First off, I am a little hesitant to cover this because I feel like I am legitimizing a piece of shock journalism. I’m of the opinion the author of this article wrote it to stir up outrage and the Washington Post desperately published it to attract readers as they recover from a  86% drop in profits. But Tom Ricks thinks I’m getting a community college education. In fact, Tom Ricks wants to shut down my school, West Point and the Air Force Academy. I think Ricks has been fairly well rebutted by Galrahn. Mr. Mullaney provides a strong rebuttal here.

I could go through the article point by point but I think that has been done ad nauseum. My community college education has provided leaders in public and private sectors and is one of the top 10 school for number of Rhodes Scholars. Do we have room to improve? Sure, we always will. This has all been pointed out elsewhere in greater detail. I’ll try to add to the discussion in ways others have not.

What Mr. Ricks is saying that we should not invest in a sanctum where the public and students are reminded of the expectations of the officer corps and members of the armed services. This is our heritage. “Our” incoporates OCS, ROTC, and service academy graduates.

I just want to say “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” It’s on display in Memorial Hall, the literal and figurative heart of my school. I also want to remind you of the the Lion of Fallujah, Maj. Doug Zembiec, who is also remembered there. I want you to remember men like Colonel Ripley who can be found on the Yard surrounded by midshipmen who wonder how they’ll ever live up to the examples set before them.

Does this happen at civilian schools? No. The University of Washington voted down having a memorial to one of the greatest American fighter aces of World War II because they “didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce.” But can this happen at civilian schools? Never to the extent it happens here. It just isn’t their mission.

It’s my school’s mission to remind visitors and students to “Damn the Torpedoes!” It’s my school’s mission to remind everyone who Nimitz and King were. And it’s my school’s mission to commemorate the sacrifices made in war.

Get rid of the service academies and you destroy the guardians of this heritage. Can anyone seriously suggest this?

Posted by Jeffrey Withington in Training & Education

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  • CAPT P.M. Leenhouts USN (Ret)

    “Get rid of the service academies and you destroy the guardians of this heritage. Can anyone seriously suggest this?”

    The correct question to ask, seriously, is “why would such a suggestion be made?” There are many possible answers, not least of which is that if one is going to seriosuly damage or destroy the single most admired institution in the United States, the Armed Forces, one begins at the root.

  • Hayball

    Full disclosure. I never set foot in USNA’s Yard until I was a LCDR, qualified and selected for command. Regular NROTC, New Mexico College of Cows and Mines (aka UNM).

    Never much liked the baseline Naval Academy Graduate, my experiences with them as shipmates, Captains, and ISIC’s was decidedly mixed. Too many wanted to relieve late, turn over early, take care of their friends (from USNA) first, wouldn’t mentor, tended to exude a slight wiff of certitude that they were the apex of evolution. Thought lesser breeds less intelligent, dedicated, and hardworking, and said so, to them, as their Seniors. Not very respectful of enlisted people (like my Grandfather, Father, Uncles, and Brothers).

    Not the point.

    The baseline can be pretty small potatoes. They recruit from the human race, no help for it.

    The best of them were, are, and will remain, awesome. The best of them set the standard. For all of us.

    I met John Bulkeley and Gene Flucky,I was flat assed gobsmacked. I knew what their war records were, pretty much. They were also utterly impressive in person.

    Just the thought that I wore the same uniform, lead tha same kind of sailors, sailed over and under the same water made me try harder, hang tougher, push myself further so I could be worthy to be a brother officer of theirs. A redheaded kid brother, but still a brother. One in the long line, Preble to Porter to Farragut to Dewey to Sims to Bulkeley to my contemporaries, and now to the guys doing the job so well as I write.

    “Get rid of the service academies and you destroy the guardians of this heritage. Can anyone seriously suggest this?”

    You damn betcha. Our heritage. Our country’s heritage. Our children and grandchildren’s heritage. Because they can’t understand, they have no frame of reference, and we are strange
    and threatening beings. They can’t get that the Navy was, is, and will be the shield of the republic. Don’t know much about history, geography, or the old grey widow maker.

    To them the Navy is just a rival for wealth, power, prestige and the perquisites that accompany them. And our heritage must go into the memory hole in the service of their ambition, to advance their agenda, because of that rivalry.

    THAT is the point.

    I have no idea if they “hold their manhood cheap”.

    We don’t, can’t and won’t. We, the beneficiaries and guardians of that heritage (some of whom will never set foot on USNA’s yard), will and must preserve the memory of the deeds, great and small, done in the service and protection of our republic, by the good and the great from “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”. That memory is the heritage and duty we pass to those who step up to the line, as we fall out for Fiddlers Green, each in our turn.

    USNA is the biggest receiver and transmitter of our message, not the only one, but the main one. So we all get a block on its PMS sched.

    That’s a big reason why I show up here. How about you.

  • RickWilmes

    Mr. Ricks sees the effects not the cause. What is at the root of all the service academies problems is philosophical. Get rid of the self-less, self-sacrificial pragmatism that has run amok within their halls. Otherwise they will slowly rot from the insides like a diseased oak tree or the remnants of what is inside Tecumseh.

    First step, stop calling them service academies.
    Service to what? Service to the nation = statism.

    Rename them defense academies?
    Defense of what? The Constitution of the U.S., individual rights and liberty.

  • Byron

    “Get rid of the self-less, self-sacrificial pragmatism that has run amok within their halls.”

    Guess this means the next time a grenade rolls into the fighting position, that it’s every man for himself. Or when a ship is heavily battle damaged, an officer won’t take the time to dog down a hatch to keep the ship from sinking, and in turn, give up his life to do it, but instead preserve his own life.

  • RickWilmes

    Byron, what evidence do you have that would lead you to conclude that a rationally selfinterested individual would not do the tasks you describe?

  • doc75

    Have to agree with Byron on this one. Logic trail: 1.) grenade rolls into fighting position. 2.) I will die if I jump on it or take the time to warn my fellow Marine/airmen/soldier/sailor. 3.) Therefore, I will get as far away from this as possible.

    Greater love has no man than to lay his life down for his friends. Not rational. Not self interested.

  • Byron

    Rick, sometimes rational analysis will not compute the tough equations of war. That’s what the service academies teach. It’s something that civilian universities will never, ever understand (with the exception of VMI, Citadel, Norwich, etc).

  • RickWilmes

    [Comment deleted by Moderator]

  • Fouled Anchor

    Jeff, nice post. It appears that your community college education has at least provided you with writing ability and some ability to see through the argument and get to the point.

    I’ll be one of the first to give ‘ring knockers’ a hard time, although I have a lot of respect for many of them. The service academies provide officers from a cross-section of our society. Some of the best – and some of the worst – leaders I’ve served with came from the Naval Academy. Not surprisingly, some of the best and some of the worst came from other commissioning sources.

    And service academies they should be. RickWilmes suggestion to “First step, stop calling them service academies” strikes as unnecessary semantics. They are the academies of our armed services. And suggesting that service to one’s nation is somehow a bad thing (“Service to what? Service to the nation = statism”), is more than a little insulting to those who have dedicated their lives to such.

  • RickWilmes

    Fouled Anchor, which is primary the nation or the Constitution of the Unted States?

  • Byron

    The oath of an officer: “do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

  • UltimaRatioReg


    There is a very wide chasm between Hobbes and Stalin. You seem to consistently intimate that there is not.

  • Fouled Anchor

    RickWilmes, I don’t necessarily see a difference. I think the two are inseparable.

  • “which is primary the nation or the Constitution of the Unted States?”

    I would argue that since the very foundation of the nation is rooted in the Constitution, neither is primary and that they are indeed one and the same.

    To attempt to distinguish between the two is a useless exercise in obfuscation and detracts from the essential point of this entire article, which is that the Academies stand for an institution dedicated to something higher than itself. An idea that is sorely lacking in American society today.

  • RickWilmes

    Fouled Anchor, if our constitution was done away with would our nation disappear and would you be willing to serve the country absent the Constitution?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Are you referring to the ideas of the social compact as laid out by Hobbes and Locke as being inseparable from Russian Bolshevism?

  • Desert Sailor

    The author above NAILS IT!! BZ sir! I’m a Navy Mustang. My writing foundation and formal recognized education somewhat peaked in HS. There have been a few college coures along the way. And there are those pesky “C” school classes that ate up 2-3 years..I digress.

    “Ring Knockers” have their place here. They ARE the portion of the Officer Corps that is heritage aware from the day they step aboard. I welcome that, we need more!

    And when they get too snotty….there’ll be a Mustang around for training.

    Ricks really does need to research his topic a bit more.

    Oh, and as for RickWilmes – the two are connected at their core. There is no such thing as seperating them. Our oath prevents that.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Yeah, what Fast Nav said.

    URR, Hobbes and Locke? Bolshvism? No, I’m not referring to any of that. I’m referring to what I believe is in the heart of the patriots that defend this great nation…and the constitution. I don’t think most vets ever went into battle, or bootcamp, while considering the difference between the two, or which is primary.

  • Hayball

    Since the nation is a constitutional republic of of sovereign states, whose citizens’ rights are guaranteed by the constitution, which limits and empowers all branches of its government, I don’t see much point to all this hair splitting.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Sorry, Fouled. Must be ready for my sixth cup of coffee. Didn’t sound right that you were lumping the two together.

    And agreed with you and Hayball, one and the same.

  • Fouled Anchor

    No worries. I’m on my fourth cup…maybe I’ll write better this afternoon.

    And I agree with Hayball: “I don’t see much point to all this hair splitting.” We were led off topic by the “useless…obfuscation,” as Fast Nav so eloquently phrased it.

  • Byron

    Concur with Hayball and the Chief. “Useless…obfuscation”; nice!

  • RickWilmes

    Question for Jeff,

    Outside of your major how much time is spent studying the U.S. Constitution?

    Or can you give me a rough estimate of how many hours the average Midshipmen spends studying the meaning behind the U.S. Constitution?

  • jwithington

    Well, one of our core courses is American government. Beyond that, I don’t really think there is an average midshipman so I can’t answer that question.

  • RickWilmes

    How much time in your American Government course was spent on studying the U. S. Constitution?

  • Please, stay on topic…

  • jwithington

    I really appreciate the input from Desert Sailor. My first company officer (responsible for the development of ~150 mids) was a prior enlisted Marine captain. He made it to Staff Sergeant and then was commissioned through a non-Academy source. I always find it very interesting to get input from prior enlisted officers.

    I think Hayball also brings a great perspective “USNA is the biggest receiver and transmitter of our message, not the only one, but the main one,” nicely sums up my point.