Iraq Presents Graduating Class at West Point With New Challenges

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The graduating cadets of the United States Military Academy spent their final days here like scores of seniors, or firsties, before them: packing foot lockers and showing their mothers around gray buildings and sweeping lawns. All smiles. Even the lone cadet marching in full uniform in a parking lot under the hot sun — a form of punishment called “walking the area” — flashed a grin when a friend passed.

Lt. Col. David A. Jones was one of the graduates 22 years ago, in the class of 1985. Now 43 and a staff officer who works in the academy’s leadership and ethics programs, he was smiling upstairs in his office, but his words betrayed his worry for the young men and women who will, in all likelihood, be leading other soldiers in Iraq next year.

“We can’t provide them with all the solutions and all the answers,” he said. “This is too complex.”

The war in Iraq has hovered over the class of 2007, perhaps more than any class before. The 1,000-plus cadets graduating on Saturday were the first to enter West Point after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Most arrived on campus in June of that year.

The events of the last four years have directly shaped the curriculum at West Point, as instructors who for years taught the fine points of battlefield strategy found themselves leading drills with fake bombs made of pop bottles and clocks. “Ain’t no front line anymore,” Colonel Jones said. “It’s all front line.”

Today, role-playing sessions regularly descend into chaos. “I never did this when I was here in ’85,” he said. “We did road marches. We prepared the defense for defense operations. We were confident the enemy wouldn’t hit us for 24 hours. That was our scenario.”

Today’s West Point cadets are taught how to react to surprise uprisings, often while accompanied by someone acting as an embedded television reporter. “We have a road march, and a crowd of people come in the middle of the road,” Colonel Jones said. “There’s a vehicle on the side. There’s a camera, there’s a kid with a bat, there’s a pregnant woman.”

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Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsIraq War

Posted May 24, 2007 at 1:18 pm

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1. Reactionary wrote:

In summary, they’re being taught police tactics rather than the martial arts.

May 24, 2:41 pm | [comment link]
2. usmapiper wrote:

Reactionary, actually I disagree, assuming that what you meant by “martial arts”, which is essentially hand-to-hand combat, is really standard military operations.  I’m a West Pointer trained under the old system described in the article, and our oldest is currently a cadet being trained under the new regime.  Some of the training does have a “constabulary” feel similar to what the Brits would have dealt with in a lot of their former imperial experiences, but most of it is combat-in-cities and counter-insurgency content, in addition to old-fashioned, standard combat arms fare.  I think the point the writer was trying to convey is that whereas I was trained to fight a Soviet-style adversary with roughly similar force structures, weapons and capabilities, cadets today are being trained in asymmetric warfare with lots of civilians around that could get hurt if proper care is not taken.  Quite different from police operations, where only a single digit percentage of US police officers will ever fire a single shot in anger in an entire career.
As an aside that may interest Kendall’s regular readers, the cadet population at USMA has GOT to be the most spiritual undergraduate body not attending an explicitly Christian school.  All the chapels are full every Sunday, and I’d bet that at least a third of the Corps of Cadets is involved in weekly Bible studies through OCF, FCA, Navigators or similar.  This in severely time-constrained circumstances where cadets average 5hrs20mins of sleep per night for four years.  Predictably, the dying Episcopal church in neighboring Highland Falls appears to specialize in hosting aging hippie, compulsively anti-military guest preachers.  Our son went there once just after he arrived, just before he made sure his dog-tags were stamped with “Anglican” as his religious preference.

May 24, 4:28 pm | [comment link]
3. RoyIII wrote:

“We can’t provide them with all the solutions and all the answers,” he said. “This is too complex.”:  They haven’t been able to do that since, oh, 1965?  Unfortunately, the last few C-in-Cs have not been able to define the mission very well.

May 24, 5:21 pm | [comment link]
4. Reactionary wrote:


If we were an empire, things would be simpler and, per USMAPiper’s post, the training particularly tailored to protecting US interests.  But since we’re not an empire, it appears the military’s role at this point is to combat insurgent operations for the client-governments of other states.

May 24, 5:40 pm | [comment link]
5. usma87 wrote:

As another old grad, I think the mission of USMA is more about the leadership component than specific tactics.  Every graduate enters a specific branch of the Army (Infantry, Armor - hu ah!, Artillery, etc).  Each branch will teach more specific tactics related to that branch’s mission.  The academy is trying to prepare leaders of the future.  A broad perspective on tactics is helpful, but an MPs focus will be much different than a pilot’s or Infantry Platoon Leader’s.

May 25, 1:17 pm | [comment link]

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