Until President Clinton changed the policy in the early 1990s, officers who received their commissions from service academies received a “regular” commission. They incurred a relatively short obligated term of service, but the regulars were the core of the commissioned officers, intended to make the military a career. ROTC and OCS grads, with a few exceptions, were received a commission in the reserve component, and were called to active duty for the term of their obligation. A limited number of those reservists who whished to make the service a career would be permitted to augment to the regular component.
But in the ‘90s, the policy change meant all newly commissioned officers received a reserve commission. That meant service academy graduates would have to compete after a few years of service against all the other accessions to augment to the regular commission. This was seen as leveling the playing field. And to be honest, the quality of an officers service is more a matter of his or her actual service than the means by which they entered.
Soon after that change, critics asked the reasonable question of why the services maintained the academies since ROTC and OCS were cheaper means of finding sufficient quality officers. The answer was the the academies were the keepers of the core cultural touchstones of each services officer corps.
But if the recent news coming out of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs is any indication of that culture, perhaps it really is time to shutter them.
First, we would hope that the culture of the academy would be that espoused by the AFA’s core values: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”
But apparently the culture is more aligned with that of their civilian counterparts, so much so that the Office of Special Investigations has had to turn cadets into informants against their classmates.
Facing pressure to combat drug use and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force has created a secret system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students.
Cadets who attend the publicly-funded academy near Colorado Springs must pledge never to lie. But the program pushes some to do just that: Informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.
For one former academy student, becoming a covert government operative meant not only betraying the values he vowed to uphold, it meant being thrown out of the academy as punishment for doing the things the Air Force secretly told him to do.
Eric Thomas, 24, was a confidential informant for the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI — a law enforcement branch of the Air Force. OSI ordered Thomas to infiltrate academy cliques, wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information back to OSI. In pursuit of cases, he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.
“It was exciting. And it was effective,” said Thomas, a soccer and football player who received no compensation for his informant work. “We got 15 convictions of drugs, two convictions of sexual assault. We were making a difference. It was motivating, especially with the sexual assaults. You could see the victims have a sense of peace.”
Through it all, he thought OSI would have his back. But when an operation went wrong, he said, his handlers cut communication and disavowed knowledge of his actions, and watched as he was kicked out of the academy.
“It was like a spy movie,” said Thomas, who was expelled in April, a month before graduation. “I worked on dozens of cases, did a lot of good, and when it all hit the fan, they didn’t know me anymore.”
So off post drinking and spice smoking, and sexual assault are so prevalent that the whole point of the honor code has to be turned inside out. If the concept of honor has to be so deeply compromised in the accession program, there’s simply no restoring when these young officers reach the force. And it’s not just the abstract concept of honor for honor’s sake. Integrity lapses in the real world have real consequences. The maintenance officer who lies about the work done on a plane can kill crews. The Intel officer who says he reviewed defenses can lead fighters into a trap.
And sadly, it seems pressure from some quarters, particularly alumni, has come to see the academy as more a host for a sports program, putting the cart before the horse. A good sports program exists to build well rounded, physically capable officers. But there are suggestions afoot to give the AFA a fifth year for some cadets in order to improve their chances in collegiate athletics.
Discussions are being held within the Air Force Academy that could lead to expanding the basic four-year classroom program for graduation to a five-year program for some cadets in order to enhance academic achievements. Such a plan, if adopted, could have a huge effect on the athletic program, thereby allowing an extra year of competition.
Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun has expressed frustration this season about the competitive disadvantage of not being allowed to have cadets play a fifth year. The Falcons are 2-9 and winless in Mountain West play. Their season finale is Saturday at Colorado State.
One guesses the impetus is almost wholly the Division IA football program.
CDR Salamander has long bemoaned the football programs at the academies driving the academy in the wrong direction. Looks like once again, he has been proven right.
The service academies are supposedly some of the most selective schools in America. Shouldn’t we, the “customer” of the product, expect a degree of excellence above and beyond the run of the mill product from other institutions? And if not, why do we have them?