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Copyright by John T. Reed
John T. Reed comments are in [red].
I cannot thank you enough for your page "Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?". [Actually, one of my classmates printed it out to read and said it was 125 pages long!]
After visiting West Point for a Boy Scout Camporee at the age of 11, I "knew" that West Point was where I belonged. Every decision I made subsequently regarding my education, extracurricular, and athletics was motivated by the thought "How will this make me look to the Admissions Board?" [Me, too, although it was visiting my uncle who worked at the Hotel Thayer on the post at West Point that started it.] After so much work and dedication, I was crushed when I received a letter from USMA denying me admission.
About a week after receiving that letter, I got a call from my regional Admissions Officer. He asked if I had ever considered the prep school [The U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School is at Fort Monmouth, NJ where I was stationed twice in my brief four-year Army officer “career.” It students are U.S. military active-duty soldiers. After completing that course, a number of them get admitted to West Point the following year. If not, they are still in the Army and have to complete their term of enlistment which I suspect is three years or some such.] and if I would like to be put in the competition pool for a slot as an invitational reservist (a kid straight from High School) at USMAPS. Obviously, I replied with a resounding yes. I was again, crushed, when I got another call from the Officer stating that I had not received a slot. He said that I could be placed on a wait list for USMAPS, but it would not be likely that I would get in based on the number of athletic recruits in line ahead of me.
So, I enrolled at a local university, picked my classes, enrolled in ROTC, attended orientation and prepared for life there. Two weeks before R[eception—first day there for the students]-Day for USMAPS, I was called by the same officer, again. I was shocked when the words he uttered were "I would like to offer you a slot at the Prep School". I was blown away. I responded by asking him "Are you being serious?". It was hard for me to believe that my ultimate dream for the last 6 years was coming to fruition. I obviously accepted, canceled all arrangements with the university, and prepared for USMAPS.
I reported on R-Day with a shaved head [no need—they do that there for you and they enjoy it so don’t prevent them from having that fun], two duffel bags, and a die hard determination to be the best of the best at the Prep School. When my father mentioned that I should have held off on canceling my arrangements with the other college "just in case", I was disgusted. I replied with, "Why? To set myself up for failure?" I was determined that the only way I would ever leave West Point would be by raising my right hand on graduation day and taking the Oath of Office to become a 2nd Lieutenant.
The first few days of Basic Training were hell, but I loved it in a weird way. I prided myself on the fact that the cadre had to work hard to find something to yell at me about. I was the one who was squared away and all my buddies would come to me for help. I enjoyed, more than anything else, the feeling of accomplishment I had when I was able to square a buddy away. I loved the training. After telling you how I loved all these things, you are probably wondering why I chose to leave.
There was one thing at the Prep School, and I am assuming West Point as well, that I did not love and I could not get past. The officers and the cadet cadre exuded an attitude and atmosphere of bloated self importance. I was first exposed to this when a cadet cadre [rising junior who was on summer duty from his normal assignment as a West Point cadet] said, in essence, if you do not graduate from West Point you are inferior. He said that, being at West Point, you will learn to hate ROTC guys and other non West Pointers. He went on to say that the officers who come out of ROTC and OCS are "mostly pieces of shit". I was astonished to say the least. I could not believe that this cadet held these beliefs. I kept thinking about two officers, both colonels, who were leaders in my Scout Troop. These two men were my role models as an adolescent and were my inspiration for wanting to join the military. I passed that cadet's attitude off as just an ignorant 21 year old with a "God Complex". [I never encountered such an attitude during my four years at West Point or my four years as an Army officer. See below what the attitude was about RTOC and OCS when I was in.]
[I expect the above paragraph will go viral around the non-service academy U.S. military officer corps worldwide shortly after I post it. That is, I expect it will be forwarded by OCS and ROTC officers to their fellow non-West Point officers in all services with an accompanying statement along the lines of, “Can you believe this shit!”]
The sad truth is, I kept seeing this "God Complex" and bloated sense of importance in most every cadre there, with few exceptions. Even an Officer there, who was a product of ROTC, spouted off how West Point produces the Army's finest and that officers from ROTC and OCS are of a lesser quality. What happened to the Army Values that they flaunted around so heavily? Especially respect. Respect that those individuals chose to serve their nation as well.
I saw so many contradictions between how we were told to act and how the cadet cadre [West Point cadets on summer duty between academic years at West Point. West Point cadets did not get summer assignments at USMAPS when I was a cadet.] acted. For instance, we were constantly told that officers are always supposed to be calm, cool, and collected, professional, and keep hold on their emotions. I recall many instances where the cadre disregarded this by throwing out profanity like a sailor, over reacting, and letting their emotions show through.
All these things that did not sit right with me led me to consider resigning. I did not want to become the kind of individual that most of the cadre had become. I did not want to subject myself to 5 years of being confined in an institution with ridiculous rules, attitudes, etc. to become an officer in the Army. When I voiced my intentions to resign, you would have thought I spit on the bible, burned the flag, or performed some similar act of dishonor. I was ridiculed as a quitter by many of the cadre and heard all the lines that "I had the golden ticket in my hands", "I am making the worst decision of my life", and that "I will always think back on how much of a mistake I am making". Its funny though, whenever I explained my reasons to a cadre who was willing to listen, they understood! I did not hear one person who took the time to talk to me say my reasons for leaving were bad, misinformed, stupid, or anything like that. My fellow classmates who allowed me to explain myself thought I was making a really smart choice, and wished they could do the same but felt their only option was to stay at USMAPS.
I left at the conclusion of Basic Training, so no one would have the misunderstanding that I quit because it was "too hard" or anything like that. I am glad to say that all my scholarships, enrollment, etc, have been reinstated at the university, and I will be attending at the end of this month as originally planned. I will use the next two years of ROTC to decide if the Army is for me. [As the Army goes, USMAPS is probably about five cuts above a regular Army unit. Fort Monmout is about ten cuts above a regular Army post. In other words, if you did not like USMAPS, you will probably hate the non-USMAPS, non-West Point Army.]
Although I am glad I left USMAPS, I do not regret attending for the time I did or applying to USMA. My goal of attending West Point is what motivated me to compete in varsity athletics, pursue Eagle Scout, become involved in student government, and countless other achievements. I have realized that APPLYING to West Point has made me who I am. Getting into USMA and attending USMAPS had nothing to do with success in life and my development to date. I have the good friends I do now, my achievements, my motivation to succeed, my desire to lead, and other things because I wanted to be the kind of person West Point looked for. It was all about becoming what West Point wanted in a young man. Because of West Point, I transformed myself from a socially awkward, fat, friendless, unhappy, unimportant, kid into a leader and an athlete, with quality friends, great achievements and all the good qualities that West Point looks for. I have West Point to thank for who I am and for laying a foundation for my future successes, even though I have never donned the Cadet Grays.
Your site has granted me solace in a time of questioning and has reassured me that I made the right decision for me. [Good]
John T. Reed response to the email:
I sensed at West Point what I called “Cream of the Cropism” and indeed I thought we were until I was a grad student at Harvard. There I discovered that West Point has no monopoly on excellent students and that West Point is near, but not at, the top in that department.
We did not learn to hate ROTC at West Point. Indeed, we rarely thought of them. We learned to be amused by ROTC officers at officers basic school where we observed they did not know how to wear their uniforms or give orders, but we figured they would eventually learn that stuff and be the same as us. And they did.
However, the military is too insular and inbred and being separated from society, it is understandable how some of them can convince each other that they are hot stuff. In fact, civilian entrepreneurs, coaches, contingent-fee plaintiff trial lawyers, farmers, and others in result-oriented professions are the most effective people in the world. Military personnel are a bit of a joke when it comes to true competence for the most part—a joke made funnier by their exaggerated opinions of themselves.
QUESTION: Was the guy saying non-West Point officers were pieces of shit a West Point graduate? I never heard a West Pointer talk like or even think like that. Plus, it is not prudent in an Army where most officers are ROTC and OCS. We knew we had more training and that admission to West Point was more selective than ROTC and OCS, but those things are not the be all and end all of officership.
West Pointers are better offices initially because of their much greater training. But that dissipates over about five years. OCS are better in some ways because they have more real Army experience than non-prior-service WP grads, but they are typically more blue collar, less educated, less smart, albeit smart enough. Being an Army officer is not rocket science which begs the question of why West Point—a rocket scientist producer—even exists.
The biggest gray hogs (those enthralled with West Point) are, amazingly,not graduates of West Point. They are usually ROTC officers (who repeatedly tried and failed to gain admission to West Point one suspects) and wives of West Pointers. We West Pointers thought those folks, like your ROTC TAC, were humorously naive and childishly star-struck. The most severe criticism I have received for my critique of West Point has come not from West Point graduates, but non-grads gray hogs including West Point wives and mothers of West Point cadets and grads. Memo to them: When the subject is West Point, I talk and you take notes. I have zero interest in and respect for your “expert” opinions about my alma mater, what it’s like to be a cadet, or what it means to be a graduate of West Point. My mom was a gray hog of sorts, but she and all the other gray hogs moms of my classmates also would have killed the superintendent if they truly knew how we were treated during Beast Barracks. It got easier three years later when I was a senior wecloming new cadets on their first day at West Point and it’s much easier now.
Being cool, calm, and collected all the time is a leadership mistake that Obama often makes. Recently, many complained that he was too cool about the suffering of people on the Gulf coast. He is too cool about everything. You have to use a range of emotions when you lead for things like inducing a sense of greater urgency when greater urgency is required. You also want to make an emotional connection to your subordinates when it is sincere. The cool-all-the-time approach blocks that.
I am pleasantly surprised that some of the cadre, including one rising senior West Point cadet, understood and supported your decision. I am not surprised at all that many of your classmates envied your courage. Remember, I was one of the ones who stayed until graduation (at West Point not USMAPS). I remember feeling somewhat wistfully envious when a classmate quit during plebe year. I think we almost all did.
That Golden Ticket stuff may be sincere, but it’s bullshit. It’s more of a bronze ticket and you can get one of those at, say, U of MD, which has the same SAT scores as West Point. Your Golden Ticket counselors are profoundly ignorant of life, especially life outside the Army. Where have they been since high school? In the Army and nowhere else. They have no idea what they are talking about. The current chief of staff of the Army is an ROTC guy. Apparently his platinum ticket trumped the golden tickets of thousands of West Pointers. I guess your rising junior West Point cadet leader would call General Casey The Piece of Shit of Staff or Piece of Shit in Chief rather than Chief of Staff. I also suspect that General Casey and the chain of command at West Point will know the identity of that junior within about one week of my posting this at my web site. I am glad to help that cadet’s development. He appears to need a lot of help. If his attitude about non-West Point officers is typical of today’s West Point cadets, USMA had better have a standdown to discuss and correct that ASAP.
I love your next-to-last paragraph. I said in my “Should You go to, or Stay at, West Point?” article that one of the great things about West Point is it gives you something noble to live up up to. Even Harvard does not do that. But it never occurred to me that you could get so much of that just from aspiring to go there. However, I too became a better person and student during high school in order to try to get admitted to West Point. You have made me realize that much of my living up to West Point motivation is the result of West Point’s influence on me BEFORE I entered on July 1, 1964.
One point of disagreement on your decision. I think you made the right decision, but partly for the wrong reasons. The mistake you made was to draw a broad conclusion from an overly small data set. Your bad cadre members at USMAPS, in my experience, are unrepresentative of the seven West Point classes I knew during my four years as a cadet and the other West Point graduates I have known who were not in those seven classes. I would say they are typical of the Army in general in their self-importance and hypocrisy, but not in the putting down of non-West Point officers. That seems to be a USMAPS-only phenomenon. Also, I graduated 42 years ago so maybe West Point cadets do think as you depict now, but I have never seen or heard of any evidence of that. In other words, if you had entered West Point itself instead of USMAPS, I suspect you would not have experienced what you describe and you might have stayed until graduation as a result.
1. USMAPS and maybe USMA apparently need a severe attitude adjustment and an upgrading of their personnel. Considering I was thrown out of the Army for “defective attitude,” my statement on USMAPS’ and USMA cadet attitude should get extra weight along the lines of, “If even Jack Reed says USMAPS and that West Point cadet have incorrect attitudes, they must REALLY be screwed up!”
2. You drew too broad of a conclusion on too little data. Do not do that again. To the extent that you relied on my article, you did not make that mistake. I cite a lot of sources in my article. But to the extent that you drew that conclusion based on the behavior of your bad USMAPS cadre, you did make that mistake. You should have made inquiries as to how representative those guys were of West Point and the Army.
3. I commend you for having the character to want to go to the profoundly noble, mythological West Point and U.S. Army you thought you were heading for (see the article that I wrote for my class’s 40th reunion about what magnificent noble teenagers we were on the day we entered West Point—www.johntreed.com/Tonkinclass.html). I also commend you for probably succeeding at gaining admission to West Point. (I suspect you would have been admitted to West Point itself after USMAPS.) I also commend you for having the courage, wise-before-your-time judgment, and strong self-esteem for your age to be able to walk away from a West Point and Army that impress outsiders more than they should given the last-50-years actual performance of those two institutions in their job of winning our wars.
West Point and the Army were my first loves. I wish profoundly that they had lived up to my image of them. (West Point largely did but it associates with the Army which, it its non-combat behavior, comes pretty close to a “piece of shit” to borrow a phrase from your USMAPS West Point cadet) I wish they would live up to it now. But I am not holding my breath. It is virtually impossible for a government organization to deviate from the character, or lack thereof, of the politicians at the top. That’s why I am self-employed. You probably should be, too. Then, and only then, can you actually be, on a day-to-day basis, the better person that pursuing West Point made you.
All the best,
P.S. May I add your email and my response to it to my “Should You Go to, Or Stay at, West Point” article? For one thing, I suspect it might change USMAPS for the better. They will probably denounce you and me if asked, but they will probably also quietly clean up their act a little to make what you say no longer true.
I started asking around among West Point grads about this USMAPS cadet-candidate’s experience. Here is a reponse from a relatively young West Point gradutate who got into USA through USMAPS:
I read the article about the kid who quit USMAPS. I also went to USMAPS and I can tell you that it is very different from actually being at West Point. The Prep School doesn't have any upperclassmen, nor does it have the elite faculty that is present at West Point. The number of officers, non-commissioned officers and influential upperclassmen that one is exposed to at USMAPS is minimal, and therefore not a very good cross-section off of which to draw conclusions about the academy itself. In essence, USMAPS is a means to an end and should be treated as such by all who attend. I also thought about quitting USMAPS after the initial summer training and I am very glad that I didn't. For the most part, USMA lived up to my expectations - the Prep School didn't, but it got me in the door. From what I can remember, the cadre at the Prep School did always speak very highly of the academy. I imagine this was to motivate everyone to work hard and to deter those thinking of quitting from doing so. I never experienced anyone speaking negatively of other commissioning sources. In fact, there was hardly ever any talk of them.
I agree with your response that he was wrong to draw such a broad conclusion from an overly small data set. If I decided to quit USMAPS or USMA every time I ran into a superior I wasn't impress with I would have quit a thousand-times over. Every time I encountered a poor leader I made a note of it and carried on. In fact, I still do that to this day - except now I actually write it down. I entered the academy at the age of 22, much older than most of my peers, and encountered many immature upperclassmen such as the one mentioned in the article. Their immaturity or arrogance didn't make me quit; rather, it served as a reminder of how not to act in the future. While at West Point I did run into some cadets with a sort of "God Complex" or "bloated sense of self-importance"; however, much more frequently I encountered intelligent, motivated and well rounded people that make me proud to be part of the Long Grey Line.
I can say with confidence that my West Point class did not graduate with the superiority complex that was mentioned in the article. Such individuals make up a small minority of current graduates and seemingly have some serious insecurity issues. In my current unit, [redcted], the issue of where officers went to school is seldom brought up. In fact, many of my Soldiers are not aware of where I went to school nor do they give a rat's ass. When I attended I[infantry] O[fficers] B[asic] C[ourse] and Ranger School I had many peers from different colleges and universities. There was never any indication that the West Pointers thought they were better than anyone else and some of my closest colleagues to this day are non-West Point officers.
[I am not giving the name of this guy]