Nix Annapolis?

April 2009


I was just going to comment on Ryan’s bit – but things went long and I wanted to throw some other ideas at it.

To give the lazy a summary, it was Sunday that Ricks threw this red meat in the pit.

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

Of course we could spend another post or two on why a long-time observer of military officers would find academy graduates more cynical … but let’s move forward.

I have voiced it before, and I will do it again. I think the way we do our military academies is wrong. In many ways, I agree with Ricks, but with this change. We should keep them, but turn them, post ROTC and undergrad, into something in line with the way the Brits do things – i.e. Britannia Royal Naval College – but stretch it to a year. None of this “we’ll give you a Masters too…” BS either.

No. Full frontal, full time, fullbore soaking on what a Naval Officer needs to know and what he must have in his head to lead Sailors. Let the Army and the USAF do the same.

That is a recipe for quality Junior Officers. Oh, and build a metric butt-ton of YPs and another Tall Ship to go with it.

I do think he is a bit off here though,

We should also consider closing the services’ war colleges, where colonels supposedly learn strategic thinking. These institutions strike me as second-rate. If we want to open the minds of rising officers and prepare them for top command, we should send them to civilian schools where their assumptions will be challenged, and where they will interact with diplomats and executives, not to a service institution where they can reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games. Just ask David Petraeus, a Princeton PhD.

No, we need them but there is one change that needs to be made as soon as possible. No one should go to the Naval War College or her sisters until post CDR Command. Too many great O3-O4 and pre-Command O5s are at War College where they are best placed either working on their PhD at a civilian institution like Ricks likes, or better yet – honing and executing their tactical level warfighting skills in their prime like the taxpayer expects them to.

I know Major Staffs better than I wish I did – and there is no reason someone needs to be at a War College prior to CDR Command in order to function at a Major Joint Staff or higher in the positions a LT or LCDR or non-CAPT(sel) CDR will fill. Full stop.

That is a change that no one, no one in 10 years, has convinced me would be a bad idea.

Crossposted at CDR Salamander.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Training & Education

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  • Fouled Anchor

    CDRSalamander, so if I’m reading this correctly, you’re talking about a JO finishing school of sorts. Heavy on strategy, tactics, seamanship, and leadership?

    What about newly minted Marine officers? Would they attend, or would this be strictly Navy? The Navy version of Marine Basic School perhaps?

    Considering your desire to provide recent ROTC grads with “what [they] must have in [their] head[s] to lead Sailors,” I think a large number of Navy Chiefs, in training and education roles, needs to be part of this equation.

  • Once a Chief Always a Chief!

    Fouled Anchor:

    I agree in part with you that Chief Petty Officers should be part of the training and development equation. Whether it’s a “large” part, I’m unsure. The “resetting of the Mess” started by the prior MCPON, and the new lead of MCPON West, will pay dividends to the Navy as a whole. What has happened in recent times, in my opinion, is that many (not all) PO1’s through SCPO’s, have migrated to “checking the blocks” to get advanced. Most of the time the Selection Board can figure it out, although some block checkers get by. They are easily recongized.

    Even today when I asked a Senior Chief about her career track as a khaki (since this year is her first time up for Master Chief), she went through her duty stations, but was real quick to tell me she obtained her BS Degree in Psychology. Well good and fine for her – I congratulated her on this accomplishment. But tell me where you served, how many you led, what challenges you faced, and how your command, your people, and lastly, you, succeeded.

    Unfortunately, having been privileged to sit may CPO-MCPO boards, the BS degree will give her a lift at some point if she is competitive, but at what cost in the larger picture?

    Chief’s need to focus on leading and developing White Hats, and developing and training Junior Officers for success. It’s all for the “greater good”.

    My two cents anyway.

  • Matt

    I’ll leave the actual mechanics of this proposal to others. Instead, I’m going to voice my whole hearted approval of this idea. I’m a boot of all boot Ensigns, with 3.5 weeks at my first command. I’m in charge of over 20 sailors, and, frankly, I have no idea what I’m doing with them. Luckily, the chief I’m working with is awesome, so she’s showing me what to do quickly.

    I know my designator well, and I can do jobs that involve it. What I don’t know is the Navy. Processes, terms, personnel management, etc. Of course, I kind of got the short end of the stick in many ways, coming through OCS, so I learned there how not to be yelled at by a Marine instead of how to be a Naval Officer.

    I don’t know if we need a year, but a ‘finishing school’ of some kind I think could do a world of good.

  • WOW! What a great idea. I have worked with JOs for the past 20+ years and can spot an academy grad from a ROTC or OCS grad in about 2 minutes of conversation. I have also encountered cadets from both academy and ROTC on thier “summer cruise”. The ROTC folks have much better social skills and seem to get along much better with the enlisted personnel on board. The military (Army, Navy, AF, Marines, Coasties) need to stick to the bussiness of teaching military things. Let the US’s universities take care of the rest.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Once a Chief Always a Chief! – First off, GREAT NAME! You certainly make some good points about Chief career paths. All too often the emphasis for some Chiefs, and often their leadership, is on the wrong things. I’m always happy to see someone get a degree, as long as they didn’t ignore their profession to do so. Chiefs are charged with developing enlisted AND junior officer Sailors, so having Chiefs involved in any program which trains and develops these two groups is the right thing.

    Matt said: “Luckily, the [C]hief I’m working with is awesome, so she’s showing me what to do quickly.” Shipmate, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. I’m happy you have a good Chief, and I’m happier still that you have sense enough to learn from her. It seems to be less common lately for JOs to actually be receptive to this training. JOs need to be open to training from their Chiefs.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Very interesting comments and blog.

    I am not sure USNA v NROTC is the issue. The idea being talked about seems to be that of a USN “finishing school” for all new ensigns, regardless of MOS. Teaching them how to be Officers and Ensigns in a way that neither NROTC or USNA can. That concept would equate directly with what the Marine Corps does with all its 2ndLts and WOs. That being The Basic School in Quantico VA.

    As I listened the arguments about such a “finishing school” program over the years, the two biggest identified impediments to such a concept for the Army and Navy were size of commissioning classes and cost (interrelated). Many times the TBS concept has been enviously eyed by leaders in both services, but found to be an exceedingly difficult idea to sell.

    There have been proposals from time to time (to save money) to do away with or truncate TBS, but the USMC has held on tightly to the idea, though, and the benefits are absolutely inestimable. Every new officer learns to be an infantry platoon commander to a basic level, and myriad other things about the Corps and leadership in general. The value of commonality of experience and career-long comraderie cannot be overstated.

    Is there a way to implement a similar program for ALL Navy Ensigns, regardless of commissioning source? Ideas?

  • Hayball

    URR: Once upon a time, long ago, each warfare specialty went through its own version of the basic school. A lot of the benefits of TBS got transmitted at those. Not surprisingly each of the major specialties tended to be a bit clannish, with a lot of intramural competition for resources and priorities tending to reinforce it to the point of development into what were refered to as “unions” for each designator.

    Currently – this old retired guy can’t really say with any accuracy.

    But just to get the discussion going, I’ll throw out some red meat and let everybody pile on, correcting my misapprehensions with great glee.

    It seems the Surface Warfare guys have done major cutbacks on their basic officer course. I’ve seen stuff says wasn’t a red hot idea.

    Submariners are running their own shop just fine thank you.

    Seals ditto. EOD/Diving and Salvage, ditto.

    Flight training is flight training

    Supply Corps school, I have heard nothing, presume it is much the same in Athens, GA, but honestly I don’t know.

    Medical folks: light rinse, blow dry, here’s your orders, best of luck (just kidding…I really don’t know what they do.)

    CEC: dunno. They seem to do ok, near as I can tell. If it ain’t broke…

    Many of the restricted line (legal, Engineering Duty, Intell, PAO, Oceanography) transfer in from the Line after first sea tour, with introductory specialty training “in the pipeline.

    The JAG’s do something for their fresh caught minnows just out of law school much like unto medical types, I think.

    The Navy has a lot of very specialized groups, they tend to each run their own officer basic course, based on what each community deems appropriate. There is a big hunger to put the Ensigns to work as soon as it can be managed, without shortchanging them too badly on basic professional preparation before they kick ’em into the deep end.

    I think this is “another nice to have” that melts in the hot sun of “must have a body now”.

    One could make the case the Marines are just part of the overall pattern, just another naval officer specialty. ;->

    Alley alley in free (I’m going to the bomb shelter, I’ll read y’alls’ response about two half lives from now when the radioactivity cools off a bit).


  • UltimaRatioReg

    “One could make the case the Marines are just part of the overall pattern, just another naval officer specialty.”

    Oh no you couldn’t!

  • Fouled Anchor

    I just watched “A Few Good Men” the other night. What was that Jack Nicholson said? “You $%#^&@ with the wrong Marine.”

  • Byron

    And a cannon cocker at that?! Hope you remember how to dig a foxhole, Chief! 🙂

  • Fouled Anchor

    Me? I didn’t say Marines were just another naval specialty. URR’s rounds were pointed at a different target.

    I just got a kick out of URR’s “Oh no you couldn’t!”

  • UltimaRatioReg

    That was Hayball, pushing buttons…. He probably got a chuckle out of my reaction as he poured his afternoon single malt.

  • RickWilmes

    Instead of Nix Annapolis, what should be done is to identify what is fundamentally wrong with what is happening there. Until that happens any recommendations like the ones suggested above will not change the underlying problem. Its like putting a different shade of lipstick on a pig. No matter what the color the lips look like you are still kissing a pig.

    My suggestion is to take a serious look at Mahan and his ideas. Nix Mahan instead of Nixing Annapolis.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    A substantial cost is the very large hump in the numbers of P2T2 for USMC officers in their initial tours. (P2T2 = patients, prisoners, transients and training, all non-effective days) That has been a bullet the USMC has been very willing to bite for a lot of reasons.

    The Army couldn’t do it, from tales told. Too big/expensive by far. Would the USN? The idea would be a course where SWO, Supply, air contracts, bubbleheads, CEC, Medical Corps, and JAG, and even SEALS would all be mixed together for a significant period to reinforce basic officer skills and knowledge, get exposure to senior enlisted, some basic leadership training, and general Navy knowledge, history and traditions. The course might be 90-120 days.

    Seems to be a natural follow-on to MANY comments on this site from various blogs posted. What say you out there? Possible? Desirable?

  • Prof Gene

    The 90-day “finishing school” for all new Ensigns is attractive for a host of reasons:
    – Puts all communities together for a moment (which happens nowhere else excpet perahps the PCO course at CLS)
    – Serves as a “leveler” for our severally many commissioning sources (USNA, 50xROTC sites, OCS/OIS, LDO/CWO, Chaplain School…)
    – Gives us a way to meet the JCS requirements for Primary level JPME that we have been blowing off for most of two decades (now we have a 75-hour PPME course on NKO that is not only not required, it is not even acknowledged…)
    – Helps us address the warrior ethos and institutional culture challenges CNO was trying to get at in publishing a “Navy Ethos” recently
    It is also incredibly expensive:
    – We commission something like 1800 Ensigns a year. 90 days apiece times 1800 is an Individuals Account load that costs tens of millions.
    – For a 90-day course you would have an average student load of 450. That’s a large classroom building, a large BOQ and maybe a parking garage (based on availability of parking on most Navy installations). And probably 50 faculty and two dozen CPO mentors and an O-6 (or O-7?) CO. And some curriculum development staff and gym access and…
    – Because the bulk of our Ensigns are commissioned in May/June, the bulk of the student throughput would be in summer/fall, so we’d have a student load of 600+ (and a requisitely larger staff) Jul-Nov and a much smaller student load (and an underutilized staff) the rest of the year.
    Desirable, yes. Possible, probably not.

  • Prof Gene

    With respect to the war college issue, Tom Ricks’ experience doesn’t match the facts. NEASC (the New England Association of Schools & Colleges), which accredits the Naval War College Master’s degree, thinks that NWC is anything but “second-rate”. NEASC (which also rates Harvard, MIT, Yale, UConn, Brown…) rates NWC as one of the top M.A.-granting institutions in New England. And Army, Air Force and Marine officers generally view NWC as the top assignment for war college study (and not just because Newport is nicer than Ft Leavenworth – most NWC students are not here during the heart of the tourist season). BTW, GEN Petraeus is a war college grad – as a Major.
    Giving more officers opportunity for graduate study at civilian institutions would be a good thing, but it would not give officers more exposure to “diplomats and executives” – they get more of that at a war college. Most CivIns MA and PhD students are 20-somethings with no “real world” experience. Every class at NWC includes students from the State Dept (two former ambassadors are on the faculty), CIA, DIA, and a spectrum of other federal agencies, as well as students from 50 or so foreign nations. And all of them are experienced, mid-career professionals in their fields. You won’t get that kind of mix at Princeton.
    A recent JCS study of officers assigned to joint jobs (major command, JTF, COCOM, Pentagon) found that Navy officers, on average, need about seven months to become competent at those jobs because of their lack of preparation (both education and experience). That was true for all Navy paygrades from LT through CAPT. At NWC, Navy officers are consistently far less prepared to handle the curriculum requirements than their peers from other services. And Navy flag officers from the JTF level up are looking for far more officers with war college credentials than are available. NWC is now running a five-week crash course (MSOC) in Navy/joint planning for officers and senior enlisted going to the Maritime HQ staffs – those students generally believe the course should be longer and more detailed. And anyone coming to Newport looking to brush up on their golf game is reading too much about global warming and too little about average local temperatures…