On April 19, Tom Ricks trotted out an old chestnut of an argument that one can expect to appear whenever budgets are tight. In an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, entitled "Why We Should Get Rid of West Point", Ricks calls for closing all of our service academies as a cost-cutting measure.Op-Ed Piece
I found Ricks’ argument to be less than compelling. As an “outsider” – a non-military person who has observed graduates of our nation’s service academies up close in my personal and professional life – I have come to value the use of my tax dollars in continuing the strong tradition of training leaders at West Point, Annapolis, Air Force and Coast Guard Academies. I agree with my friend, Dr. Scott Snook of
2LT Rajiv Srinivasan, a 2008 graduate of
Seldom over the course of one’s life does so much effort and commitment culminate in one day of pure accomplishment as a West Pointer’s graduation. The real heroes of the day were my parents and mentors who invested tremendous amounts of patience and mentorship in my development; however, they did so with one mission in mind: to raise a lifetime servant to a nation we so dearly love.
Tom Ricks, while I am sure is an avid supporter of the military and strong patriot, is hugely misguided and ill-informed in his recent article which called for the closing of the three Service Academies. Ricks makes some valid points: ROTC graduates are far more economical to produce, some commanders do prefer ROTC Lieutenants over their
Allow me to coin a phrase that embodies the true value of the Academy experience: Service Immersion. Every waking moment of my life at
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 Ph.Ds with vast amounts of knowledge. West Point Instructors are role models who have inspired courage in the hearts of 18 year old privates facing battle, and 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.
Do ROTC graduates understand and live up to these principles? Sure they do. But have they internalized them to the degree that the
I personally do not know whether I will stay in the Army longer than my five year commitment. I do know that the rest of my professional life is dedicated to serving a nation that most of its citizens undervalue. Had I gone to a civilian university, I think my outlook on professional growth would indeed be far different. This notion of Service Immersion develops a sense of loyalty and purpose in the young and energetic cadet which can translate into ethical and long sighted leadership down the road. Who knows, perhaps if the leadership of AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers had a little Service Immersion at an early age, maybe they would have been more aware and considerate of the societal consequences of making such foolish gambles.
I will agree with Mr. Ricks that the Service Academies do have many problems. Solid military training is rare during the school year; countless hours and dollars are wasted on ceremonial parades and football games; and the quality of life (or lack thereof) for most cadets is conducive to cynicism. But rather than ransack these institutions which embody the bedrock principles upon which this nation and our military are founded, I would be far more amenable to a discussion on how to refocus the nation’s Service Academies on creating the kind of leaders who will truly offer their professional and personal lives for the betterment of this nation. I imagine our forefathers would agree, but then again I only have a “community-college” understanding of their intent as Mr. Ricks points out.
I will close my entry with a verse from the Alma Matter that each graduate sings at the end of every football game, Corps Dinner, Graduation Ceremony, and West Point Alumni event around the world. It is a verse nostalgic of all the sacrifices made in the name of service to our nation, and the honor and humility that every graduate aims to uphold. Five years after setting foot at the Academy, it still brings chills to my spine.
And when our work is done, Our course on earth is run,
May it be said “Well done;
Be thou at peace.”
E’er may that line of gray increase from day to day.
Live, serve, and die we pray,
Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Rajiv – for your thoughts and for your willingness to serve our country.
As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts on this issue.