Nobody Asked Me But...Military Education is a Real Deal

By Captain William Park, U.S. Navy

Ricks misses the most important reason for these military institutions: to train, educate, and produce tactical and strategic leaders who can excel in combat and win our nation's wars. While America's elite academic institutions graduate outstanding thinkers, leaders, and people called to serve, the academies have also produced exceptional intellectuals, as evidenced by their numerous Rhodes and Marshall scholars. However, this is subordinate to their primary mission of educating combat leaders.

This is not to argue that military academies and war colleges are a panacea for educating our officer corps. Quite the contrary. Our domestic and fiscal fabric requires multiple commissioning sources to strengthen and complement our diverse military. To discount any of these sources erodes the quality that guarantees our military excellence. But to argue that closing the academies and war colleges saves precious tax dollars is hollow discourse that discounts the cost of American lives and the civilians we protect. If the education received at these schools saves just one life, then this is money well spent.

It also appears that Ricks wants today's officers to become academics first and leaders second. Academics are trained to reach a conclusion, not a solution. If you want Orwellian language of acute political vagueness that leads to endless discussion, hire an academic. If you want hard hitting verbiage from an educated warrior who understands that war is the most human of endeavors and the profession of arms is the most interdisciplinary of efforts, can reach a conclusion, and develop and execute a plan, then hire a warrior-scholar from a service academy or war college.

Additionally, the true genius of American military forces is our adaptability during wartime; our ability to quickly learn from mistakes, while understanding the enemy, political landscape, and resource realities to transform our forces and strategy faster than the enemy. Recently, a British military colleague, describing the United States' evolutionary counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq, confessed that U.K. officers were "blown aside by the supersonic bow-wave of you rushing past us." This counterinsurgency epiphany and adaptability did not happen at an Ivy League college but rather in the classrooms of Leavenworth and Quantico. Also, the military, not pundits, are our own harshest critics. We consistently conduct brutal self-assessments for one reason only: lives are at stake. Failure to continually refine our thinking means people die unnecessarily.

During my tenure at our military colleges, each instructor was either a seasoned combat veteran with an advanced degree or an experienced academic from Harvard, Yale, or Columbia; certainly not the composition of a "community college education," as Mr. Ricks termed it.

In our military educational institutions, America's precious tax dollars are financing educated warriors and leaders capable of coherent, dynamic thought addressing the myriad conundrums on today's battlefield. Having been educated at an academy, a war college, and an elite civilian institution, I can attest that my thoughts and assumptions were rigorously challenged at each, and the American people are getting superb, educated leaders from their warrior schools and at a bargain price. Close these strategic institutions during wartime to save tax dollars? Apparently, Yale alumnus Tom Ricks didn't pay attention during his history, economics, and strategy classes.

Captain Park has combat and aviation command experience. He graduated with merit from the U.S. Naval Academy and with distinction from the Naval War College and is currently attending Oxford University, England, on a fellowship.


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