Monday, April 20, 2009

Thinking Outside The Box -- Eliminate West Point

People who think outside the box are either nut cases or geniuses. Isaac Newton, Socrates, Leonardo daVinci, Henry Ford and Newt Gingrich come to mind.

Now comes columnist and author Thomas Ricks with a proposal I'm uncertain jumps the shark. Rick proposals elimination of West Point and other service academies to, uh, save money. The savings would expand ROTC scholarships.

I can only presume Ricks is serious and by coincidence or timed at the moment President Obama is asking his cabinet to cut $100 million from their budgets. Ricks is no flake. He has covered the military for 20 years and is author of "The Gamble" about the Iraq war from 2006 to 2008.

"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," Ricks writes.

You can imagine the hostile reaction graduates from West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and other military colleges would create. Now there's a formidable lobbying group with not only rank but attitude.

Argues Ricks:

Not only do ROTC graduates make fine officers -- three of the last six chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reached the military that way -- they also would be educated alongside future doctors, judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of Congress. That would be good for both the military and the society it protects.

As for the expense, Ricks says it costs $300,000 to produce a West Point officer but $130,000 for an ROTC student. He explains:

This is no knock on the academies' graduates. They are crackerjack smart and dedicated to national service. 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. Why not send young people to more rigorous institutions on full scholarships, and then, upon graduation, give them a military education at a short-term military school?

This smacks of East Coast elitism.

Ricks' proposal is tempting although I doubt it stands a snowball chance in hell. For one thing, I don't understand the savings aspect. What money is saved from service academy costs is only transferred to ROTC scholarships which would far exceed those now attending the academies.

The concept of a military graduate school is laudable.

The military academy model is based on a career in the armed forces. The ROTC programs are designed for careers of one's choice. I foresee a dark scenario in which the ROTC produces a saturation of junior officers and too few colonels, commanders and generals.

Ricks may have scored a coup in respect to fitting our military into the challenges of the 21st Century. I would anticipate a response often made by our new president:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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