Editor’s Note: This piece was written by SOFREP reader John Miller, USMA ’20. It is presented here unedited. Miller is currently on active duty, and the views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, US Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government. They are solely the opinions of the author in a personal and unofficial capacity, acting as a private citizen. We thank him for his contribution


Response to “Does the Officer Selection Process for Naval Special Warfare Leave a Lot of Talent on the Beach?” by Cole Black, 18MAR2023.

It is a common refrain across the combined force that academy graduates have the creativity stamped out of them during the course of their four (and occasionally five) years of study. There is a belief that somewhere in the melee of the summer trainings they attend or the uniforms they wear to class, their creativity and imagination is drilled out of them by granite mess halls and endless pass-and-reviews. It is assumed that the cadets and midshipmen you see walking up and down the central quads on Saturdays in their dress uniforms are coerced into their endless march because they painted a piece of art that was too vibrant or imagined a scene too fanciful for a creative writing assignment. Are we to believe that all the academies are capable of graduating are soulless robots? Or is the truth, as it always is, a little more complicated?

One of my classmates had more varieties of tea in her room at any given time than I thought existed. Another restored old Volkswagens and Toyotas on his free time. It seemed like almost every room you walked into had a guitar or keyboard in it, and you would often hear cadets practicing on the weekends. I had classmates from Egypt, Germany, and Mongolia. Many spent semesters in Tajikistan or Spain, and traveled on cultural immersions to Korea, Africa, and all across Europe. Countless clubs met after class to watch foreign films in the languages they were studying, and there was a yearly art show where poetry, paintings, and photos taken by cadets were displayed and celebrated.

In addition to the creativity and vibrance that the academies would like to advertise, cadets often expressed creativity in other, less ‘approved’ ways. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in the barracks; yet when the MacArthur barracks renovations were happening, the dumpsters outside were filled with enough liquor bottles found during the demolition to stock a medium-sized Class Six. Cadets had found unique and creative ways to ‘modify’ furniture, fixtures, and the very buildings themselves to hide their precious drink, a practice that I am sure is still on-going.

In a moment of lighthearted fun, West Point cadets “capture” the Air Force mascot, “the bird” prior to the Army vs. Air Force football game. Image from DVIDs

Personal refrigerators were also forbidden, so many cadets modified their issued trunks into makeshift but very functional fridges. I even know of a case where a route was mapped out to avoid cameras and the very rare MP or TAC ‘patrol’ so that cadets could sneak to other barracks in the middle of the night through the steam tunnels and meet up with their significant others. Perhaps, instead of believing that the strict (although not as strict as you may have been led to believe) rules of the academies stifled creativity, you should consider how such an environment has the potential to instead force its expression.

I also have a particular issue with this statement; “The Academy produces qualified, even overqualified, candidates, but can impress upon them a rigid, uniform approach to being a naval officer.” During my time as a cadet at West Point, I was taught by ORSAs, Space Operations, Signal, Armor, Infantry, Cyber, Field Artillery, and Logistics Officers. My TACs and TAC NCOs were Transportation, Military Police, and Aviation Officers and NCOs. I had touchpoints with officers and senior NCOs from almost every Officer MOS in the Army on a regular basis for four years. Contrast this to the staff of an ROTC program where there may be less than five Officers and NCOs in the entire school, and I think my point should starts to crystalize. Post-graduation during Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, Ranger School, various other schools, and especially the jobs I have filled since arriving at my unit, I have yet to see an environment approaching that level of diversity. In my time at the Academy, I had daily access to countless different leaders who all had their own unique (sometimes highly unique) versions of Army Officership. Contrast that melting pot of experience to the limited staff of even a well-funded ROTC program or the limited course time of Officer Candidate School, and I believe that the original statement falls apart.

I’ll wrap this up by doing a brief analysis of the author’s last paragraph line-by-line.