Age waiver for military academies BY JENN ROWELL GANNETT.COM JUNE 18, 2010 Kevin Rourke wanted to go to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after high school, but instead decided it would be better to get combat experience with the Army early in his military career. Now, it's going to take the passage of a new age waiver provision in national legislation before he can take that next step. The Special Forces soldier from California became a Green Beret at 20 and went to Afghanistan. He returned to the U.S. as a staff sergeant and was ready to go to West Point, but Rourke missed the cutoff to apply. Applicants can be no older than 23 by July 1 of the year of admission to the nation's military academies. He is 23 now. Because the application process takes time, Rourke would have had to start the process while he was deployed. Rourke, who currently is an instructor at Fort Rucker, called West Point to ask about an age waiver and was told no waiver had ever been successfully granted. He tried to apply anyway, but no legal process for an age waiver to the academies currently exists. So he took his effort to U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright's office. In May, Bright's office added a provision to the House of Representative's version of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military academies -- West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy -- to grant age waivers. The law would allow age waivers to applicants with exceptional records or military experience who would be 26 or younger in July of the year they would enter the academy. The provision also states that no more than five members of the military can be on an age waiver at each of the academies at any time. The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act is also the legislation that includes military funding and raises for military members. The bill has passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate. Bright voted against the bill because of a provision to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The age waiver provision expires in 2015 under the version of the bill passed by the House. Staffers in Bright's office said the expiration date was included to allow the academies to test the age waiver provision and determine if it works and whether to extend it. The age waiver would allow more experienced military members to attend the academies and for the schools to produce more qualified officers, Rourke said. Rourke said other commissioning programs -- ROTC and officer training or candidate programs -- have higher age limits. The Air Force Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base requires that trainees finish the program and be commissioned by 35. The Air Force ROTC program requires that cadets be commissioned by 35, with a waiver. Nurses can get age waivers up to 42. The Army Officer Candidate School requires that candidates be commissioned by 42. The Army ROTC program has different age limits based on traditional programs or those for enlisted soldiers. For cadets on scholarships, they must be younger than 31 on Dec. 31 of the year they commission, according to the Army's Cadet Command, which oversees the Army ROTC programs. For non-scholarship cadets, they have to be 35 or younger on the day they're commissioned. There are some age waivers available for older soldiers. "We're getting combat veterans as officers now because people enlist, go to war and then come back to school," Rourke said. "Academies don't have that. The age limit is so low, the primary source is right out of high school. So they get high school kids, commission them and send them into combat with no experience. They're leading men who have been to combat."