Fewer Applying to Academies
The Boston Globe
June 14, 2005
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Long Gray Line of cadets still drills on
the impeccably groomed parade field as it has throughout the 203-year history
of the U.S. Military Academy. Reminders of the calling and challenge of military
service are everywhere, from the statues of Generals Douglas MacArthur and
Dwight Eisenhower to the meticulously maintained monuments to West Point's war
But across the nation this year, the number of high school seniors
hearing the call to service is down; applications to join the Long Gray Line
dropped 9 percent. And that was the least-discouraging news for the nation's
top three service academies, where room, board, and tuition for four years of
a sterling education are free.
Applications for the U.S. Naval Academy plummeted 20 percent, and the
number for the U.S. Air Force Academy fell 23 percent, military officials said.
Colonel Michael L. Jones, the West Point admissions director, speculated
that the decline is linked to hazy memories among today's high school students
about the galvanizing events of Sept. 11, 2001, and not to a fear of dangerous
duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. But with recruitment down significantly for the
regular Army and National Guard, some observers suggest that a drop-off in
interest in the service academies is related to the hardships of the war on
"All together, these factors amount to a kind of referendum on one aspect
of George Bush's policy, and that's the Iraq war," said Michael T. Corgan, a
Boston University professor of international relations who graduated from and
taught at the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Vietnam War.
"Parents, in particular, are simply not encouraging their children to go
into the military because, for many, this means an immediate posting to Iraq
or at least to forces in that region," Corgan said.
After dramatic increases in service academy applications following the
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, applications nationwide
for the class of 2009, which will enter college this fall, dropped for all
three academies for the first time since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Applications for the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs fell to 9,604
from 12,430 last year, said Meade Warthen, the academy's chief of media
relations. The Naval Academy, as of Jan. 31, reported that applications had
dropped to 11,140 from 13,922 at that date in 2004. And at West Point, the
number had fallen to 10,774 from 11,881, academy officials said.
The decrease occurred as many colleges and universities experienced a
record number of applications. Harvard received nearly 23,000 applications, a
15 percent jump from 2004; Cornell's applicant pool was up 17 percent, and
Princeton's soared 21 percent.
Jones, who served as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam, said West
Point is returning to its "normal" level of recruitment after a spike in
interest in which applications rose from 9,895 for the class of 2005, the last
class to apply before the Sept. 11 attacks, to 10,844 for '06 and 12,692 for
"The further you get from 9/11, the less the kids know about 9/11," Jones
said. "Unless there was a personal interest, the attachment to 9/11 isn't
"The last two years were abnormally high," said Warthen. "What the reason
for that is, no one really wants to speculate. Right now, for [the class of]
'09, we're right on our five- to 10-year average."
Naval Academy officials declined to comment about the drop in their
To be considered for acceptance, applicants must receive a nomination
from a member of Congress or meet certain criteria, such as being the child of
a career military employee on active duty or the child of a deceased or
U.S. Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat who is a senior
member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that in his district, the
number of applicants dropped to 24 this year, compared with 25 last year and
40 in 2003. U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the
Senate Armed Services Committee, reported a drop from 39 to 37 to 30
applicants in the past three years.
To Meehan, the decline seems symptomatic of questions about military
service in general. "Recruitment is down in nearly every category," Meehan
said. "I believe that mismanagement of the war in Iraq is having an impact."
Army officials expected to miss their May recruitment goal by 25 percent,
even though the monthly goal had been reduced to 6,700 from 8,050, marking the
fourth consecutive month of recruiting shortfalls. For the Army National
Guard, nationwide recruiting has dropped 22 percent since 2002. In 2004, the
Guard missed its recruiting goal by 12 percent.
To replenish the ranks, the government has embarked on an aggressive
advertising campaign and is offering hefty enlistment bonuses.
Meehan and military officials cautioned, however, that a one-year drop in
applications does not signal a trend and that the number of entering students
remains relatively constant. Meehan and academy officials said the applicant
pool for the class of '09 was of exceptionally high quality.
"This is a different kind of kid we're looking at now," Jones said. "This
kid is more trusting of adults. They're less self-centered than they were 10
years ago. This is a generation of kids that wants to make the world a better
About 80 percent of the West Point class of 2005 could serve in Iraq and
Afghanistan within two years, Jones said. Despite that expectation, Jones
said, the current crop of cadets is motivated by a profound sense of duty that
far outweighs the free tuition.
"They know what they're getting into," Jones said. "They get a great
education, but we're about grooming Army leaders who will do the right things
at the worst time of their lives."
A total of 24 West Point graduates have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bryan Herrin, 22, a cadet from Austin, Texas, who is to graduate in 2006,
said he recognizes the risks he faces. The free education was a factor in his
college decision, Herrin said, but his desire to serve the country was
"I definitely felt like I had something to give back," Herrin said. "I
don't think combat is anything anyone wants to do. But at the same time, if
that's an order, we'll carry it out."
Julie Jorgensen, 20, of Bedford, N.H., another member of the class of
'06, said West Point appealed to her because of its clarity of mission. "I
didn't want to spend four years at college not knowing what I wanted to do,"
said Jorgensen, whose mother served as an Army doctor at Fort Devens, Mass. "A
lot of my friends [from home] have no idea what they're going to do after
graduation or even if they'll have a job."
But the military option can be a tough sell. Kyle Johnson, 18, of Wenham,
Mass., who graduated from high school June 5, said he didn't consider military
academies. "The way everything is going, I just didn't want to end up
overseas," said Johnson, who will attend Fairfield University in Connecticut.
"I wouldn't want to end up in a place where I'd be in harm's way."
Frank Sullivan, guidance director for Hamilton-Wenham Regional High
School, said student interest was almost nonexistent this year. Academy
recruiters visited the school once or twice this year, Sullivan said, but the
presentations didn't yield any applications from the class.
Jones said recruiters are facing increasing opposition from parents
around the country. "We have a generation now that has been raised by a
generation of parents who never served in the military," Jones said.
In November, a Department of Defense survey indicated that only 25
percent of parents would recommend military service to their children. In
August 2003, the figure had been 42 percent. In addition, Jones said, a
national survey of high school students suggested that "80 percent of high
school juniors have never heard of a place called West Point, N.Y., much less
know what it did."
Despite recruitment challenges, Jones said, the 4,200-person Corps of
Cadets remains highly motivated.
"There's a core group of kids out there who will continue to apply in
peacetime and wartime," Jones said. "These are kids who know what they want to
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