Monday, December 5, 2011

Military Academies and Leadership Training

In a previous blog, I wrote about the a specific instance that showcased differences between some West Point commissioned officers, and some ROTC/Mustang commissioned officers (found here). Looking back, I realize that this might not show my true opinion of the military academies.

Back in High School, I desperately wanted to go to West Point. So desperate, that even though I was already an Eagle Scout, Varsity Baseball player, Editor of the school Yearbook, a solid A to high B student, and thespian (or so I thought) for several school plays, I joined another sport (JV volleyball; I know, I know) simply because most West Point cadets participated in at least 2 sports.

My parents took me for a visit my Junior year of High School, and I fell in love with the pristine campus, with the order and discipline shown by the cadets. Every room was immaculate, the cadets were polite, well informed, and constantly challenged. I wanted to have that life so badly I could almost taste it.

Not to put all my eggs in one basket, I applied to the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy as well. Then, because I knew I wanted to be in the military, I applied for an Army and an Air Force ROTC scholarship. I think I went a little overboard.

 During the vetting process I saw a lot of the same candidates, going through information meetings, interviews, physicals, fitness tests. We got use to seeing each other. I interviewed with 1 Senator and 1 Representative (as well as the other Senator's representatives). I think I managed 15 pull-ups in one fitness test session (probably couldn't do that now), and flubbed the basketball throw because I practiced a technique that wasn't authorized. The whole process was an interesting experience (and in some ways very humbling when you start comparing yourself to other candidates).

In the end, I was wait listed for West Point; the admission slot taken by a world class female cellist (who didn't make it through the first summer training cycle, yet another blog entry).  I did receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy, as well as a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship and a 3-year Air Force ROTC scholarship. Apparently, as far as the Navy was concerned, they had issues with my not knowing the difference between a boat and ship (an actual interview question I got wrong... hey, at the time I was trying to be a Marine, don't judge).

In the end, I turned down the Air Force (why go to the Air Force if your eyesight precludes you from being a pilot?), took the 4-year Army ROTC scholarship and went to Syracuse University. 

Back to the Academies. They are a ready source of leaders. Young men and women go through tests and trials at those locations that few in the general populous can comprehend. From day one, they are molded to become leaders. I think it is a first class education and a wonderful environment.

However, after spending time in the Army, and the real world, there is a shortcoming to the Academies. Even though the cadets are tested beyond anything anyone else has, they don't have the true college experience. They don't know what it is like to get away with something, because it is incredibly hard to get away with anything in that environment, and the punishment is severe; so that you don't entertain the notion of trying. From the beginning, they are told, don't do it unless I give you permission, and as they move up the ranks, they do the same thing to the new class. Even as the cadets progress, they are still in an environment that frowns on self-expression and innovation (although I am sure there are inventive cadets out there).

Now some people need that type of structure. I can think of several people who would have done better in the Academies than in an ROTC program (but I am not sure they would meet the strict entry criteria). Looking back, I am not sure I am one of them. My regular college experience taught me time management and self reliance that wouldn't have been an issue at West Point. I also learned how to "get away" with solutions to issues, which I know wouldn't have been tolerated at West Point.

Bottom line, I cannot say I am a better leader because of my choices, but I do know I am a different one. The Academies produce leaders (without a doubt), some of the best in the world. For everyone who has gone through an Academy, I give you credit. You did more than 99.9% of the rest of the population, and I know you grew because of it. Thank you!

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