August 26, 2010

Recruiting the Officer Corps

Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller have a really fantastic op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal that is, alas, password-protected on the Journal's website.* The money quote:

Much ink has been spilled over the fraught relations between the military and the Ivy League. But while the good military vs. the bad Ivies makes for good political theater, it isn't the whole story. While ROTC has been banned from many Ivy League campuses since the Vietnam War, the military has also drawn down its ROTC programs in the Northeast and in urban areas. ROTC has become increasingly Southern and rural.


In Virginia, for example, there are 7.8 million residents and 11 Army ROTC programs. New York City, home to over eight million people and America's largest university student population, has two Army ROTC programs. The entire Chicago metro area, with its 10 million residents, is covered by a single Army ROTC program, as is Detroit. Alabama, population 4.7 million, has 10.

After my first year at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army decided our ROTC program should merge with and move down the street to Drexel University, which admittedly made some sense because Drexel had a National Guard Armory on their campus. It is thus one of the quirks of my biography that I was Drexel University's ROTC commander as a college senior despite having never attended Drexel.** But the U.S. Army has made a lot of decisions based solely on monetary cost-benefit calculations that have resulted in ROTC withering on the vine in the urban areas of the Northeast and, as Schmitt and Miller point out, a disproportionately small number of military officers hailing from the large middle-class suburbs of our nation's urban centers in the North.

Schmitt and Miller end their column sharing President Obama's lament that "every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan ... That's not always the case in other parts of the country ... [It's] important for the president to say ... that if we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some."

The U.S. Army, then, needs to be more intentional about recruiting officers outside the American South. It is no coincidence that the only combat arms officer commissioned into the U.S. Army from my class of 2,000+ at Penn was a white southern male. (The other officer commissioned graduated from Penn's top-ranked nursing school.) There is nothing wrong with white southern males, of course (we Scots-Irish are, after all, America's warrior class), but we can hardly claim to accurately represent our nation's awesome cultural, racial, social and ethnic diversity, and there is an argument to be made that a nation's officer corps should do that to some degree. The burden for making that happen falls more heavily on the U.S. Army than it does our nation's university presidents.

*I know it makes a lot of sense for the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times to charge their customers for the news services they provide. But the op-ed and editorial pages are ostensibly meant to spark public debate, and I fail to see how keeping opinion pieces behind a paywall does that.

**Many thanks, though, to all the cadets of the "Dragon Battalion" for their service. I am a proud alumnus and made a lot of good friends through the program -- who I would not have met had I remained south of Chestnut Street!

UPDATE: @dianawueger pointed me toward this earlier op-ed in the Washington Post that made some of the same points. Depressing fun fact: "the Army's self-imposed target for officer-training programs in the New York City region is roughly 30 new officers per year."