- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Patrick McGinn’s letter “Uncle Sam wants you, and you don’t want him” (Wednesday), in response to Brian Witte’s story “Military academies lack minority nominees” (Associated Press, Nation, Nov. 22), is helpful but incomplete. Any readers interested in the service academies need a better understanding of the situation.

As a member of the Board of Directors of West Point’s Association of Graduates, I receive frequent updates on admissions issues, particularly minority admissions. This is an area of the highest importance to the academy’s leadership team as well as our association.

As Mr. McGinn correctly points out, the entrance standards are indeed quite high, and they do include all three aspects mentioned (academic, physical, medical). Equally important are leadership experiences and other indicators of character. The unfortunate reality is that when all of these standards are applied to America’s minority population, the number of fully qualified potential applicants is in the very low thousands. Of course, not only do the service academies seek applicants from this small pool, but so do all of the nation’s top colleges and universities.

The fact that this qualified pool is so small is a national disgrace and should give educators, lawmakers, health care professionals and civic and church leaders reason to re-examine programs and policies in all of these areas.

I have to take exception to the generalization that Mr. McGinn makes regarding motivations and “carrots” that influence America’s youth. Here the news is not only good, but surprisingly good. I would invite anyone who doubts this to visit West Point or any other service academy. You will be blown away by the fantastic spirit and dedication of these young men and women. They came to West Point knowing full well that Iraq and Afghanistan were very likely going to be a big part of their future shortly after graduation. Yet they eagerly await the opportunity to lead America’s young soldiers who are in harm’s way. They do not glorify war, but they are prepared to work (and fight) for peace and a better world. Their “carrot” is not just the first-class education they receive, but also the exceptional opportunities for responsibility and leadership upon which they thrive. For majority and minority alike, starting salaries and corporate trappings are not really on their radar screens.

Mr. McGinn’s cynical comment that “that brand of service and patriotism is frowned upon, if not rejected, in today’s society” is way off the mark. Regardless of their views on any particular war, Americans are solidly supportive of our young men and women in uniform, the 1 percent of the population who selflessly protect us and make it possible for the protesters to have their say. Watch any group of soldiers, sailors or airmen pass through an airport and see the reception they invariably receive, and you will understand this. Or, as I was privileged to do recently, go to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to watch a charter Honor Flight of World War II veterans arrive to be feted during a tour of the World War II memorial and downtown Washington. The cheering crowds of Americans who were there made it clear that patriotism is alive and well and that service to the nation is not only honored but also cherished.

ALAN SALISBURY

McLean


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