Couple of questions about West Point from a foreigner

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by ManyDifferentHerrings, Sep 23, 2015.

  1. ManyDifferentHerrings

    ManyDifferentHerrings New Member

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    I feel like a bit of an interloper...I've lurked here for ages but now have a few questions about the USMA. FYI, I'm a Brit with an education background and continued lay interest in Higher Education internationally. After reading Absolutely American and watching YouTube videos find myself fascinated. Despite being aware of the many criticisms of the US Service Academy set-up, I find myself inspired by the cadets, their determination, self-management and, as a female, the female cadets' dedication to fitness beyond the norm.

    Anyhow...
    1) If any of you personally knew a top class-ranked cadet- say a top 50 at graduation, did they have any personal qualities that set them apart?

    2) Are the students who are selected for immediate grad school studies more or less inclined to leave service at the earliest opportunity?

    4) The Congressional/Presidential nomination process seems really odd to me. Do many strong candidates who live in the 'wrong' part of the country find themselves left out in the cold?

    5) Are applicants expected to have some initial idea of what Branch they'd like to join eventually? I understand this can change multiple times during their degree.

    6) Are there any specifically military experiences/courses that cadets can participate in during their summers which would be much more difficult to get onto if they'd gone the college/OCS route?

    7) If fewer dining hall meals are mandatory nowadays, what do students replace them if they choose not to attend? Does it save them time between classes? Do they miss out of anything (aside from the food) if they don't go.

    8) When the upperclass cadets head into town of an evening or Saturday afternoon, what do they actually do given they can't afford/ don't have the space in their rooms to buy stuff?

    Apologies if these are common knowledge.
     
  2. Sledge

    Sledge Member

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    I always think of Brits as "the cousins" rather than foreigners. I'll answer what I know as a parent, not a graduate.

    4) The nomination process has its pros and cons. Pro - it insures geographic representation in the officer corps and it gives Congress somewhat of a say in who is chosen to lead the military. Con - yes, to your question, some districts are much more competitive than others. Northern Virginia comes to mind. Many well-educated military/government employed parents in well-funded school districts who know what a good deal a service academy education and military employment is. That knowledge is passed down to the children, who apply in great numbers. Generalizing, a #2 candidate on one of those congressional slates might easily be the #1 in another less-competitive congressional district. They might still win one of of the at large spots of the National Waiting List or they might indeed not get an appointment at all.

    5) No expectation of branch upon entry. They are exposed to the branches each of their first three years during Branch Week (which just ended) where representatives of the various branches are on hand with displays and information about the "life" in those branches. Additionally, the training and academic cadre at USMA come from many different branches. Some cadets are inspired or encouraged by a certain professor or tactical officer. I believe as the time approaches for the branch selection, they are mentored about their individual strengths and weaknesses and where they might best fit in as an Army officer. Generally, the higher your class rank, the more likely you are to get your first choice.

    6) USMA cadets do seem to get better access to summer training. For instance, the Army brings a mobile Air Assault School training cadre to USMA and trains on site. They can run a good number of cadets through. Better odds of getting such training at USMA than if you were an ROTC cadet at a university. Also, a lot of the summer opportunities for internships or foreign travel/training are funded by alumni donations specific to USMA rather than by the government.

    7) If you miss dinner for athletic practice or whatever, there is a restaurant in Grant Hall where you can eat or pick something up. It's widely derided for it's high prices. Cadets must pay for it with their own money. They can also have pizza or something else delivered by the vendors in town. Finally, the various companies have "stores" where they stock snack-type food and sell it internally.

    8) Cadets get paid. Much of their pay is deducted automatically for their academic expenses such as books or uniforms. There is a residual, sometimes referred to as "pizza money" that gets deposited into their bank account each month. The pay goes up every year. A plebe gets $200 per month. My numbers might be off, but I think a Cow (3rd year or junior) gets $450.00 and a Firstie gets $550.00. The cadets get paid 12 months a year whereas an ROTC cadet at a university only gets a stipend during the academic year. Finally, in the fall of their Cow year, cadets are offered up to a $36,000.00 (this number might not be exact) pre-commissioning loan by USAA (a commercial bank strongly tied to serving the military and their dependents) at a very low interest rate. It's a really, really good deal. Payments don't start until 6 months after commissioning. However, if they don't commission, I believe the loan is due in full.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2015
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  3. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    Good questions. Here's some more data points:

    1) Yes. Know several, including my recently graduated son. There is no magic formula. But they have to be able to do many things well at the same time. Almost impossible to be in top 50 without being extremely strong in 2 of the 3 pillars (Academics, Military, and Physical performance) and at least above average in the third. Which usually means success factors like very good time management, etc. Of course, the Major choice, leadership activities, and Sports activities factor in. IE: Someone who was in an easier major, was good in military performance, but in a non-challenging leadership role, and was very fit, but not on a sports team with time demands, could/would be more likely to be higher ranked, easier. But you'll find many of the high ranked are not taking the easier paths, it's just a drive, time management, plus having a "knack" for certain things.

    My observation is that the cadets are fairly pragmatic about this... they live in a ranked world. They make choices, and those choices have impacts. Likewise, some have an easier time with the challenges.

    But make no mistake... Average, or even below average at USMA is still very good, probably exceptional. It's just the nature of Ranking, 50% of any given USMA class is below average relative to their peers. And 50% is above. :) General Odinero made a pretty good point on that recently. Asked for a cadet by name at a banquet. She stood up. He said (paraphrased): "Say hello to #867. I was right there with you, that was my class rank. I do want to congratulate you on pacing yourself well". :) Point being... the bigger area for discussion is how much (or little) class rank has to do with future success or leadership capability.
     
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  4. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    As sledge pointed out, no branch expectations. But there are some constraints linked to majors. So while they can change their branch quite a bit, most home in on preferences. One side note: USMA might have a bit of advantage on branching relative to the ROTC/OCS route. Most USMA (90%'ish) get their branch of choice. Much higher get one of the top three, and I think last year nearly all got one of their top 5.

    My understanding is that ROTC branches (and maybe posts??) by thirds. (Maybe an ROTC parent can confirm) But my son's BOLC experience is that many more of his ROTC counterparts were essentially force branched (nowhere near their top choice) while virtually everyone of his USMA peers in that branch it was 1st choice.

    As to summer training, there are some very good opportunities that USMA has in addition to the regular Army options (ABN, Air Assault, etc). Things like cadre for CLDT, CFT, etc which give them opportunity to work with regular Army officers/NCO's in USMA's summer training. Many other leadership opportunities, but those two have a higher exposure to mil ops.

    As sledge also pointed out, it appears USMA does get more slots for the regular courses compared to any given ROTC program. Not sure how that would compare on a per cadet basis. But add some of the competitive MIAD's (Sapper, CDQC, etc) and things like French Commando, Chilean Mountain, or similar foreign schools and the opportunities seem strong. I've never heard of non-USMA heading to the foreign schools, maybe it happens in ROTC. But the relationship between USMA and foreign academies/militaries is very strong. I have heard of ROTC going to CDQC, etc, so they do have some pretty good options. It's just very competitive.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2015
  5. AROTC-dad

    AROTC-dad Just a dad

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    Interesting topic.

    To the original OP: As a Brit, would you care to share how does your perception of Sandhurst compare to WP in terms of these same qualities and cadet experience?
     
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  6. ManyDifferentHerrings

    ManyDifferentHerrings New Member

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    Well, obviously they're such different beasts. From the admission requirements to selection to the duration and structure of the course. Aside from them both being well regarded institutions for initial officer training, to me, that's where the similarity ends. I've realised in writing this that many of the differences and personal criticisms I've found are the same as between the US OCS route and West Point. Indeed, Sandhurst is an OCS rather than a service academy in the American sense. It's usually a 44 week training course with 3 intakes per year. Sandhurst also runs shorter commissioning courses for certain professional roles e.g doctor, nurse, lawyer, padre, for time served NCOs and also reserve officers.

    20% of new officer cadets haven't been to university. This means people who have had several years of work experience after school, perhaps in a trade like electricians as well as 18 year olds straight out of school. So the age range of cadets is much broader. A bell curve from 18-28(26 for certain roles). But only 10% are females. Only 55% have attended a state school (US public school) when the national figure is 93%. So it's a lot less reflective of society before you even get to race or ethnicity. Sandhurst also takes small numbers overseas sponsored students which helps a bit. They tend to come from either the Middle East (think royalty) or smaller British Commonwealth nations.

    The actual selection process for Sandhurst seems more egalitarian than at Westpoint. If you've passed the initial medical screening (no waivers here) and local interviews, you're sent on a 24 hour selection briefing. The idea being that applicants who don't come from a boarding school, CCF (sort of like JROTC), rugby/hockey player type background won't find themselves at a disadvantage culturally. They then return for the 3.5 day 'Army Officer Selection Board' which has a mix of written, planning, physical and leadership tests plus a formal interview. Our school and university qualifications are all nationally set so there's no confusion over class ranking (we don't do it in the UK), or the difficulty of classes in one school vs the other. I think it would be unusual for most applicants (or indeed university applicants in general) to have the breadth of activities as in the US. That seems very much like a tick box exercise with everything aimed at impressing an admissions person, not in becoming a better, more rounded individual.

    Another difference of note would be the role of more experienced cadets. At Sandhurst, most/all of the 'beasting' activities are conducted by NCO's. The recognition is that these men and women have enormous experience and that these future officers will be looking to their NCO's for guidance once in their first postings. Officer cadets experience leadership within their own stage of the course. At the end of the second term, they organise and run their own adventurous expedition. In the final term, they have more general responsibilities for the social activities on the schedule such as dances. The West Point way seems, to me personally, that it perpetuates the shout and obey style of command that doesn't necessarily make for good leadership of human beings. Both places have their initial periods where that initial transition from civilian to cadet is made but at Sandhurst, it could be argued that you start your main officer training in term 2 (second trimester). At Westpoint, you're still being led around until the end of your first year.

    Lastly, there's no going off on extra qualification courses. There's neither the time or the need.

    I'll have to leave it at that for now. Sorry it's all rather disjointed. If anyone's interested, beyond the RMAS website,you could look at the following:

    Officer Cadet Blogs (oldest at the bottom)

    Article about an older female cadet's experience

    BBC documentary episode 1, episode 2, episode 3
     
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  7. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    Great explanation of Sandhurst.....I learned a lot in that short writing and I can see that a direct comparison of the US/UK systems is almost impossible as they are such different beasts. Thank you.

    I would comment on the observation of the "shout and obey" technique. That is only used during a boot camp environment (officer or enlisted) to develop some needed habits of quick response and importance of a senior's order. You will NEVER hear that during normal active duty, contrary to the Hollywood movies. The only exception to that is during actual combat (think foxholes and infantry).
     
  8. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    So true Spud. Shout and obey ends after initial training. Now if a young Marine or Soldier screws up, they will definitely hear a raised voice from their chain of command. If safety is involved... Yes it will get loud. Same thing with combat type stuff simply to be heard... If it's needed.
     
  9. ManyDifferentHerrings

    ManyDifferentHerrings New Member

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    Re: the shouty leadership, I really meant the plebe-upperclassman relationship. I don't think that at Sandhurst there is that much interaction between cadets at different stages except for maybe the odd social or sports game. Post-Beast, from what I've read and I may be completely wrong about this, plebes seem to be cautious of attracting the attention of more senior cadets. I realise that some of it is fair and proper- they're the new members of a big team and have both to learn the way things work as well as traditions. But to British eyes who've never served in any military, it reminds me of an old English Public School (private boarding/prep schools such as Eton, Harrow and Rugby) tradition. I'm not kidding when I say it was called 'fagging'. It was the idea of having a new member to a school be a helper/servant/dogsbody for things the older pupil (often in their final year). The 'fag' might polish their shoes, light the fire in the older boy's study etc. There was plenty of abuse of the system but it could also be a mutually beneficial relationship if you got a kinder mentor who could keep you right and offer wisdom. Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes (1857) is a classic example.
     
  10. LongAgoPlebe

    LongAgoPlebe Member

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    That plebe-upperclassman relationship is very dependent on scale. At USMA and USNA (perhaps AFA and MMA as well) third-classmen mentor one or two plebes (they're doolies or "smacks" at AFA). Second classmen imbue that sense of tradition and honor, and I suspect most 4th-classmen would consider them pretty hard people to please. There CAN be shouting, but most 2nd-classmen have learned that shouting gets attention for only a short while - much like during Sandhurst's Junior phase, I suspect. Plebes come into the relationship thinking the upperclassmen are going to be ruthless, but in most cases they're too busy with their academics to give much grief to plebes unless the plebe is a screwoff and doesn't do his or her job. During activities like intramurals, plebes play right along with upperclassmen. During military training, (almost) everyone behaves in accordance with their rank and position. Part of what plebes at US service academies are supposed to be learning is professional behavior and interactions. It takes a while to learn not only the customs and courtesies, but the nuances of when it's okay to be a bit more casual with a senior officer, and when it is not.

    My understanding is that the (UK) public-school model of upperclassmen fagging juniors used to be present in the service academies. In some senses, it still is at two of our senior military colleges (SMCs): Virginia Military Institute, and The Citadel. In both of those cases, fourth-classmen (called rats and knobs, respectively) have a subservient relationship with a first-classman (senior). In exchange for usually-small duties like collecting the senior's laundry, making or rolling up the senior's bed, that sort of thing, the senior provides mentorship, guidance, and help in a pinch.
     
  11. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    Several thoughts on this thread:

    - Absolutely American is a great read, but is getting a little dated. Core concepts are still accurate, but specific details vary quite a bit.

    - Any given individual experience at USMA typically varies more based on Regiment/company policies/tradition as well PSG/Team leader than it does on USMA policy/doctrine. And all of these drift with leadership changes, etc.

    - USMA does appear to have been actively moving away from Shout & threaten in it's active coaching for cadet leadership as a training approach. You see the shift in new CBT (Beast) guidelines, etc.

    - In recent times, certainly our cadet/grad's involvement, shouting is not viewed positively as a leadership style. Many positive role models like GEN Richard Clarke, COL X, and many others have a completely different approach. Essentially position anyone shouting/badgering subordinates as having lost control. With rare exceptions when done to underscore a point. As DS put it, the leaders he respected, was concerned with doing exactly what they asked, typically whispered or used a normal tone.

    If anything, the push is for Op order type leadership style. Most cadets with high mil performance scores have figured this out, and emulate the positive role models.

    - Most USMA cadet leadership is peer based, cows leading cows, firsties leading firsties. IE: No real positional authority. So anyone who is dependent on positional authority has a very difficult time. And shouting/blow hard style absolutely fails in peer leadership positions.

    - A certain amount of yelling during CBT was historically tolerated for effect, as it is in most basic training type situation. Especially R-day, etc.

    - Most interactions plebes have after CBT are with their team leaders (Yearlings, 1:1 leadership) or PSG (Cows usually). I've never heard of team leaders yelling at their plebes. If anything, the relationship is structured for the team leader to help the plebe be successful.

    I'm sure there are cadets (past and current) who don't understand how to lead without yelling or badgering. So individual cadet experience may vary. And I'm sure there are counter examples to GEN Clarke and COL X. But my understanding from recent cadets and grads is that yelling as leadership style is certainly not something that USMA advocates or teaches.
     
  12. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    Agreed with long ago plebe... Plebes have duties, but it's nowhere near the "fagging" approach alluded to . Plebe duties is stuff upperclassmen do not want to do. (Deliver laundry, empty trash, etc). But it's not done for individual upperclassmen. It is rotated duties done as a group. But it's also because plebes are not at the point they can do other duties just due to knowledge/experience. So you see increasing responsibility each year.

    As DS put it, during the academic year, most firsties are dealing with Academics, their leadership responsibilities, etc. Not much plebe interaction by design. Cows do a turn as PSG in a "manager" role (ratings, etc). Some interaction, but much is apparently done via the team leaders.
     
  13. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    On the Sandhurst/USMA differences, I worked closely with two different Sandhurst grads at work. We discussed the different approaches when they found out I had a cadet at USMA. Their view was they are completely different models as pointed out earlier in the thread. And they also made comments that confirms the idea that Sandhurst is more OCS'ish in nature.

    And you see this in the interaction between cadets from the two schools like in the USMA Sandhurst competition. As DS put it from his involvement, it is very unlikely that USMA will ever be able to beat Sandhurst as their teams typically are prior service with much more real world experience. IE: even a new Sandhurst cadet will have more mil experience than most firstie USMA with the exception of prior enlisted. And even USMA prior enlisted often are just out of training. (though there are some exceptions with deployment)

    My two Sandhurst work buddies also made it clear that Sandhurst was not viewed as a top tier academic environment like USMA was. Not that it was deficient, just that the academic side did not have the respect that USMA and similar have. Nor was academics really their focus, their job one is OCS in nature.

    One last observation: If you included the mandatory *BOLC phase after USMA graduation, then it appears the two programs become more similar in content/scope if not style. But that's just conjecture on my part.
     

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