- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Defense guest provocateur
Three years ago, Tom proposed shuttering West Point as an expensive anachronism. At the time I thought he was barking up the wrong tree, but after reflection upon my own career as an army officer, I think he is on to something. It is not just West Point that should be done away with, it is also ROTC that should go.
Before anyone get’s their panties all knotted and wadded up, let me be up front: I am a product of ROTC, and I attended one of the "senior military colleges" — the Virginia Military Institute. What I am proposing will have an impact on my alma mater, as well as the other "senior military colleges."
I think that America’s fiscal resources could be better utilized in the following manner:
1. Those interested in commissioning would enlist in the armed forces, attend basic training, and advanced individual training. They would then be assessed into an officer development program and transferred to the National Guard or Reserves and receive a scholarship that would pay tuition, room and board, and books and laboratory fees at the college or university of their choice. While they could major in any subject they choose, they would be required to complete required courses as part of their development program.
2. They would have four years to complete their degree.
3. They would continue to drill with their assigned National Guard or Reserve unit.
4. Upon receiving their degree they would then proceed to the campus of the USMA at West Point (Naval Academy for USN & USMC; Air Force Academy for USAF) where they would undergo a year long course of instruction and evaluation leading to commissioning. It would be comprised of tactical and academic instruction along with extensive field operations where they would have to demonstrate their mastery of tactics and their leadership ability.
During the year they would receive not only academic evaluations, but also evaluation of their leadership ability through 360 degree assessments. The last three months would be an extended field exercise equivalent to "Ranger School" which all would have to satisfactorily complete in order to be commissioned. At any point up to the day of commission they could be dismissed from the program for academic, conduct, or leadership failures.
5. Once a year the army (navy and marine corps; air force) would commission all the officers of that years cohort of officers of the line. Some would be detailed to the Reserves and National Guard to fulfill their mandatory commitment of 10 years of commissioned service. All would be required to serve a total of ten years as a commissioned officer which could be divided between the active and reserve components.
6. Those who failed to complete their assessment for commissioning would be inducted into the regular army where they would serve for four years until such time they paid back their "college assistance."
It is my humble opinion I would have been a better Lieutenant and a better officer if I had I gone through a "Sandhurst"-like program.
My plan would guarantee that everyone had an appreciation what it was to be "the last man, in the last squad, of the last platoon." Moreover, it would level the playing field, everyone would have the same date of rank and where one went to college would not matter. Most importantly it would give us well-rounded officers who were connected to society and not isolated from it.
After graduating from the VMI, “Townie76” served in both the active and reserves, retiring as a colonel.