washingtonpost.com
Outlook: Shut Down West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy
How to Trim the Federal Budget and Improve Leadership

Thomas E. Ricks
Special Military Correspondent, The Washington Post
Monday, April 20, 2009 1:00 PM

Thomas E. Ricks, special military correspondent for The Washington Post and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, was online Monday, April 20, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article about how to trim the federal budget and improve leadership in the U.S.

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Thomas E. Ricks:

Hi,

I see there are a lot of questions here, so I will dive in.

Thanks,

Tom

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Florida Chick: Typical brilliance on the service academies and war colleges. Love the phrase "challenge their assumptions." I really miss you on the beat, in the paper. I read your work in the WSJ and then Wash Post. Come back. Need your perspective and history applied to today's news. Come back now.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, here I am.

Thanks for reading my work.

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College ROTC: Don't most Ivy League schools deny ROTC from their campuses?

I know the ultimate military man in my lifetime, Colin Powell, attended City College of New York. But I think eliminating the service academies would mean the creme de la creme of high school students considering a military career would not have an ROTC option at some "elite" universities.

Thomas E. Ricks:

Yes, and this is an issue that bugs me. I went to Yale, and it embarrasses me that it doesn't have ROTC on campus. I hope that is changed soon.

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Newfoundland Canada: Tom...

You kick over some beehives this weekend for practice?!

Thomas E. Ricks: No, but as I said, I think it my job to say sometimes what others think but for various reasons can't say.

Yes, I have received a lot of hate mail in the last couple of days--and as David Halberstam once said to me, that comes with the territory, so "suck it up." I also have received lots of supportive private e-mail, including from a general, a West Point faculty member, and even a West Point cadet.

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Boston, Mass.: Your thought provoking and likely very unpopular (at least among academy grads) notion to close the academies begs the question: what is the most unpopular conclusion you have made in print and what were the consequences for you, if any? As always, I enjoy reading your work.

Thomas E. Ricks:

I see my job as sometimes saying when I think the emperor has no clothes. It is not a bad thing for West Point and other service institutions to have to defend their existence--they are asking every year both for our children and our money.

I know there is an argument for West Point. I am especially impressed by the relatively small number of officers the Army sends to get PhDs so they can teach there. I also am impressed by the work of the Counterterrorism Center, which I blogged about last week. (My blog is at http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/)

But those are ancillary to the main mission of the academies, which is producing young officers. And there are far less expensive ways to produce those ancillary benefits.

I've also been struck at how few people have popped up to defend the war colleges.

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Mclean, Va.: Tom, Do you think your proposal would benefit interagency coordination, which we're told is critical to irregular warfare?

Thomas E. Ricks: It might.

Here's another pet peeve of mine: I think another problem in the lack of interagency effort is that the military recoils at the idea of taking orders from non-military people. Well, in small wars, that is what sometimes needs to happen. Otherwise the military is only talking about a one way street: How come the rest of the government didn't show up to take orders from us?

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Baltimore, Md.: Do most Ph.D.'s actually teach at major universities or do they have teaching assistants who do so? Is the quality of an undergraduate education more rigorous if those teaching hold doctorates as opposed to Masters' degrees? Does West Point teach more than those courses required for a BS degree? for example, leadership? honor? What percentage of annual Army commissioned officers have West Point as their source? Isn't General Petraeus is a West Pointer?

Thomas E. Ricks:

I think this is a canard. I can't remember being taught by a teaching assistant at Yale. Indeed, most of my classes there were seminars. (I understand Harvard is different.)

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Washington, D.C.: You used Petraeus as an argument for ROTC. Are you aware that he was actually a USMA grad of 1974?

Thomas E. Ricks:

Yes, I am.

I also aware that when I talked to him in Baghdad last year, he told me that his greatest period of intellectual development was his time at Princeton, where his most fundamental views were challenged every day.

Talking to people who "live outside the box" is one way to learn to "think outside the box."

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Thomas E. Ricks:

Ok, here is a note I just for from a cadet who plans to leave West Point and go ROTC elsewhere. This challenges the assertions I've been getting that the education is first class, rigorous, etc.:

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1- The majority of instructors here are on a rotational basis and have recently received their masters degrees. From multiple experiences in class I have seen it where they aren't too sure of the material themselves, let alone, enough to teach it. I agree with your community college comment. I feel short-changed here, yes, the instructors are bright, but their knowledge is not very deep. I have had instructors teach me the wrong concepts or facts, apologize, and then continue on with exams crawling closer. However, because of the speed in which we cover material there is little to no room for recovery and having a 4 year window to graduate, we can't have these mistakes. West Point waves the 18 to 1 student/teacher ratio flag as if that is something remarkable, but it is invalid when instructors aren't teaching proficiently. I mean, you can have a 5 to 1 ratio and they'll market that, but when teachers only hold bachelors' degrees and fresh masters' degrees they aren't subject matter experts.

2- Also, they claim that the value of having war veterans as instructors is the most valuable part of the West Point experience, however, when so many students are fresh out of high school and hear an Army Major telling stories about his tour in Iraq, the experiences don't register with the students. The cadets can't relate and it falls back to them hearing war stories. Essentially, any grandfather or book for that matter can fill that void. This is college, the focus should be on teaching the foundational subjects, not sharing war stories. I really believe that cadets should go to college to learn the disciplines and their major, then go to the Army to learn how to become officers. They days of West Point are long gone...it is a decaying institution.

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Arlington, Va.: I am retired General Officer. I attended all the the major officer training courses. I have to agree with you that I found the "War College" to be the least useful of all. It really was, as you state, a bunch of senior military folks reinforcing what they believed to be true as opposed to questioning the common wisdom. Your alternative of sending officers off to first-rate universities to get a new perspective is a much better solution. Thanks for raising the issue.

Thomas E. Ricks: Thanks for this! This note here resembles a lot of the e-mail I have been getting privately.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Mr. Ricks, thank you for taking the time to field questions on this thought-provoking piece.

How does this issue with service academies pan out in the grand scheme of handling a war? More specifically, I am asking are we getting the type of superior leadership from our elite military academies that is so desperately needed in a time like this?

Thomas E. Ricks: You are putting your finger on something I have been stewing about and may tackle in my next book. That is, why did it take the U.S. military so long to adjust in the Iraq war? By the time our approach became tactically effective--that is, the spring of 2007--we had been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. And even then, almost everyone in the chain of command opposed the new attitude, posture and tactics of the surge.

Maybe closing the war colleges and sending colonels out into the big world of civilian academia is the answer. (Side benefit: I think it also would improve the quality of debate in academia.)

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: Would you abolish the National Defense University at Fort McNair?

Thomas E. Ricks: I dunno. I think there is a real value to bringing officers to Washington to hear senior officials, and also to rub shoulders with officials from State, CIA, Energy and other parts of the government.

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Potomac, Md.: I had TAs at Yale. Petraues attended Princeton for grad school with a focus on International relations. After Princeton he came back to West Point as a Major and taught international relations courses. My room-mate had him.

Thomas E. Ricks: What did your roommate think of General Petraeus as a teacher?

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Columbia, Md.: But without the Academies where would young folks learn the lessons of how to be an officer in today's military? You know, the ones involving loyalty to your classmates above all else? See the theory of the Naval Academy's Honor Policy vs. "Dine and Dash" and breathalyzers at the front gates?

Only kidding (well, sort of).

Thomas E. Ricks: Passing along without comment.

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Fridley, Minn.: I have a friend that just attended the Naval War College and he said that most of his profs there were civilians with Ph.D.'s. Many were often adjunct from an Ivy or other New England school. He also stated that many profs there challenged the students current thinking. My limited two cents

Thomas E. Ricks: I actually am pretty impressed with the Naval War College. I just wish the Navy valued it more. I was told yesterday that a statistical review actually showed that attending the Naval War College hurts an officer's chance of becoming an admiral. I also was told that the Navy has a hard time getting people to go, and sometimes sends officers on the verge of retirement--which strikes me as a near-total waste of money.

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West Point, N.Y.: Is there are reason you are only answering questions that agree with you? The entire corps is waiting for you to type something meaningful to us, we are all online waiting for it.

Thomas E. Ricks: I am not sure that I could say anything that you like.

And I have read enough copies of MacArthur's speech to last me a lifetime.

So here is a question for you: How would you know if you are receiving a good education?

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Naval Academy Prep School, R.I.: I don't understand your point of view here. It seems you've given very little supporting reasoning to your claim. I'm all for hearing your argument seeing as I've signed a total of 10 years of my life to the U.S. Navy, but I'm just not seeing much analysis from your side. Fill us in. Why do you think that? What behavior have you seen in Academy grads that makes you think they're less than par? I understand that ROTC is a good program, you've made that clear, but you haven't discussed why the Academies are a bad one.

Thomas E. Ricks: Thanks for writing.

Here is my thought: If there isn't much difference between an officer who is a ROTC grad and an academy grad, why are we paying more for the academy grad? Isn't there a responsibility to the taxpayer? In addition, as one officer who commanded in Iraq commented to me recently, sometimes the West Point grads come off like know-it-alls who think the world revolves around them. This was, the commander observed, not a desirable trait in a platoon leader.

By the way, looking at your address: I am a fan of the military prep schools. I think they play a role that is good for the military and would be very hard to reproduce in the civilian world.

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Annapolis, Mad.: When I wrote to you on Sunday, I should have noted that Admiral William Crowe received a Ph.D. from Princeton. He thought that education might be held against him, but, of course, it was not. Some writers say that Crowe was the most powerful and effective chairman.

Thomas E. Ricks: Point taken.

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: I am currently a cadet at USAFA and believe the education I am receiving is top notch. I have done a year of prep school and a year of college before coming to the Academy, and I have found the academics to be much more rigorous and the instructors to be much more qualified than at a civilian college.

Thomas E. Ricks: And here is someone with a basis for comparison. Good answer.

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Boston, Mass.: Having worked with both Academy students and ROTC students, the Academy Cadets are far more motivated. They seem to handle stress better and are more capable in high intensity environments. The amount of work they are dealt at their respective academies teaches them lessons and provides them with experiences that no ROTC student could ever understand/appreciate in the operational military.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here is an interesting comment.

My question is this: Why do so many commanders tell me they don't see much difference, or at least a good difference, in academy grads in combat?

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West Point, N.Y.: Sir, are you aware that West Point is ranked by several magazines in the top 10 of colleges in the nation? One even ranks them the number one college in the nation over Princeton and Harvard. Their engineering program is number 2 and their social sciences department number 1 in public schools. What do you attribute to these rankings?

Thomas E. Ricks: I don't place much stock in the popular magazine rankings. Do you?

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How would you know if you are receiving a good education? : It can take years, nay decades, of living before one can truly know the answer to that question, regardless of where one is educated.

Thomas E. Ricks: Megadittoes to this.

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Dale City, Va. : You wrote "In addition, as one officer who commanded in Iraq commented to me recently, sometimes the West Point grads come off like know-it-alls who think the world revolves around them. This was, the commander observed, not a desirable trait in a platoon leader"

This is more anecdote, not real research or support. Methinks you are using your position to push a personal agenda.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, anecdotes are a raise of raising questions. Methinks you don't like hearing them--especially if you don't have a good response.

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Anonymous: I am a West Pointer. Went to "a top 10 research medical school." Then Walter Reed for training. Went to Iraq briefly. Now at a "top 10 research hospital" for further training. Going back to Walter Reed to train Army officers. I have a long service commitment and West Point has inspired me to stay beyond my long commitment. I consider my training and education at West Point to be the most important of all and cherish it the most. I agree that being exposed to top civilian education is an important factor for Army officers, and in fact, so does the Army. More than 90 percent of Army officers have Masters' degrees from top civilian graduate schools.

Thomas E. Ricks: Thank you for your service. I've spent time around military doctors in Iraq and have been enormously impressed by them.

That said, I doubt your last statistic. Yes, there are lots of master's degrees in the Army. But I see tons of them from Troy State and Shippensburg State. Do you consider these to be top civilian graduate schools?

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RE: College ROTC -- Ivy League: So, it bugs you that so-called "elite" universities discriminate against students seeking military careers. Does it bug you enough to support mandatory ROTC on every campus to ensure potential officers have the broadest opportunity possible given that you want to eliminate one of the largest opportunities for them to do so?

Thomas E. Ricks: No. I am not for much "mandatory" anything imposed by the government, except obeying the law and paying your taxes. I am for a draft, for example, but I'd like to see it offer three options: 18 months of military service, two years of alternative service (both resulting in a free ride through college), or a libertarian opt-out--don't sign up for the draft, and don't take a penny ever again from Uncle Sam.

Many institutions are private, and should be able to make their own decisions.

That said, I'd like to see ROTC at Yale. Send me the petition.

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Troy, AL: Well, dunno about y'all, but around here we do...

Thomas E. Ricks: No offense intended!

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Why do so many commanders tell me they don't see much difference, or at least a good difference, in academy grads in combat? : because people allow one bad apple to ruin a bunch.

There are more service academy recipients of the Medal of Honor than there are ROTC recipients. And this is just a brief statistic.

Thomas E. Ricks: He wasn't talking about a bad apple, he was talking about patterns he'd seen in command.

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Danville, Calif.: Mr. Ricks,

You claim it costs the government $300,000 per cadet at a service academy. Okay, so say that is accurate and to run all three service academies it takes roughly $1.2 billion and few would consider this waste. Don't you think there are more wasteful programs in the $550 plus billion DOD budget that deserve your attention rather than trying to eliminate American icons like West Point and the Naval Academy?

Thomas E. Ricks: Sure. But is that an excuse?

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West Point, N.Y.: Mr. Ricks,

I can assure you that the one (soon to be former) cadet's assertions are the overwhelming minority. Very, very, very few cadets leave on their own free will. Many are separated for various reasons and those who do leave, simply can't handle the lifestyle. I assure you that every single class I have had here, the material was covered very well by instructors and professors with adequate knowledge of the subject matter.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here is a very assured comment from West Point.

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Washington, D.C.: No question, just wanted to pass along that my father, a retired army officer, and I chatted about your column -- he agrees with you completely and is glad someone finally said it, but he thinks you probably underestimated the high costs of the academies.

Thomas E. Ricks: Yeah, I think I probably was low too. It is very hard to nail down actual costs.

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West Point, N.Y.: Sir, your article lacked the proper research to back up your claims. You made many arguments for your point, and are putting up many arguments mostly to support your point as well. But a true scholarly writer attempts to see both sides of the issue and as near as I can tell you have failed to do this with yours. Perhaps you should go back to your top-notch college and retake an English course or two to learn what a true scholarly article is really about and then try doing actual research instead of putting out bogus claims.

washingtonpost.com: Why We Should Get Rid of West Point (Post, April 19)

Thomas E. Ricks: West Pointers getting snarky.

It wasn't an academic work, it was a short op-ed for a newspaper.

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West Point, N.Y.: Do you find it ironic that some of the graduates of these three academies died protecting your right to write this article?

Thomas E. Ricks: No, I think it is a great country. I am grateful for the sacrifices made by Academy grads, by ROTC officers, and by other soldiers. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask tough questions. What are they teaching you up there?

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Dallas, Tex.: How much of your profession did you truly learn at your institution of higher education as opposed to actually doing your job?

Thomas E. Ricks: Actually, lots. Rarely a week goes by that I don't think of something a professor said or a book one assigned.

I actually think about one of the best assessments I ever got, from Prof. David Thorburn. He said, "Okay, you guys have spent four years here at Yale learning how to tell me Milton is a great poet. Here's a challenge--tell my why Mickey Spillane's 'I, the Jury' is NOT a great novel."

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"But I see tons of them from Troy State and Shippensburg State. Do you consider these to be top civilian graduate schools? ": This brings up a somewhat separate but I think important point. In my opinion, the military pretty much refuses to distinguish between quality of schools. Whether credit for graduation from various ROTC schools or other advanced degrees, you get as much credit for Troy State as you do for Harvard (officially, anyway). Is this right? (I'm not a Harvard grad, BTW.)

Thomas E. Ricks: Good point.

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Annapolis, Md.: Don't the service academies offer an important dynamic in the officer corps? That is, don't differing backgrounds between service academy officers and ROTC officers provide different insights?

By closing the service academies wouldn't you be homogenizing the officer corps?

Thomas E. Ricks: This is a good question.

The best way to study it might be to look at the British system, which doesn't have academies like West Point. From my experience, the British officer corps is indeed somewhat less diverse than the U.S. military--but I don't know if that is simply a reflection of British society.

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West Point, N.Y.: I don't see how you couldn't place much stock in college rankings -- they are at least somewhat based on statistics, unlike your analysis. That being said, as a former ROTC cadet, I do agree that academics are not as rigorous here at West Point. But herein lies the problem of "someone with a basis for comparison." There will be equally many people such as me, or equally many field commanders, who will tell you both sides of the story as to the value of the academies. So how about basing your argument on some type of data? How about data such as how much it will cost to shut down the academies? Or to relocate their training equipment? etc.

Thomas E. Ricks: Sure. Why don't we have the Army pony up a couple of million to survey officers who have commanded units in combat in Iraq about the qualities of academy grads vs. ROTC officers? Then we'd have some data.

Don't hold your breath.

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West Point, N.Y.: Everyone really should stop feeding into this. Mr. Ricks is thoroughly enjoying his minute in the spotlight. With books like "Fiasco" under his belt, few should fail to see that he has found his niche through slandering all aspects of the military from the way it carries out operations to the way it educates its future leaders. Let Mr. Ricks fade into the hazy abyss of pop culture rhetoric that he is creeping towards.

Thomas E. Ricks: More snarkiness.

Have you read 'Fiasco'? Or my most recent book?

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Winchester, Va.: I remember you in Somalia with A/1/7.

Very thought provoking opinion you wrote. While I am not sure I agree with you because I have not seen any facts to back it up. Where might I find some information about the cost of the service academies, how many grads leave after their initial commitment and Such?

Thomas E. Ricks: Thanks. I hope you are doing well.

Facts are hard to come by on this. All the cadets are screaming for data, but data can be manipulated. Just how would you calculate the cost of operating West Point for one year?

Also I don't think that it is necessarily bad if officers leave after their initial commitment. First, a lot of guys are spending a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I don't think they should have to keep on doing that if they are ready to move on, or need to get out for the sake of their families. Second, I think it is good for the rest of society to have former military around---I notice this in congressional hearings. I just wish there were more former enlisted in Congress!

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Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Ricks, Thought provoking piece, not sure if I agree or disagree. What is interesting is that the response in many cases reflects the polarized nature of today's politics -- note how many people have taken your "ROTC programs work really well and are cost effective" argument as "West Point stinks," which of course isn't what you were saying.

Thomas E. Ricks: Yep.

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APO AE : Tom,

I went to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) part of the National Defense University at Ft. McNair. It is a senior service college equivalent to the other War Colleges. It was extremely challenging and thought provoking and certainly left no time for golf in the afternoon. With a daily average of 100 pages of homework along with papers after a full day of class it was a very intense academic year. No civilian school can give you the opportunity as ICAF does to interact with your colleagues from other services along with civilians from many other federal depts, from industry, and with senior military leaders from other countries. All this while receiving lectures from Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, and presidents. Truly a unique experience with many lively debates that opened my mind and made me a better officer and leader. You can't tell me that I could have got that from anywhere else.

Thomas E. Ricks: Yeah, I'd include ICAF with NDU as a possible exception.

That said, overall, I'd put my money and intellectual firepower in the intermediate military educational system, like the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. As a friend said to me yesterday, that is where you will get the most bang for your buck, in terms of shaping the leaders of tomorrow.

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Fairfax, Va.: Come on guys. I disagree with Tom's view on the academies and war colleges. But he IS one of the best military affairs reporters out there. Please stop the ad hominen attacks.

Thomas E. Ricks:

Honestly, I don't mind. I've always thought that people resort to personal attacks when they are unable to respond effectively to the argument being made. So they begin to lose the argument when they begin attacking.

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Washington, D.C.: If we didn't question the reasons for how we do things, we'd still be speaking the King's English and paying tea taxes! Good to hear some other opinions out there (and I am a GS-15 Army civilian employee!)

Thomas E. Ricks: Megadittoes.

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USAFA c/o '95: Mr Ricks,

As an Air Force Academy graduate, I take extreme exception to your article. Tell me...are you a service academy graduate? Have you personally experienced the extremely rigorous and challenging academic programs at one of the service academies? Or were you, perhaps, denied a service academy entrance in your past?

While I will agree that some of the best offers I have had the pleasure to work with came from ROTC or direct-commission commissioning sources, I will not agree that across the board ROTC provides better educated officers.

You make the statement that if we were to send service academy officer candidates through ROTC programs, "they also would be educated alongside future doctors, judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of Congress. Are you not aware of the number of excellent doctors, lawyers, professors, and politicians who are service academy graduates?

You also make the statement that we should send our officers to receive "a military education at a short-term military school." We need to keep in mind here that the purpose of a military education (to include ROTC) is supposed to be the development of the best OFFICERS the military has to offer while providing them with a degree...not to create the best student possible who just happens to be an officer. Do you really want someone who has had maybe 4-6 months of military training to be leading your son or daughter in combat? There is a level of military education at the service academies that is unavailable anywhere else, and has nothing to do with Geometry or English...you are given the tools to be able to lead hundreds of personnel in a time of war, to be able to make the tough decisions in a time of crisis, and to be the best you can possibly be physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

Service academy graduates are not better than ROTC graduates, not by any means...but they are different. I have classmates who are the worst possible officers I have ever met...but I have met just as many ROTC commissioned officers who were very clearly in the wrong line of work. While the service academies may not be "real" schools, if you were to close them down I guarantee you would very quickly notice a difference in the make-up of your office corps...and not for the better.

Any officer candidate who is worth their salt is going to continually strive to better themselves and to recognize unwarranted biases when they present themselves, whether those biases be military or civilian developed (as it is naive to think that civilian institutions do not also develop and promote their own biases)...not allow themselves to be brainwashed.

I, along with hundreds of my classmates, experienced the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my life while at the Air Force Academy -- academically and militarily. And believe me...if your assessment that we "reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games" was correct, my handicap would be MUCH higher and I would not be the officer, leader, academic, or person that I am today!

You are entitled to your opinion, and I can appreciate that - but I believe your opinion is uninformed.

Respectfully, Dana L. Dallas, Maj, USAF, MSC

Thomas E. Ricks: Here is another opinion. I am posting it partly because it is civil, and partly because he posted his name. I like a man willing to put his name behind his opinion!

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: For not putting much stock in current ratings of colleges, how are you able to state that Yale was a "good" education and the academies aren't? You never attended a academy and it appears you have no statistics or solid evidence to prove your point. The views of a handful of officers, enlisted, or cadets does not prove that we should get rid of the academies. How, with data, are you able to prove your thesis?

Thomas E. Ricks: I am sorry for not getting to all the questions.

To close out, I will post those I haven't addressed that appear to come from academy cadets.

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West Point, N.Y.: I am a cadet about to graduate from West Point. I think I have a better perspective on it than the cadet who was here for a year or two and then planning to leave to go ROTC. Yes, the officers who teach us here mostly hold master's degrees, but the curriculum is created by the Ph.D.-holding faculty members, and the instructors who teach it stick very rigidly to the curriculum. I am offended by the claim that we are receiving community college educations. From comparing notes with my counterparts at civilian colleges, I am convinced that I take a heavier and more challenging course load than 90 percent of them. My questions are, have you seen the curriculum at West Point? Have you been to West Point and experienced the difference in the atmosphere here as opposed to a civilian institution, especially the moral/ethical climate? And although your comment about not being taught by TA's at Yale may be true, what do you have to say with regards to the hundreds of civilian colleges that offer ROTC that are not Ivy League schools? Because I know that many of those schools allow classes to be taught by TA's.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here's one

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West Point, N.Y.: Where did your information come from that this institute gives a community college education? As a current cadet, I can vouch that the academics here are nowhere close to easy and we continue to have one of the highest amount of scholarship winners than many ivy league schools.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here's two.

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: As to your West Point Cadet. I guarantee you that kid is too weak to excel there. He didn't make it and now he's making excuses. Take a look at the Air Force Academy -- do you know how educated those teachers and instructors are? Community College? Bull. The cadets at the AFA are working day in and day out to cover an incredible range of subjects and going into the depth that ROTC students can only dream of.

Why don't you get some real background. Yes, we should defend our institutions, and I have complete faith that they will be defended.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here's 3.

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Highland Falls, N.Y.: There is little evidence to support your claims. Few institutions offer a better education, with West Point ranking consistently in the top 10, if not first. Furthermore, faculty at the "more rigorous" schools you proclaim almost never are Ph.D.'s for undergrads. Given that the faculty teaching at West Point ARE top ranked alumni attending those very same "rigorous" schools you tout for their graduate degrees, what evidence is there that West Point does not actually offer the finest education along with geographic, racial, and economic equality?

Thomas E. Ricks: Here's four.

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Annapolis, Md.: On what grounds do you consider a service academy education equal to a "community college" education? If anything, the classes are more specific and have much better student to teacher ratio than "prestigious" civilian schools.

Thomas E. Ricks: Here's five.

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Randolph AFB, Texas, HHQ Air Education and Training Command: Dear Mr. Ricks, 1. I always enjoy reading your work 2. I have been Commandant of Cadets at the USAFA,Commander of Air University which includes AF ROTC,OTS and the Air War College. etc. 3. All of our schools are academically rigorous and accredited! If you would like I will personally give you a tour of of these world class schools. General Steve Lorenz, AETC/CC )

Thomas E. Ricks: And a note from a general.

Thanks for this,

Tom

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West Point, N.Y.: Sir, I am a cadet at USMA and I find serious fault in your arguments. How did you make up your argument that we are getting a "community college" education? ALL of my instructors have a masters at LEAST and ALL of my civilian instructors have a Ph.D. The corps is very upset with your conclusion because we take great pride in our quality teachers, small class size, and the wide course of study. You have issued a heavy insult against 12,000 of the hardest working students in the nation and their academic, military, and physical instructors.

Thomas E. Ricks: Whoops, just found another.

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Ricks's current book is "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008" and his blog, The Best Defense, is his daily take on national security.

Additional Coverage: On Leadership: Any Point to West Point?

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

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