Best Defense

Cadet: Serve before coming to the academy

A cadet wishing to be identified as “A Concerned Firstie” writes in to recommend requiring a year or two of enlisted service before matriculating at the academy: West Point should change, and I think forcing all applicants to serve enlisted in a combat arm prior to admission would be a radical change that would dramatically ...

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A cadet wishing to be identified as “A Concerned Firstie” writes in to recommend requiring a year or two of enlisted service before matriculating at the academy:

West Point should change, and I think forcing all applicants to serve enlisted in a combat arm prior to admission would be a radical change that would dramatically affect admissions and retention. First, it would allow prospective officers a chance to stand among their potential subordinates before they could stand before them, this would hopefully scare away those who come to West Point because it was the only Division-1 school that recruited them or who wanted to get that sweet degree and the potential “Old Grad” connections in the corporate world, introducing a greater degree of self selection. Second, this enlisted time would allow us to weed out the duds before they showed up to West Point and gained untouchable status. A great many cadets are fragile (constantly sick, broken, unfit for duty, outright malingering) or just not cut out for military service for a number of reasons. By getting rid of them early, we would help reduce the cynicism that stems from watching our subpar classmates continue to slip through the cracks till they eventually graduate, and then show up to the Big Army and embarrass the rest of us. Not to say that I’m the best this institution has to offer. I’ve struggled as much or more than many of my classmates, and I seriously considered quitting at the end of my sophomore year, what eventually convinced me to stay was a chance at leading troops where I was able to excel, receiving my only A grade in the military category. That experience, along with my friends’ encouragement and pleas, convinced me to stay.

The biggest drawback would also be its greatest strength, by scaring away these people, we may scare away the Rhodes Scholar types that West Point always points to whenever its academic credentials are questioned. One has to wonder if that is such a bad thing after meeting some of the Wunderkinds though. I’m inclined to believe that academic performance has little to do with officer potential after a certain baseline competence. It’s much more personality-driven in my opinion. These are obviously just my impressions, and I would not say that I represent the majority of cadets even.”

I like his solution.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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