, marketing gurus, academics, writers, engineers, and policy makers. Now, Fleming may be angered by Academy graduates’ civilian pursuits; I am reassured by them.

I am thrilled that there are members of the Long Gray Line, former combat platoon leaders like myself, among the financial elites of our American society. It shows me that, among the cohort of Americans profiting most from my soldiers’ sacrifices, there are several who have been in our shoes. There are those who can speak on our behalf when our nation’s power brokers forget the daily blessings they enjoy as citizens of the United States. I am relieved that there are graduates who reassign the military values of service, honor, and loyalty to the mediocre ethical stylings of both Wall Street and Main Street. Perhaps if the CEOs of Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Bear Sterns had a little “service immersion” in their youth, I’d imagine our country would be a lot stronger than it is today. Whether in a Command Post or a Board Room, good leadership transcends its landscape. I’m proud of the Academy graduates who bring weathered leadership where it is most needed.

It seems Mr. Fleming’s criteria for mediocrity rests heavily on academic metrics. But I assure my audience that there is very little that is academic about combat leadership. It is about heart. It is about fortitude, honor, and courage. Now, you may call a West Point or Naval Academy graduate mediocre…but try visiting any other college in America and collecting a thousand 23 year old kids ready to lead just as many lives into hostile fire. I doubt you’ll be successful. To produce a thousand officers with the grit and spirit of warriors and the intellectual curiosity of scholars, we need a venue of tremendous investment and concentration: this is why you need the service academies.

I wonder if Mr. Fleming would have been ready for such a calling at age 23. Even if not, I surely wouldn’t have the arrogance to call him mediocre.

I find it ironic that Mr. Fleming is about to publish a book entitled “Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide” considering his most recent opinion piece does nothing more than widen it. But I can somehow understand why he would write an article antithetical to the best interests of reconciling civil-military differences so vital to our national security. After all, the bigger wave he makes with such an OpEd piece, the more attention his new book will receive and hopefully the more books he’ll sell. Well, I know I’ll probably buy one now. Congrats, Mr. Fleming…Mission Accomplished.

To the USMA Class of 2010, I’m proud to have served with you. You’re more than ready for the challenges to come. Thank you for your service. We’ll see you on the objective ;-) . Live, Serve, and Die We Pray…

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42 responses

  1. Santosh

    Nice.. you bring up a valid point! In the past few months of my association with the ROTC at my University and as a Graduate Teaching Assistant I’ve seen a few ROTC Cadets struggle to maintain a 2.5 GPA to maintain their scholarship which if I were a civilian, would be classified as mediocre.. I would never cast my doubts on USMA’s quality as one cannot instill the true feelings of being in the military by just participating in summer schools and having a PT every morning.. Quality matters not Quantity, as always.. You guys are just hardcore…

    23 May 10 at 11:53

  2. Bill Kinzie

    An articulate apologia for our service academies based on real life/time experience. This one was especially lucid. Shabash!
    P.S. Glad to know you are a violinist!

    23 May 10 at 12:36

  3. John Ellingson

    I guess the proof is in the doing. There are more board members of Fortune 500 companies from the United States Naval Academy than any other school. USNA and the other service academies are not only about producing junior officers. They are about producing leaders for life. Over time there is no comparison with any other school or schools for the production of leaders. I concur with Prof. Fleming regarding the treatment of recruited athletes. All of the service academies would benefit tremendously if they ceased recruiting athletes — ceased the ‘blue chip’ program and required all athletes to walk on and come from the general population of midshipmen and cadets. There is clearly a detrimental two-tierded approach to varsity athletes that hurts the Naval Academy across the board and it needs to be ended.

    23 May 10 at 12:48

  4. I love it. A Hindu-Vegetarian Violinist with vast travel experience. Frankly, that’s part and parcel of a very good mold. I’d love to see more like you applying for slots in our academies.

    It takes a lot of people from different backgrounds and experiences to form the armed services. ROTC, Academies, OCS …the mix is inevitable and essential. The crucial thing is that all institutions constantly review, refine and invigorate their objectives and programs.

    By the way, I have Sebastian Junger’s book to send to you. Email me and let me know of your parents’ address. I’ll send it there.
    Be safe, and everyone looks forward to your homecoming.

    23 May 10 at 13:30

  5. Meredith

    Awesome post Rajiv! I really liked your response to the op-ed. Your wonderful post makes great arguments about the importance of an all-encompassing service focus and commitment to ethical actions, the value of leadership in both public and private spheres, and a role for athletics in developing leadership under physical duress.

    My first reaction to Fleming’s piece was dismay at his inflammatory word choice–using mediocre and mediocrity as labels for an institution and its members is alienating and insulting. My second reaction was that this op-ed struck me as familiar, like pouring old wine into a new bottle. Professors often disagree with administrations and admissions offices. Some profs resent having to make accommodations for athletes and think too much of the budget is devoted to athletics. He could have made that criticism the central point of an essay about a state school without calling for all state schools to be abolished or reformed. But since he’s at the Naval Academy, he takes down all the academies in one fell swoop.

    Also, Fleming’s point about affirmative action is a bit opaque–is the takeaway message that he prefers religious minorities to racial minorities or socioeconomic minorities? Thanks for a thought-provoking post! =)

    23 May 10 at 14:43

  6. Rajiv,

    Another great post. Just want to throw my weight behind one of your points… as an “accomplished cellist,” I can tell you that athletic pursuits have become oh so much more important than musical ones since I became a military man.

    Thanks for all you do. I hope Bruce Fleming comes around and reads takes your points to heart.

    God Bless,
    Stick

    23 May 10 at 15:17

  7. I was a DMG and commissioned RA from the University of Washington ROTC back in ’81. I was also enlisted for 9 years in the Active and Guard components… Combat Arms. I just barely made the age cutoff (27th birthday for RA)

    It’s been awhile, of course, but we truly did commission people I wouldn’t let run an elevator for me. As I recall, we were 5,000 or so 2LT’s short that year.

    I was too old to go to the Point when I decided to go after a commission.

    But I wish I had.

    Because of hearing loss, I was reclassed into AG (It was AG or Finance. Sigh.) so I had precisely zero interaction at the commissioned level with West Pointers in my career field (42A) except socially. But on division staff, you do get the opportunity to observe.

    At the company grade level, Pointers seemed much more decisive, self-assured and situationally aware. I had 4 Recon platoon leaders while I was enlisted; one was a Pointer and he was hard corps to the Bone, exactly the right fit for Scouts. The other 3 were ROTC, but they were very, very good officers. I had 3 company commanders; (It was a Combat Support Company in the 3/3ID) one was riffed (OCS Grad), one had just learned how to walk again after having a lot of his legs blown away in Vietnam (This was back in 74 or so) and I don’t know his commissioning source… just that he was inspirational. Another just sucked, and he didn’t last long after this promotable Major by the name of Tex Turner (Yeah, THAT Tex Turner) showed up to straighten out our completely messed up battalion.

    Through out my career, I never ran into even an “average” West Point graduate. Sadly, that can’t be said for the other commissioning sources.

    But as you watched the ranks… it seemed that at the field grade level, there was little to no observable difference.

    I didn’t play well with the other AG children, so I got out. But those who criticize the Point fail to view it through the prism that most going there have life-long career aspirations while the other sources of commissioning have a different view.

    As both a taxpayer and a ROTC grad, I cheerfully support the Academies and believe them to be a major and necessary component of the military fabric of this country.

    No institution is perfect. Innovation and new ideas should constantly be on the table.

    That not everyone is set up for a life of “Duty, Honor, Country” by no means belittles the history, tradition, mission or accomplishments of our great military academies.

    I defer to Rajiv’s position. We have a great many other fish to fry and I believe we should cook them before we cast a view towards the system that has served us for so long and so well.

    23 May 10 at 18:13

  8. Caryn Sobel

    Rajiv,

    Thoughtful post, and one that must not have been easy or comfortable to write.

    I am forwarding this to friends of mine. He is retired USMA, taught at West Point and served for years in Germany. His wife is from a military family, too. They were home here in New York last month for a West Point class reunion. I am interested in hearing their thoughts on this.

    Keep being who you are, and keep communicating with us! You and your companions are in our prayers always, and your families, too.

    23 May 10 at 19:53

  9. ektor3

    Lt. well said/served with some “ring knockers”/sorry could not resist/that I would have followed into hell/and thinking about it I still would/that was the quality and professionalism they displayed.

    About the ROTC and OCS brethren, some good ones and some good old boys/but still pros/and like you said different.

    About Prof. Fleming; well lets see New York Times/did he ever left his room when he travel the world researching his book or oped.

    eileenguo; I have dealt with both the civ that really wants to understand the military heart and the one
    that graduated so he doesn’t have to do the dirty military thing/a John Kerry boy/and it is the way they approach us that dictates the answer.

    23 May 10 at 23:12

  10. Susan

    As the mother of a 09 USNA graduate I impressed by your well-written response to Prof. Fleming’s article. I agree that the academies place pressures on cadets and midshipmen that do not exist in ROTC programs, and they are uniquely prepared for leadership and responsibility far beyond their years upon graduation. I am amazed at the level of responsibility that has been placed on my son in the last year and equally amazed at his ability to perform to his command’s expectations. Apparently his command expects this level of performance from Academy graduates and they don’t find it amazing at all; rather, it is the norm. After all, it’s what they were trained to do for four years.

    During my son’s four years at USNA he learned that he was serving something larger than himself and that honor is a way of life. At USNA, it is “ship, shipmate, self” in that order and I expect the concept is the same at our other service academies. Midshipmen live this 24-7 and no civilian college experience can come close to duplicating this environment. It may be true that not all their academy experiences are positive, but learning what not to do can be valuable officer training as well.

    24 May 10 at 12:32

  11. All points well stated. Thank you

    24 May 10 at 14:10

  12. El Tee,

    In this particular case, I have to side with Mr. Fleming. You have read his one article, but I would suggest you look up and read some of the other articles he’s written regarding admissions at the Naval Academy. In his defense, he is absolutely correct in suggesting that the admissions policy is broken, and that leadership within Annapolis has failed to carry forward the mandates to produce the nation;’s finest Navy Officers.

    The problem has a single name: Diversity. The Navy has gone full-steam ahead into the nightmare of diversity, returning to an era I once thought long dead. They have relaxed entrance standards for certain groups in order to maintain a proportion of ethnic boxes equal to that demographic nationwide.

    I call BS. The mission of the United States Military recruiters, and the board of examiners for applicants to the Academies ought to be recruiting the Best and the Brightest, regardless of gender or color. There is only one race: Human. Everything else is an artificial construct designed to put people into easily manipulated groups.

    Those currently serving have long since got over the issues of race and gender, and it’s time our academies did too. Granting entry to the academies by lowering the criteria for one group or another is as racist as the old Jim Crowe laws. It’s NOT acceptable for a nation as gifted as ours. It maintains the cancer of diversity, which will eat away at the fabric of trust within the ranks.

    I personally know enlisted men on active duty who have questioned the abilities of officers appointed over them, simply because that officer belonged to a certain minority group. That question, that loss of confidence is based upon the men NOT knowing whether their officer(s) were promoted based upon their demonstrated abilities, or because they checked a certain box on the diversity list.

    Professor Fleming is exactly correct in his criticism of the Naval Academy regarding admission standards and the cancer of diversity.

    Respects,

    24 May 10 at 14:39

    • Sarah

      I completely agree with this reply (AW1 Tim). I am a USNA alum, and I am not at all happy to learn that the standards for diversity candidates is to target those in the top 40% of their HS class. White males are not even looked at if they are below the top 10%…unless they are a star athlete. Get rid of the diversity check blocks in admissions, look for those who want to have a career of service to our country. Those are the candidates I want selected as Midshipman. Otherwise, Rajiv makes excellent agruments – I only take exception to the diversity standards being radically different than the standards for non-diversity candidates (i.e. white males).

      11 June 10 at 14:27

  13. Redeye80

    Mediocrity is probably not the word I would have used. I think he should have focused on the area he know best: USNA.

    He does have some valid points and has been consistant in his talking points for years. Unfortunately, these issues are not new and have been around since the decline of Navy football back in the ’60s. I saw it first hand during the late ’70s but it was not as bad as it is today.

    Jump over to CDR Salamander to get an insight to how Midshipmen feel as they walk out the door.

    http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2010/05/voice-from-annapolis-underground.html

    In my opinion, the real issue is the mission of USNA. Read it and compare it to USMA mission statement. A world of difference. And that my friend is the point.

    24 May 10 at 16:07

  14. I’ve read Mr Srinivasan’s response to my op-ed. The core of it seems to be this, which I’ll cite:

    I feel my Academy experiences afforded me greater insight into the strategic reasoning behind the missions we execute. We’re groomed by the higher echelons of the institution to carry out its orders of critical importance. I’m not saying that there aren’t ROTC and OCS Lieutenants who do not embrace such a broad vantage point, but I’d argue it’s a mixed bag. Frankly, in order to truly internalize ethical values, a global perspective, and focus them for a lifetime of service, you need more than 3 ROTC credit hours a semester.

    I’ve heard versions of this over the years I’ve been raising these issues. From my students at Annapolis, it comes out as “Sir, we have to be better than they are; we have to go through so much more.” This is a subjective response from within the fishbowl. It boils down to: they tell me it’s so, I believe it, and that’s all there is to it.

    Sure we do more at the Academies. We’re based on micro-control. My point is that most of what we do is unrelated to the fleet or combat. The proof is that ROTC officers, who are more than twice as numerous as academy grads, apparently function at the same level as academy grads–there’s literally no difference in speed of advancement between the two pools in the JO ranks. Yes, there are more academy flag officers, but this % is rapidly dropping, and is based on lots of decades when ROTC was not as large a % as it is now. Besides, the old boy (girl) network is powerful–Mr. Srinivasan for example is clearly convinced that Pointers are just better. The problem is, nobody else is, except other Pointers, or Annapolis grads. (The source for this is a report produced by the Navy’s Supply School, cited in my upcoming book.)

    My POV is not that of one intense young man in a combat zone (and hat’s off to him, obviously) who wants to convince himself he did the right thing by going to West Point. It’s that of someone who’s lived in the belly of the beast for 23 years and talked to countless young officers, formerly my students and now in combat or in the fleet, whether on the whole, the experience is positive or negative, and whether it’s worth it to the taxpayer. You can’t prove anything based on one story (his) whose bottom line is “I believe.” Every year we have a few dozen students who do feel it’s been worth it, and their morale and fight are greater as a result of the experience. Most do not, and while it’s heartening to read one who is this way, I can tell him that he’s not typical.

    His piece is completely subjective: he’s convinced Pointers are better because… they went through more and … because they just are. Sure they went through more. We can make them go through even more: torture them for 5 (10?) min a day to prepare them, for example. Deprive them of food as well as sleep to “toughen them up.” The question is, would this make them better officers? More isn’t always more, it’s just pointless. Or negative, as I suggest. We more typically frustrate the alphas than motivate them. Good on Mr. Srinivasan that he was motivated.

    However it’s dispiriting to see someone a graduate of such an institution who’s so consistently missing the point of an op-ed. I’m not “grumbling” that academy grads are 20%; that’s the fact. When I say we don’t give cellists or religious minorities the preference we do to football players or Asians (at least at Annapolis–and ethnic Indians are “Asians”), I’m not saying we don’t have both, just that that’s not what got them in.

    Bottom line: I’d like to give this hellhound a hug which he wouldn’t accept. I love his OOHRAH but wish he’d simmer down long enough to get the point and realize that one swallow doth not a summer make. He may have kept the fire after four years by the Hudson; most academy grads don’t. And he’s in la-la land in wanting to believe that ROTC officers aren’t just as good–perhaps they’re just as good precisely because they lacked the years of micro-control that typifies the academies and that he so fervently believes in. Well, give him time. See what he says when he’s l0 years older. And yes, my Academy exposure (to which he refers with undergraduate vitriol) IS greater than his. I’ve seen them come and seen them go. I think I would have liked this one.

    And by the way, I’ve lectured at universities all over India–not to mention teaching two years at the National University of Rwanda, have taught a course in African and Indian colonial responses at Annapolis, and for what it’s worth, have a rakhi sister in Hyderabad. I guarantee that if Mr. Srinivasan had been my student he and I would be getting along famously, rather than the reverse. My point is precisely that our system FAILS to produce enough people like him to justify its negative side and its cost. Simmer down, young man. But OOHRAH!

    24 May 10 at 16:44

  15. ektor3

    My apologies Professor Fleming I stand corrected.

    25 May 10 at 01:13

  16. alex

    Sir,

    As a minority, a NAPSter, and varsity athlete (oh and English major): I would like to thank you for writing this article. I needed to read it because Professor Fleming made me feel soooooooo great after reading his.

    Thank you

    25 May 10 at 14:22

  17. Commodore97

    Rajiv,

    As a prior Enlisted Sailor, I have one data point to add. I applied for USNA and NROTC the same year. NROTC rejected me while USNA accepted me and sent me to NAPS. I am grateful for the NAPS experience as it convinced me that USNA was not the best option for me. Therefore, I turned down my USNA appointment in favor of an NROTC scholarship (for which I was finally selected the following year).

    For me, the NAPS experience and my perception of my future USNA experience was more geared toward learning to endure ridicule and be subservient to others than it was to academic pursuit and retention of knowledge. It did not foster and encourage the dimensions of free, creative, and critical thought that I developed as an NROTC student having to balance a rigorous course load with the daily demands of life. Being able to question authority with a critical eye and having the ability to do so intelligently without crossing the line of disrespect is necessary to lead and improve our respective services. You come to strong defense of your institution; can you parlay the same energy into constructive criticism to improve on noted short-comings or will you remain convinced of your superiority for persisting through your academy time?

    You purport that Academy grads are different than NROTC and OCS grads because of your commitment to service. Shipmate, allow me to remind you that each of us in uniform made the choice to serve and that commitment deserves mutual respect which manifests itself in how you treat those around you.

    By and large, I do believe you completely missed the point of Professor Fleming’s argument. Even the title states a “March Toward Mediocrity”. To be so vain to key in and take offense at the word mediocre may be telling. With any representative sample, you’ll have people scattered about the mean. The question is which way does the mean tend over time. He can correct me if I mischaracterize his work, but the larger point I believe the Professor is making is current policies and leadership are having a detrimental effect on the service academies output, thus creating a declining trend; hence the ‘march toward mediocrity’. Serve well and faithfully. All the best.

    Cheers,
    C-97

    25 May 10 at 20:12

  18. Thomas

    As a West Point graduate myself, I share many of Rajiv’s feelings. Despite those sentiments, however, I tend to agree with most of the arguments Professor Fleming makes. I see three ways we as graduates–but more importantly as future policy makers–can respond to his OpEd.

    The worst response is to disregard the criticisms entirely without giving them any further thought. In choosing this option, all that we accomplish is preservation of the view from our ivory tower.

    Another option is that we can go on the defensive, reverting to ad hominem and, as Prof Fleming points out, subjective arguments. This option accomplishes little more than the former and amounts to taking the batteries out of the fire alarm.

    Our military has pursued the first two options in the past (read John Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) and it clearly didn’t help the military or our country.

    The third reaction is to begin by thanking Prof. Fleming. Appreciative for his efforts to revive the debate, we can admit that our service academies DO have many weaknesses and then to change the discussion to how significant these weaknesses are and what can be done to mitigate them. Are the academies too expensive for the government? Does affirmative action benefit or hurt the officer corps? How effective are the prep schools in preparing students for the academies? What are the trade-offs for recruited athletes and are they acceptable? Are there too many distractions at the academies that do not lead to better officers?

    At worst, we don’t find solutions to these weaknesses. At best, we’ve strengthened our military and the institutions that have such a strong record of producing business leaders and public servants. I hope we can demonstrate the courage and professionalism to pick door number three.

    25 May 10 at 22:27

  19. OldRetSWO

    I woiuld like to comment on Professor Fleming having noted that “there’s literally no difference in speed of advancement between the two pools in the JO ranks”.

    If this is typical of the professor’s reasoning and fact gathering then his thesis is definitely called into question. For the benefit of the esteemed professor, Junior Officer promotions are paced solely by time in service. That is the LAW and not due to all the commissioning sources being the same.

    I am not a recent graduate but rather one from the 70′s. Many of the same opinions that Professor Fleming espouses were voiced in those days, especially the idea that all commissioning sources were equal. From my standpoint as a junior Surface Warfare officer attending the Surface Warfare Officers School Basic course I saw things a bit differently. Of the students that were set back or dropped from the school, there were in fact officers from USNA, ROTC and OCS but the proportions were far out of line with the populations from those sources. Of the hundreds of officers attending that course with me, only one who failed was a USNA graduate. A handful were from ROTC and the largest number was from OCS.

    26 May 10 at 01:26

    • justamid

      Apologies for reading into what Prof. Fleming is writing, but perhaps he knows that time in service is the sole factor for JO promotions, and is saying that, because USNA JOs promote @ the same time as ROTC JOs, then there is no apparent difference in their ability levels coming from their respective commissioning sources. Think about it: If USNA grads are so much more prepared for the fleet/FMF than ROTC grads based on all the great experience they got during their four years by the bay, shouldn’t they get promoted to O-2 faster than ROTC grads, who theoretically will need much more time as O-1s to pick up on all the things their Academy brethren already learned?

      If you believe they should indeed promote @ the same time (i.e. the same amount of time in service), then doesn’t that say they have pretty much equal abilities/learning curves? With that being the case, why sink so much more $$ into USNA grads than ROTC grads if the end result is still the same?

      So you can know what my perspective is, I’m a current Mid (hence the name)…My take is “you get out what you put in”…any Academy (not just USNA) gives you incredible opportunities to develop yourself that you really can’t get through ROTC, but you have to seek them out and take advantage of all that is provided. The ones that take advantage of these opportunities and actually care are the officers you’d follow into hell. The vast majority just coast through USNA (trust me, 2.0 and go is really not that hard, and everyone knows as long as they graduate they’re guaranteed a job)…some end up being great officers anyway because it hits them later, and some end up being POS’s that bring down the average and bring about calls to close the Academies.

      26 May 10 at 21:46

  20. Commodore97

    OldRetSwo,

    I find it amusing how you belittle the Professor’s fact gathering and reasoning and then use anecdotal evidence to support your position.

    Being a University type, I was taught to support my facts with research and proper sourcing. As such, a review of a 1990 CBO report entitled “Officer Commissioning Programs: Costs and Officer Performance” states on page 15 that from 1979-1988, Naval Academy and West Point graduates were ‘separated for failure to achieve promotion’ at a rate twice that of NROTC scholarship graduates. Additionally, both Naval Academy and West Point graduates were ‘Separated for Misconduct’ at more than twice the rate of NROTC scholarship officers.

    Assuming Academy graduates do slightly better in follow-on programs such as aviation training or SWOS, how much better would they have to perform to justify the additional expense? What is your marginal return on investment under the current system?

    I concede that the Service Academies promote a much larger percentage of Flag Officers than their NROTC peers, but there is plenty of room to debate the level of cronyism present in the system from assignment processing to actual promotions. If our system were a true meritocracy, I believe you would see a much different distribution over time.

    Cheers,
    C-97

    26 May 10 at 05:49

  21. Bill Kinzie

    Much to ponder after hearing from the other point of view so
    professionally presented. Wish some other dialogs I’ve participated in could be carried out in such careful and fact backed way, rather than the vitriol that was oft times experienced.

    26 May 10 at 15:10

  22. VQ Bubba

    Consider this question, what is benefit of an English major not just in the military, but for the US as a whole? Why should students major in English when they could major in Electrical Engineering? Are English majors ‘better’ than other majors? It pays more to be an engineer (thus society values engineers more) and arguably there are observable and measurable benefits that can be ascribed to Electrical Engineers. We would be hard pressed to find similar ‘evidence’ for English majors. How often do graduates with an English degree go on to jobs in their career field? Is a great English major one who becomes the department chair, or one who writes children’s books, or one who teaches middle school?

    So what is the benefit of a military academy? Is the worth of a service academy only measurable if it produces graduates who are better? I cannot seem to find that line in the mission, “to produce graduates who are better junior, mid-grade, field, and senior officers than other commissioning sources.” And how are we to measure better? Is it length in service? Is it promotion? Is it sustained success? Is an ROTC grad who takes a round in the chest while calling in a helo evac better than an academy grad that helps get a new ship class through the procurement process? Is a cynical Sailor better than an optimistic Sailor? Is Senator Webb (only ‘served’ 4 years as a Marine) a better grad than Admiral Mullen (same class as Webb, still on active duty)? Or should better be measured by commanding officers’ perceptions – such as, “in general, I can’t tell the difference” or “I had a great academy department head and the CHENG was a knucklehead from ROTC – so today it’s the academy”?

    In our supposedly data driven society, we can measure all sorts of things (and don’t think it escapes me that C-97 cites data from the beginning of Fleming’s career – that time that preceded the fall of the academies). But none of those measures will answer “is it better?” I don’t have a good answer, but the present conversation seems to be far from the mark in terms of the precision-guided language necessary to have a debate. This is not to say we should not have this discussion and critique the academy’s, but that we lack the fundamentals necessary to a constructive critique.

    26 May 10 at 16:12

  23. USNA90

    My immediate thought was that the author had better be really good because otherwise every trooper wont be able to get past that initial inevitable (and generally correct) assumption, caused by the problems that Prof. Fleming addresses, that LT Srinivasan is another product of the diversity industry…

    26 May 10 at 22:04

  24. Commodore97

    VQ Bubba,

    I really want to reply to your post, but you are oscillating in such a manner that I’m uncertain of which points you are trying to make. Obviously, you are trying to marginalize Professor Fleming by attacking his field of study. Had you studied under him, perhaps your argument would have been more effective and structured.

    Let’s focus on them one at a time. First, what is the ‘value’ of an education? The value society places on a profession has more to do with supply and demand than it does the ‘value’ as seen by society. Here’s your reference – http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp

    Notice EEs make a lot of money and poor English majors make considerably less, right down there with Nurses. If only society ‘valued’ Nurses. For an example with a bit more levity, read “Superfreakonomics”. Levitt and Dubner look at the ‘value’ of prostitutes. According to them, when sexual morals were a bit more strict (1910) than they are today, a high end prostitute in a Chicago brothel could make $430,000 a yr in today’s dollars or 4x that of an Electrical Engineer. Now that it is easier to acquire that commodity on the open market, prostitution rates have plummeted.

    A second point on EEs. Is this really the skill set the Navy needs to spend extravagant sums to acquire? I served as the Electrical Officer on a carrier and I my undergrad degree is in Org Dev. Being the ELECO wasn’t my choice, but I serve as ordered. One would think that with just a handful of carriers, we could find some outstanding USNA EEs to fulfill such a critical position.

    On the subject of relative value between NROTC and USNA. If I were to spend two to three times more money on a house or vehicle, I would hope that there could be no question that I received a better value. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The relative value between NROTC and USNA grads is indistinguishable as we have discussed. If I make Lexus payments, I want a Lexus. It would be ridiculous to drive a Camry while making Lexus payments, but that’s what we do with USNA.

    Now to the defense of USNA. What I like about USNA is that it creates a demand for Naval Officers. The prestige of the Academy establishes an aura that elevates the profession of the military officer. The value of this level of professionalism cannot be discounted as it carries over to our NROTC units, OCS candidates, and even encourages Enlisted recruitment for young men and women looking to improve their lot in life (such as yours truly who served proudly as a prior E). How many dope smoking, substandard, varsity athletes will it take to completely shatter the profession of the military officer that it has taken decades to establish? If shattering the image is too far of a stretch, what is the impact of tarnishing the image by having folks openly question the ethics supposedly instilled by the institution? As a member of the Navy, I am proud of my Service Academy. But when I see an athlete treated like a ‘prima donna’ and not held to the standards expected of a Naval Officer, I am sickened. For every varsity athlete who is at the Academy for the ‘wrong’ reasons, there are numerous Petty Officers with substantially more leadership potential and experience who would excel if given the opportunity. Our Navy and Nation deserves better!

    Cheers,
    C-97

    27 May 10 at 02:39

  25. USNA90

    BTW I am not in any way intimating that the LT is not capable or qualified (a determination I am not qualified to make), only that ANY mediocrity in his professional performance will result in a much greater loss of respect by those he leads than if his credentials had not been tainted by well-known (and resented) “thumb on the scales” at every stage of the careers of special classes of servicemembers with racial- and gender-based criteria for admission.
    Also, the LT says:
    I am not ashamed of my Academy for attempting to produce an officer corps that is ethnically representative of the soldiers and NCOs it leads. The Academies do not admit cadets because of ethnicity, but [rather because of*] a candidate’s ability to understand ethnicity and the unique role it plays in grueling military social dynamics.

    *[Please excuse additional content inserted to clarify my understanding of the LT's statement]

    Frankly, the support of someone who can only benefit from unequaly applied criteria for evaluation does not sway me in the least. If anything such testimonials only point out even further the glad-handing BOHICA aspect of it all. And does one have to be have “ethnicity” in order to have an “ability to understand ethnicity and the unique role it plays in grueling military social dynamics”?

    And to say that “Academies do not admit [and/or retain]cadets [and Midshipmen] because of ethnicity [or gender]” is a bald-faced PC lie that the evidence of an on the scene Academy admissions officer (Prof. Fleming) and documents obtained via freedom of information act requests clearly refute.
    I had frankly hoped that the Corps Code, if properly internalized, would prevent serving commissioned officers from propigating such easily belied PC BS. The LT has a stain on his honor as far as I am concerned, and the conscious decision he made to publicly state such an untruth calls into question his judgement. Lying and questionable judgement does not mitigate any inclination to believe that an individual may not fit the preconcieved stereotype that was caused by the unequal application of evaluation criteria in the first place
    The Naval Academy’s Honor Concept allows (or did when I was there) that the discoverer of a breach of honor may decide to merely “counsel” the offender. My understanding is that West Point’s Code has no such leeway. Potential liars are to be reported and if found guilty by an honor board, reccomended for dismissal. The LT should be thankful that the punitive aspects of the code only apply to cadets, and are not applicable once commissioned. Of course, as recent Naval Academy honor cases in the media are indicative, “special status” has just as much bearing on Honor proceedings and retention decisions as it does on admissions, evaluations, promotions and billet assignments.

    The LT also says:
    No institution in the world is a complete meritocracy.
    I say:
    If any institution should strive to promote leaders based on merit, it should be the military. I hope that doesn’t require much explanation. If you really can’t think of the most important reasons why that is true, I can spell it out for you. Shouldn’t be neccessary, but I will oblige if asked.

    The LT feels that the Prof’s OpEd is “antithetical to the best interests of reconciling civil-military differences so vital to our national security”. I didn’t really catch the essence of his meaning (and would appreciate some elaboration, if possible). As always it is to who’s best interests that policy is directed that is the rub. Agreeing with a policy that has your personal best career interests front and center because of your ethnicity is in no way convincing.

    Some advice for the LT and other ringknockers with similar views: Disparraging fellow commissioned officers in a public forum because of their commissioning source (i.e.- I feel my Academy experiences afforded me greater insight into the strategic reasoning behind the missions we execute… ROTC and OCS officers “are a mixed bag”) – not the best way to forge strong relationships with said teammates.

    Regardless, thank you, LT Srinivasan, for your service, and I wish you and those you lead safety and mission success on this and any future deployments.

    27 May 10 at 04:02

  26. TJ

    Here’s another nicely-done rebuttal to Professor Fleming’s op-ed:

    http://thebirddog.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/facepalm/

    28 May 10 at 01:23

  27. Jim Richards

    It’s hard to discover Mr. Fleming’s motive here, especially a man who makes his living teaching Midshipmen. If he feels the education at the academies is lacking, perhaps he is partly at fault! As I watch my friend, Russ, make his way through West Point (cow year), I am constantly amazed at the educational opportunities afforded to him and his classmates. From academic exercises away from the academy to immersion into regular Army units, their opportunities seem unlimited. As I talk to them, I am most impressed with what they have learned and how well they articulate their ideas. I am also impressed with the fact that they work hard at it eleven months of the year!
    No doubt there are a few warts here and there in the academies, as in society as a whole. As one who believes that collegiate sports are over-emphasized in all institutions of higher learning, I am not surprised to learn that it could also be true at the academies. Affirmative action at the academies is nothing more than mentor-ship of those who grew up without it! When Fleming decries the fact that 50% of flag officers are academy graduates, I disagree completely. They are our best and brightest, have worked the hardest, fought the battles, and have earned their leadership positions.

    28 May 10 at 20:26

  28. USNA '09

    C-97,

    First off, I would consider evidence gathered from 1979-1988 to be obsolete. Considering how times have changed I think it is safe to assume these statics could have also changed. I’ll admit, I have nothing to support this, it is merely an opinion.

    Second, you belittle others for not supporting their arguments but I would like to see you support your claim on the costs of the academies education vs. an NROTC scholarship. It should be known that Prof. Fleming’s $500,000 price tag is complete ludicrous. The Department of the Navy has determined that each midshipman graduates at a price of $170,000. This is very comparable to some (not all) NROTC scholarship schools. For example, I have a friend who is an ’09 Cornell graduate with an engineering degree (full ride NROTC). Cornell has a price tag of $39,450 per year ( + several school fees such as technology, activity, student life, etc). Finally, add the stipend for books and expenses all ROTC midshipmen receive ($8,000 over the course of 4 yrs) and we get a total cost of $165,800. Also, you need to understand we are not including the cost of uniforms and sending these ROTC midshipmen on summer training evolutions around the country/world for 3 summers. Is $170,000 and $165,800 really THAT different? I’d say no. Obviously this is only an example and I am sure there are more economical schools with NROTC units. It should, however, show that the costs everyone is so worried about are not only occurring at the Academies but at prestigious schools across the country.

    I am a proud Naval Academy graduate, and to have my alma matter and fellow alumni labeled as mediocre is insulting. There are many misconceptions out there and Prof. Fleming is simply spreading them some more. I think is easy to assume it was no mistake this OpEd was published just before commissioning week. Man does Prof. Fleming know how to get exposure!

    I’m looking forward to your reply.

    -USNA ’09

    28 May 10 at 21:40

  29. Nina M

    My husband graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1976 and my son graduated fourth in his class at the Naval Academy in 2009. I was a direct commission in the Army in 1975 when women couldn’t attend an academy and retired in 1995.

    To label the school that my son attended as mediocre makes my blood boil. FYI, he plays the violin.

    I find it insulting that everything has to be taken down to a dollar and cents cost-benefit issue. Academy officers where head and shoulders above others (usually) in their preparation to serve.

    Leg! Enough said.

    29 May 10 at 04:16

  30. Commodore97

    USNA ’09,

    I concur with you that things could have changed since ’79-’88. However, I cannot tell you if they have changed for the better or for the worse. A decade of statistics compiled by the CBO is rather powerful and perhaps they’ll undertake a similar study soon. Or perhaps a motivated JO pursuing their Master’s degree will take on the challenge. I have three Master’s degrees so I am not inclined to pursue, but if I did, my initial thesis would be that the standards of current Academy grads is not on par with historical standards. I hope whoever conducts the analysis reaches back far enough to capture your fellow alums, CAPT Lisa Nowak (crazy astronaut) and CAPT Holly Graf (present day CAPT Bligh). Sorry…cheap shot!

    Interesting approach you took in your analysis above. You went through a lot of trouble to reach a suitable number for NROTC ($165,800), but you pulled the USNA $170,000 number out of thin air claiming the DON has calculated it. For the sake of your credibility, please source your calculation because either you or one of your Blue and Gold Officers is mistaken. They are claiming a value of $286,000.

    http://www.cyberpear.com/exec/usna_admissions_brief.ppt#487,30,$$$ Financial Considerations $$$

    An alternative answer is a tendency to use whatever numbers best support your desired effect depending on your audience. Enron did a pretty good job at employing a similar tactic in their accounting.

    We can debate ad nauseam about the merits of our respective commissioning sources, but the troubling fact for all of us in the Navy is the thought of substandard performers joining our Wardroom because a Superintendent refuses to apply the same standards to a non-athlete as they do to an athlete. There is not an Enlisted member serving today that could invoke the Midshipman Curry defense successfully. Zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance.

    Beyond the athlete/non-athlete debate or the USNA/NROTC debate, my prayer is we each embrace the charge of a higher Ethical calling. Many of us will go on to leadership roles in business and government. If we allow our biases to cloud our judgment, we will be unable to make the best decisions. We see this tendency occurring daily within political discourse among Democrats and Replublicans. Honesty is the best defense, but it sure is hard to ascertain. Take, for example, the controversy surrounding another USNA alum, Rep. Joe Sestak. Did he receive a job offer from the White House or not? Was he fired or did he quit for family reasons? Did he retire as a three-star or a two-star? These are not cheap shots like my previous comments about the two CAPTs. This is a serious question that drives at the heart of folks who say we promote our best and brightest. The Navy would be much stronger if we rewarded the Ethical values we espouse instead of trying to ‘game the system’ at every turn.
    Cheers,
    C-97

    30 May 10 at 18:50

  31. Jeff

    Well, this has been interesting to read. I served in the military and while I wasn’t a professional, I can make some observations after reading these posts.

    In response to an Op Ed in the Times, Rajiv points out the value he derived from his experience and education at West Point and the value that we get as a result. Seemed pretty compelling to me.

    Professor Fleming, having described others as mediocre, gets defensive and more than a little condescending when they disagree. Too bad professor, it makes you look petty.

    Professor, you have an impressive resume. Did you serve in the military in any fashion? If so, you should add it to the biography on your website.

    Do you accept any responsibility for turning out mediocre graduates during your 23 years? It’s always interesting to see someone in an organization complain that it’s failing but take no responsibility for the failure.

    Don’t bother to answer. Most of us follow Rajiv’s blog because of who he is and what he shares with us about his real world experience as he serves our country, not because of what some self absorbed professor thinks. We can buy the book if we’re interested.

    If Rajiv Srinivasan is an example of the graduates our academies turn out, then they’re doing a great job and we are well served as a nation.

    31 May 10 at 14:33

  32. kahan qatazap

    since fleming doesn’t think blacks are worth a damn, then why don’t all blacks hispanics and native americans leave the four services en masse so it can be lily white and unpolluted. since black hispanic or native blood is not as valuable as white blood in defending this country, let the whites die for america. I am tired of my people having to jump through hoops to show rednecks like fleming how much they love this country when this country bears no love for us. hell, make the academies segregated, for all i care, big deal. if you are brown, the military is no place for you if you are going to be second guessed all of the time. To the Hindu officer, scouts out!

    31 May 10 at 15:08

  33. British dude who once visited USMA as an Officer Cadet

    Great discussion.

    Two questions:

    1. No one has brought up how many people would not join the services at all if the academies didn’t exist.

    Surely someone must have looked at this, since that’s a pretty crucial metric?

    2. Why do all these debates seem to pivot on an either/or question, as in ‘either the academies continue in their present form or they are closed altogether’?

    One of the great benefits for ALL British Army officers is that they went through RMA Sandhurst.

    From a military standpoint, everyone gets trained at the same place, to the same standards, and comes out with a shared esprit.

    From a prestige standpoint, for a variety of reasons, RMAS has become incredibly prestigious. RMAS’ prestige rubs off on every officer seeking post-Army employment, whether they went to Cambridge, King’s College London or Paisley universities before. That’s a great recruiting incentive if there ever was one. Imagine if OCS were considered prestigious…

    Surely the RMAS model must be an option at the academies if they were to abandon their degree-awarding status?

    E.g. for the Army, create a modular structure that can accommodate both ROTC (LDAC+) and OCS cadets (full course), as well as BOLC II if space permits.

    Done right (yup, that’s the weak spot), everyone passes through USMA, the place retains its prestige as a bastion of excellent instruction, and EVERY officer gets to say they attended the place, further standardizing instruction, reducing internal friction and increasing post-Army competitiveness.

    2 June 10 at 02:15

  34. Brit who once visited USMA as an Officer Cadet and loved the place

    Two questions:

    1. No one has brought up how many people would not join the services at all if the academies didn’t exist.

    Surely someone must have looked at this, since that’s a pretty crucial metric?

    2. Why do all these debates seem to pivot on an either/or question, as in ‘either the academies continue in their present form or they are closed altogether’?

    One of the great benefits for ALL British Army officers is that they went through RMA Sandhurst.

    From a military standpoint, everyone gets trained at the same place, to the same standards, and comes out with a shared esprit.

    From a prestige standpoint, for a variety of reasons, RMAS has become incredibly prestigious. RMAS’ prestige rubs off on every officer seeking post-Army employment, whether they went to Cambridge, King’s College London or Paisley universities before. That’s a great recruiting incentive if there ever was one. Imagine if OCS were considered prestigious…

    Surely the RMAS model must be an option at the academies if they were to abandon their degree-awarding status?

    E.g. for the Army, create a modular structure that can accommodate both ROTC (LDAC+) and OCS cadets (full course), as well as BOLC II if space permits.

    Done right (yup, that’s the weak spot), everyone passes through USMA, the place retains its prestige as a bastion of excellent instruction, and EVERY officer gets to say they attended the place, further standardizing instruction, reducing internal friction and increasing post-Army competitiveness.

    2 June 10 at 02:17

  35. Tomo T

    Lieutenant Srinivasan,

    Link to a brand new article by a Special Forces Officer, West Point grad, and West Point Instructor, on the failings of West Point:

    http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/06/11/west_point_faculty_member_worries_it_is_failing_to_prepare_tomorrow_s_officers

    While Professor Fleming puts his message across somewhat provocatively, and prevaricates in some instances (the suspect $500,000 figure, for one), he has a point, especially in his response above.

    Basically, sir, with all due respect, you are arguing that Academy graduates understand the idea of the Army better than other commissioning sources (“Frankly, in order to truly internalize ethical values, a global perspective, and focus them for a lifetime of service, you need more than 3 ROTC credit hours a semester.”)

    I completely disagree. As a current ROTC cadet, I know there are some among my colleagues who decided to join the Army through ROTC and regret the decision.

    But to argue that ROTC cadets as a whole have not truly accepted the honor and duty of their commitment to the U.S. Army, because we are not in an environment where these values are pounded into us every day, is honestly quite insulting to my patriotism and my sense of service.

    Furthermore, I’ve lived in India, Jordan, Egypt, Hungary, Japan, and Morocco, the last with 20 other cadets in an ROTC sponsored cultural internship program. The global perspective you speak of is clearly not unique to West Point.

    And finally, you can hardly argue that West Pointers are singularly prepared for a ‘lifetime of service’ if Prof. Fleming’s data are correct about the percentage of those who leave after their commitment is done. ROTC graduates similarly are leaders in the civilian world – as well as military leaders who have dedicated their lives to serving their country, both in uniform and out.

    I’m reminded today of a conversation I overheard by a retired infantry Colonel and West Point grad, who remarked that one of the happiest days of his life was when he graduated from West Point, because he got to get the hell out of that place. Granted, times were different back then, but I think that Professor Fleming’s arguments still hold, to a degree.

    Sir, just because you are an example of a reflective, actively thinking, motivated, and inspiring commander, doesn’t mean that West Point inherently produces these officers more than other commissioning sources. You are understandably proud of your alma mater, and it is a distinguished institution, but we all wear the flag on our shoulder, and all serve our country with equal pride.

    I would urge all the commentators above, who instinctively jumped to their guns to defend their alma maters, to think critically about the arguments put forward, rather than feeling (justifiably) insulted by poor word choice.

    There are some legitimate arguments presented by these scholars, who have a wide experience with these institutions, perhaps even more than a recent graduate might have, and it provides a good opportunity to have a discussion to have about how to improve these institutions and improve the education of our future officers.

    FYI, one of the colleagues mentioned above was a cadet who was accepted to West Point and didn’t attend purely because his parents wouldn’t allow it. At least with ROTC, he has the chance to serve in the Reserves/Guard and avoid making what he feels a bad decision as a full time commitment. Goes to show that West Pointers (potential and actual) are not always as hooah about the Army as one might think.

    12 June 10 at 02:54

  36. Christine

    Great article. I think Prof Fleming thrives on making statements that he knows will get a reaction out of people. He is a smart, qualified teacher, but does not have any experience in the military. I was in his English class my Plebe year at the Academy. Yes, we want military leaders who are very intelligent, but that is not the ONLY quality to make an excellent leader in the U.S. military.

    28 June 10 at 16:04

  37. Zoomie

    Points on both sides. However both the pro and con provide a limited aperture on the subject. Point must be conceded that a mix of all commissioning sources provides the best option for the taxpayer at cost.

    Service academies provide a superb education (too many empericals to dispute this, SAT/ACT, GRE, Rhodes Scholars, Astronauts, Gov’t, Presidents…it goes on and on). USAF Academy Juniors are doing aerodynamic analysis for NASA rockets…where Cal Tech Gradute Studs are still on balsa gliders. Guys, it’s not even close. In 1993 the Pentagon came to our JUNIOR design class for ideas on a program called “Predator.” Our cohorts in other universities submitted aerodynamic analysis on flat plates.

    Yet ROTC and Direct Commissioning programs are vital to our Nation. They provide a scalable officer corps at cost, supplied by top tier universities, as well as the beer drinking institutions. Plus we leverage the breadth of academic experiences that our Nation’s Universities offer (you know, drugs, alcohol, etc. ok not being fair here). And yes, ROTC scholarship students get out in droves after the taxpayer sponsors a 5 YEAR education at a private school.

    Diversity point is also a non-starter issue…talent in underrepresented groups is also indisputable…supported by all Service Chiefs, CJCS, all of our Civilian Leadership (both sides of the aisle) and by the moral obligations of a free society as spelled out on our great seal. The fact of the matter is that without a robust commitment to diversity programs, talent in our inner cities would be missed…only because Calc II was simply not taught in our woeful education system. Ironically..the very skill-sets conveniantly filled by our Military Industrial Complex…in manufacturing plants located everywhere but the US. You’re darn right we better be harvesting our talent pool everywhere we can get it!

    So this is a fun discussion, but one that will never yield consequence. Yet we will see the bloggers get active right around Fall when the Commander-In-Chief trophy is mentioned on sports center.

    Bottom line…all three commissioning sources are here to stay. The right mix provides a strong officer corps filled with socially inept academy grads as well as a morally bankrupt ROTC and 90 day wonder group…together we fight, together we die!

    14 October 10 at 02:28

  38. Caltech PhD Student

    I came here certainly not expecting to read a reference to Caltech, much less to comment on this blog… but as a “Cal Tech Gradute Stud” [sic] in Aerospace, I can assure you that we are absolutely *NOT* “still on balsa gliders”.

    I mean, come on, does that assertion really pass the smell test? Check it out: http://www.galcit.caltech.edu/. Find any balsa gliders there?

    I should also add that in this year’s group of first year Aerospace students, we have a Rhodes Scholar West Point graduate. In last year’s group of first year Aerospace students, we had one of the top grads from Annapolis. Both of the Ensign and the 2Lt were absolutely top-notch, and both of them found our program very challenging (as I can assure you all of us do).

    In the laboratory where I do my experiments (which are on the aerothermodynamics of Mach 5+ flows, useful for rockets, atmospheric re-entry of spacecraft, and a variety of other very useful things in terms of our national security), our primary customer in terms of research contracts is the US Air Force. Our second-biggest customer is NASA. I assure you that, due to the facilities required, the work we do here could not be done at AFRL or a NASA facility, let alone at one of the academies.

    Most serious, cutting-edge experimental work is done most effectively full time. It would be impossible for cadets or midshipmen to commit the kind of time necessary for truly graduate level work of this kind, nor would the academies wish them to try. (Undergraduate design projects, which are a common feature of engineering programs everyplace, are obviously a different story.)

    What “Cal Tech Gradute Studs” [sic] and cadets/midshipmen are being educated/trained to do is very, very different. The thought of the majority of PhD students I know serving even a day in the military gives me a chuckle, but the “rockets at USAFA, balsa gliders at Caltech” dichotomy presented is equally preposterous. USAFA is much better at what it does, but objectively speaking, I have to say that we, also, are much better at what we do.

    18 October 10 at 04:41

  39. Rajiv makes a lot of valid points in his rebuttal. Overall, I agree with him. I do disagree with one point. To others race may be an issue. That was not my experienc. Women will aslo claim gender was an issue (I was class of ’81). I selected Infantry as my branch. I did not care what color or race my soldiers were. For me, color was another means to identify individuals like the shapre of the face, eye color, hair colr etc. (A platoon of identical clones would have been exasperating). My sole criteria when evaluating my superiors, peers and subordinates was, “could I trust and depend on them when the lives of my soldiers and myself were on the line.” If teh answer was no, then I did not need that individual regardless of color. As to their beleifs, Vegetarian, Hunter, Liberal, or Conservative, again, the same criteria. could I depend on them?
    One aspect not covered. multiple stuies have shown that Universities tend to have liberal views among the professors. Recent stories of instructors castigating conservative views (and in one case demanding students sign a pledge to vote democrat) are disturbing. I would hazard the environment at West Point is more conservative than many Universitys hosting ROTC. Perhaps we need a ‘conservative’ educational environment at least as much as we need liberal leaning envirtonments.

    10 October 12 at 14:58

  40. A

    “It seems Mr. Fleming’s criteria for mediocrity rests heavily on academic metrics. But I assure my audience that there is very little that is academic about combat leadership. It is about heart. It is about fortitude, honor, and courage. Now, you may call a West Point or Naval Academy graduate mediocre…but try visiting any other college in America and collecting a thousand 23 year old kids ready to lead just as many lives into hostile fire. I doubt you’ll be successful.”

    I’d add that, having taught at both civilian colleges (much more recently than Mr. Fleming) and the USNA, my plebes were academically far above their civilian counterparts. I took great offense at his editorial on behalf of the men and women who were busting their butts in my class and out, and I wonder how much interaction Fleming has with civilian students to create his frame of reference.

    Thank you for this piece.

    11 October 12 at 13:10

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