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."