As President Barack Obama delivered his Afghanistan surge speech at West Point this past December, I recalled Tom Ricks' April 2009 article advocating the closure of the service academies and war colleges to save taxpayer money. As I listened to the President, it was clear to me that, while Mr. Ricks' previous works have often been provocative, this time he completely missed the mark.
For his speech, President Obama chose a service academy as he was again calling on our military to bear the nation's burden in a protracted war. Had these venerated institutions been closed, his speech could not have been conducted at any of the "elite" civilian institutions Ricks believes should be the factories for today's officer corps. No way.
Elite civilian institutions expound academic achievement and upward mobility, not the ideals of leadership, selfless sacrifice, dedication, perseverance, and integrity that are ingrained at our nation's academies and war colleges. The interesting dichotomy is that our warrior schools are also "elite" institutions—a confluence of academic, athletic, and leadership excellence steeled in a rigorous military cauldron.