On a Joint Service Academy


Most of my creative output is unexpected at the moment.  It usually happens when consciously involved in another focused activity.  This, I was told in grade school, is called "daydreaming."  It still happens decades later.  I was jogging at the Pentagon and an idea occurred to me.  I think it answers the current and recurring criticism of the

military academies.

I believe it is time for a single academy tailored to our Nation's future, replacing the separate academies of today.  As I see it, the military must be capable of seamless, surgical warfare and synergistic defense in the event that coordinated, aggressive conflict prevention fails.  Our distinct service cultures and histories have served us well, but no longer.  I see current evidence that service parochialism is not only counterproductive, but a real benefit to our potential enemies.  I suspect parochialism is also a major contributor to the pervasive problems of sexual behavior in the services.  This parochialism will not go away anytime soon.  So, let's label it as evil and deal with it. Let's deal with it by institutionalized jointness at the beginning.

A single defense academy will produce future officers educated in a new, joint culture.  Throughout their careers, they will possess the strategic skills to apply disparate missions and functions against unified National objectives.  This the separate service academies can never accomplish.  How would that work?  Here is one vision.

Locate the USJDA at Annapolis.  Frame a joint academic curriculum with a simulated joint military environment.  First year cadets would wear a US Army-related uniform and study within that culture.  The second year, cadets would wear naval uniforms and experience the Marine and Navy environments.  Similarly enmesh juniors in the air and space world and uniform.  Reserve the last year for learning how to integrate the individual service cultures and values, maximize their strengths, and understand their limits.  Seniors wear the uniform of their choice constrained by the proportions of each service population.  Instructors fresh from active duty insure an authentic in-your-face experience that a new officer can expect in that particular service environment.  Locate some of the training at West Point and Colorado Springs to take advantage of the existing, unique resources there.  Continue to commission graduates in the separate services.

Interesting, maybe, but so what?  Could there be some tangible advantages to one joint academy?  Here are some.  Today, each service recognizes that a joint duty assignment is a distinctly valuable experience.  In the future, it should become a prerequisite for retention in the service and advancement to flag rank.  In other words, a clear mission objective of the joint academy would be to develop career officers, which is not the case today.  For Congress and taxpayers concerned about cost, this means a longer payback for very expensive education.  Consolidate common functions at today's academies, where sensible, for significant savings.  Preserve the current service academy locations to exploit those existing, unique training resources that could now benefit all services (and provide a surge capability in case of National mobilization).

The worth of a joint academy needs to be proven by demonstration over a full four-year test period before a permanent decision.  Should the joint academy fail, revive the separate service academies at their original locations.  Incorporate any lessons learned.  It even makes some sense to prototype the idea at a few selected universities.  How? Replace ROTC with a prototype Joint Officer Training Corps program.

Our country has always distrusted a standing armed force, with good reason.  I don't know why, but I suspect Americans will be much more comfortable with the direction of joint military service.  It's easy to make the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force scapegoats for many of our country's real and imaginary ills.  It's hard for me to conceptualize the evils of a joint force, even one that is more mental than real.

Ideas, even good ideas, come and go.  Most of my creative spurts die a quick, noble death, justly deserved.  They are fun to play with anyway. My idea of a joint academy may be original only to me.  That's OK.  Such is the nature of ideas.  If the idea of a joint academy sounds promising, a public debate should refine it or kill it.  Maybe it's time to talk.

In the meantime, I'll continue jogging my body and hope my brain follows.  If more neurons develop, I may be back.

John H. Harden, Jr.


 4 Sep 1997