Saturday, December 03, 2005

U.S. Military Academy Retention Then and Now

Unfortunately, the traditional Army/Navy football classic, is not the biggest game being played by the service academies these days. While the exciting, Army-Navy football rivalry is usually played midway between the academies, in Philadelphia, a larger game is being played out from Washington, D.C.

Politicians encourage constituents and some of their own kin (who may have doubtful military career ambitions) to attend West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy at full taxpayer expense, while incurring active duty obligations that are only 5 years beyond graduation.

As taxpayers, should we not consider serious commitment to a military career to be the first and the foremost qualification for admission to our prestigious U.S. military academies? Afterall, there is no shortage of bright, physically qualified applicants and many applicants must now be rejected.

From academy mission statements:

USNA ... to provide graduates who are dedicated to a career... (Naval Academy cost is a bargain: about $275,000 per graduate)

West Point ... and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army. (West Point costs $349,327 per graduate)

Cost Guard ... professionally and physically prepared to serve their country ... (Like the other U.S. federal service academies, our students receive a full scholarship and our graduates serve in the military for at least five years after graduation. However, unlike the other service academies, there are no congressional appointments — admission is based solely on nationwide competition.)

Air Force ... to become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force ... (The Air Force Academy costs $322,750 per graduate)

Remarks by Admiral Carlisle Trost ’53, U.S. Navy (Retired)
- The USNA Class of 1953: ... graduated with 924 (~70%) of classmates remaining. Most served aboard ship in latter stages of the Korean War, and many served in the Vietnam War. Sixty percent of the Class was on still active duty after 10 years of service.

From Proceedings, June 2002 - Dick Behrenhausen, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general: ...the Military Academy is drifting away from the Spartan ideals that produced soldiers such as MacArthur, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton and marching steadily toward the ivied walls of academe, an area in which the Military Academy cannot—and should not—compete if it hopes to retain the admiration of the American people...

"Over the past 30 years, Behrenhausen said, West Point has changed its vision: from that of an academy—a place where special skills or subjects are taught—to that of a university—an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant degrees. "In making these changes, it is rapidly losing its viability," he said.

"All of this has resulted in lower retention rates, which is hardly an attractive proposition for a Congress well aware that West Point graduates cost five times more than ROTC graduates do at service entry, he said."

..."he said, the (Coast Guard) Academy is pursuing excellence in support missions such as civil engineering, which are increasingly attractive to outsourcing. "

In my view, a simple solution would be to lengthen the active duty commitment 1 or 2 years beyond the paltry and meaningless 5 year obligation that now exists. In the past, applicants to military academies were, by and large, those intent on military careers. Today, for various reasons, too many applicants are intent on obtaining free, quality education under any pretenses. Retention rates are down, not because fewer candidates apply for admissions (more do), but because fewer intended to remain from the start. Not only are taxpayers being gamed, but dangerous precedents for national security are being tolerated. -Vigilis

Here is what an opposing viewpoint maintains: "with reference to the service academies, its not game to the tax payers if a guys serves his commitment and then gets out."


At 03 December, 2005 23:32, Blogger Skippy-san said...


Please do not misunderstand me here, but I do not understand why this is such a big issue. Like I said (and mistyped) it really is not a game if the member serves his or her obligation totally and honorably. Also in most cases the US gets more than 5 years out of the average Academy graduate. Here is why:

1) If someone selects aviation their obligation is 6-7 years after wings, which on average take 2 years to get.

2) Same goes with Submarine duty, since selection to Nuclear power incurs some extension of active duty.

3) Accept any kind of a bonus and you incur an obligation.

So the real 5 year person is :

a) someone who goes surface line or does not go into the URL. ( Now why the academy commissions anything but URL is beyond me and makes ZERO sense....)

The better question as I pointed out earlier is whether continuing to have the Academies makes sense. The system has changed so dramatically and for the worse in my opinion, that it dimishes the need for them. The Academies were always supposed to be the centerpiece of the officer accession effort. programs such as ROTC and OCS were supposed to be adjuncts.

Furthermore the services are screwing with the whole system by feeling there is a need to "blur" officer and enlisted distinctions. The Navy is pushing to have Warrant Officer pilots, CPO OOD's and other things so it again begs the question of whether the institutions have outlived their usefulness.

Then there are the economics of the situation as well as the social dynamics.

On top of the cost per midshipman, there is the infrastructure cost to run the campuses, compete in the NCAA, pay faculty etc. Could not the same result be achieved by investing in scholarships at Univerisites through out the US. That coupled with a better summer training program might make more economic sense. ( The Marines do pretty good with Bulldog and the Basic School..).

A side benefit would be having outstanding men and women at our nations universities showing that many of the myths about military service are just myths.

Now I have to be honest, this debate is influenced by my predjudices on the subject. I really did form close bonds with my class mates at my alma mater, but I cannot imagine having the same type of close relationship with a member of the opposite sex (not with out wanting to have sex too..). I would hate to see the Academies go away, but if they keep going on the current road and we keep looking at everything as a business decision,it is an alternative that will need to be looked at.

At 03 December, 2005 23:37, Blogger Skippy-san said...

One other thing, Can not the war be blamed for some of the lower retention? Motivated or not, people are looking at the future and seeing continuing deployement over and over in the Navy, Air Force, and Army. In the Navy at least, the continued shrinking of the fleet coupled with increasing commitments does not make for a bright future.

And then there is the money.....todays youth are a hell of a lot smarter about it than I was when I was an Ensign........

Some people realize that because of the current up or out system, they are better off leaving earlier and getting established in careers. If the airlines were back hiring strong, you would see even worse retention IMHO.........

At 04 December, 2005 00:37, Blogger Vigilis said...


You make some very interesting points. Problem is, I have met some of the graduates who are gaming. In my view, the simple solution would be to lengthen the active duty commitment 1 or 2 years, and reflecting your concerns waive part of the nuke and wing extensions at the same time.

As to your question of retention and the war, that's probably why Admiral Trost included his remark that most of the Class of '53 served aboard ship in latter stages of the Korean War (started June 25, 1950), and many served in the Vietnam War.

At 05 December, 2005 07:38, Blogger Skippy-san said...

Now that I think about it, aviation has had some adverse effects of the long obligation after wings. Here are 2 that I can think of:

1) People realize that the obligation will take them into a second sea tour, so they try hard to transition to the FTS program or other means to get to EOS without going back to sea.

2) It discourages people from going into aviation in the first place. I think a similiar extension of obligated service would actually hurt recruiting for the Academy.

Just a thought.......

At 05 December, 2005 16:45, Blogger Vigilis said...

Skippy, tend to agree with your conclusions on sea duty avoidance. However, there is much at stake and plenty of competition for admission. Did you agree with Gen. Behrenhausen's facts in the Proceedings I cited?

At 05 December, 2005 16:49, Blogger Skippy-san said...

I need to go back and read the article, but on the surface I can agree with him, the same way I agree with Prof Fleming from USNA....


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