Monday, February 05, 2007

Service academies: not the right education

I have always thought, along with others, that the USNA and NROTC official bias towards technical degrees was wrong-footed, short sighted, and not creating the intellectual diversity we need. So does Andrew Exum.
A former Army officer and Middle East analyst has called on the nation's service academies to trade in their focus on engineering for a more modern curriculum on international relations.

Andrew Exum, who led combat units in two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq, said the engineering coursework required at the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., is a holdover from the 19th century, when that was the direction of future warfare.
Exactly right. We need experts across the field of study. I don't know about you, but my Wardroom is adrift with engineers who have never used their education - but also have never read a great work, cannot find the Spratly Islands, don't understand that "Old Europe" nations like Belgium are younger than the U.S., and do not know the difference between Arab Saudi Arabia and Persian Iran.

When you read the article, one thing you notice is that the Cult of the Happy Talk has so thoroughly infected Annapolis that it can't even make sense - or tell a story that has any credibility with those who know what is going on.
"I think the author, Andrew Exum, has really shown light on exactly the right discussion," said William Miller, the Naval Academy's academic dean. "We all should be asking ourselves how we should be preparing the next generation of leaders in the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force for the 21st- century battlefield. We are always having that discussion."
What a complete non-answer. No straight talk about what we need to teach the future leaders of the fleet. Just political non-answers. We owe the taxpayer and the Fleet better than this.
Miller said the difficulty with changing the curriculum at the Naval Academy is that many graduates need sufficient training to operate nuclear reactors in submarines or work with other cutting-edge technology in the surface fleet.

Only 12 percent to 13 percent of each graduating class enters the Marine Corps infantry field, officers who have been on the front lines in the war on terrorism. And among those, 50 percent are social science or humanities majors.
What a load of BS. Yes, engineering is important - but not for every Navy officer. As a matter of fact - the lack of a Liberal Arts or other non-engineering background is killing out Fleet. An engineer wants to load up a new class with all sorts of new, expensive, unproven equipment. Someone educated in logic and economics is more concerned with the possible and affordable.

Lets let some facts speak here. The lead-in.
Officials at all three academies said they are well on their way to sending 30 percent of cadets and midshipmen abroad and hoped to surpass that figure. In the 2005-2006 academic year, the Naval Academy sent 150 midshipmen through language immersion programs, 10 to full semesters abroad at foreign military academies and others to train with foreign navies during summer break.
Good stuff. Melikey. Why didn't they send me to Rome as a 2/C MIDN.... Well, what are we doing?
The Air Force Academy sent 18 cadets to foreign military academies, 12 to foreign civilian universities, 200 to short cultural immersion programs and 225 to language immersion.
Nice job boys in blue.
West Point sent more than 150 to foreign countries, and set a goal to send all language majors, about 10 percent of graduates, for a semester abroad.
Go Army. Need to catch up with the AirFarce...but nice.
The Naval Academy sent 150 midshipmen through language immersion programs, 10 to full semesters abroad at foreign military academies and others to train with foreign navies during summer break.
10, plus the standard "done it forever" summer MIDN cruise. 10 out of ~1,100-1,200 per class. I'm guessing here at an overall student population of 5,000 for easy numbers. 10 represents .2%. 150 is 3%. That is it. That is not worth Happy Talk over half a decade into The Long War.
"Our foreign language department is the best funded of any academic program that I run at the academy," Miller said. "I think it's indicative of the importance attached to this shift in emphasis by other military departments."
Sorry, the facts are not there. Andrew Exum hits a home run.
While he lauded recent strides to promote cultural awareness, Exum in the policy paper, published Monday, made three challenges to Annapolis and West Point (he left out the Air Force Academy because he said he was not familiar with the training of Air Force officers).

First, the service academies should focus less on an engineering curriculum, he said. Second, they should send more cadets and midshipmen abroad, perhaps as many as 30 percent of all graduates.
Read Exum's article document here. More nuggets.
As such, since the September 11 attacks, both West Point and the Naval Academy have rapidly increased the numbers of foreign languages taught and the opportunities for cadets and midshipmen to study abroad. In any given academic semester, more cadets and midshipmen than ever before are in exchange programs with military academies in other countries or are spending an academic term in a foreign country in some other capacity. At West Point, around 15 percent of all cadets study abroad at some point. That is better than some civilian institutions, but not when compared to universities with strong international relations programs. At Georgetown University and Tufts University, for example, 58 and 48 percent of all undergraduates study abroad, respectively. Surely the military academies can reach at least half these levels.

Remaining Obstacles

Despite the earnest efforts of their faculties, both academies fall short of providing the kind of language and cultural skills that ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan say they want in their junior leaders. Each cadet at West Point is required to take only two semesters of a foreign language—hardly enough to develop significant true proficiency. At the Naval Academy, meanwhile, there is no language requirement. Thus, some midshipmen can graduate without any language instruction whatsoever.
Speaking of Exum, Fred doesn't like him. You know what though, 2.5 years ago, the summer of '04 Exum saw this coming.
As a veteran who has spent the past few months since I left the army traveling around the country, one refrain I keep hearing is "I don't think we need to be in Iraq, but I support the troops." I have heard this in New York City as often as I have in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn. No matter what the opinion of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, the admiration and appreciation the public feels for its veterans is widespread and genuine. Not even the horrors of Abu Ghraib seem to have dampened the public's view of the men and woman fighting abroad.

But as anger builds toward President Bush over the Iraq War, I fear that anger is eventually bound to spill onto the foot soldiers anonymously serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't think it's an irrational fear: Even those of us born after the Vietnam War read about the "baby killer" epithets that greeted returning veterans as the antiwar sentiment escalated. And so as I began to survey much of the antiwar popular culture for this essay, I found myself increasingly uneasy by what I saw. Not so much in the works themselves, but in the reactions of the people with whom I sat.
Read it all and give the man credit.

No comments: