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Does commissioning source matter?

robertj96robertj96 Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
edited June 2012 in Service Academy Parents
Once you're an Officer in the military, does it matter how you were commissioned? For example, are your chances at promotion, certain commands, etc. affected by how you were commissioned (like an Academy graduate being chosen over an OCS or ROTC graduate)?
Post edited by robertj96 on

Replies to: Does commissioning source matter?

  • sstewartsstewart Registered User Posts: 894 Member
    Not necessarily, though it has been noted that Academy graduates go through the ranks quicker than other commissioning sources. Best of luck.
  • KPS1998KPS1998 Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    This is a difficult question to answer on many levels. As a career Naval Officer on active duty in the Navy - who graduated from USMMA, I can offer some insight.

    First and foremost - success is a factor of drive and personality... those traits are not tied to any one commissioning source. Statistically, there is little difference on a per capita basis. Here are some general factors though:

    - Networking - There is no doubt that the service academy junior officers have a huge advantage early in their careers. By service academy I mean Annapolis grads in the Navy, West Point grads in the Army, etc... This is becuse they have a network of classmates in the same jobs, in the same geographic areas. When they run into leadership challenges, they can call on classmates in similar positions for advice. They can trade goods and ideas amongst all the units from day one. Most ROTC grads might only have one classmate within the same home port/base within a hundred miles, whereas the academy guys have a big rolodex to fall back on. This makes life a little easer and every advantage pays off in the begining.

    - Familiarity - The new car smell has worn off for the academy guys - they are used to all the things that make life in the service uncomfortable for new recruits. So this to is an advantage. They have a better appreciation for what is expected of them and where they fit in the big picture.

    - Exposure - Much of the cost to make an academy grad is in exposing them to all the things their service has to offer from an education point of view. ROTC grads get exposure too, but not to the same degree. OCS grads get none - they come into the service with a contract to go into a community which is really all they will know. When you tie this to the networking benifit above, these grads also know people in all the other communities and can make things happen easier. Another advantage.

    - Burn out - All academies are tough - no matter how you slice it, the former cadets/midshipmen are at least a little burnt after four years. Contrast this to OCS grads who have only been in the service for a few months. I can remember wanting to kill an OCS guy becuase he was so excited to have his first "Fleet" uniform inspection that he stayed up all night preping his brand new uniform. My uniform by contrast was three years old and this was my 4,000th uniform inspection. The eagerness seems more evident in ROTC and OCS grads because this is all new and exciting.

    - Degree - I'd call this a wash... We need the diveristy in the force of people with a lot of different academic backgrounds. If everyone went to the same school we would be subject to group-think and that's dangerous - a path to dictatorship and blunder.

    *** In the end though, none of this matters that much. By the time an officer reaches O3 (LT/Capt) they are all about the same. ROTC/OCS guys that were lagging have now caught up. Academy guys who were burn outs have separated... Academy guys hold more flag/general officer billets simply becuase there are more of them than any other single commissioning source. Your chances for promotion are the same.

    The real question is about finding a program that fits your needs. I wanted to learn to drive ships and fly planes, and the best place for me to do that was USMMA. Its the only Academy that really focuses on this as a major. Don't get me wrong, USNA and USCGA teach shiphandling - but as an aside - somthing all the cadets and midshipmen have to learn after school. I have a four year degree in shipboard operations - becuase that is what I wanted to study.

    So, you need to ask yourself... Are you willing to live the military regimental life at 150% 100% of the time (because the military lifestyle found at the Academies exceeds actual military life requirements)? if so, your education may be free and you may be exposed to a whole lot more. On the other hand, you may not be suited to that life and would rather pay to go to a school where you only have to play Army one day a week.

    You have to do what's best for you - based on the best information you can get. A tall order for a 17 year old. Good luck!
  • MD MomMD Mom Registered User Posts: 6,728 Senior Member
    As the wife a West Point grad who put 27 years in the Army, I would second the observation about connections. My husband's civilian boss was his boss in the Army and then they both retired. Both are academy grads as are a fairly high percentage of their co-workers.

    For promotion, it was my observation that those who were most often promoted below the zone (early) had served as a general's aide in their early years. Having that exposure appeared to help them along. On the other end, we had a friend who had been promoted twice below the zone who ticked off Barry McCaffery in the Middle East, and his promotions stopped.

    My husband taught ROTC. Of his dozen or so cadets, he had at least one make full colonel and another just pinned on his second star.
  • raimiusraimius Registered User Posts: 2,360 Senior Member
    After commissioning, the promotion system is neutral. That said, SA grads have a lot of connections right off the bat. If they know how to use them, they can get a lot of information that will help them perform well. For example, if my squadron was having trouble dealing with someone in logistics, I could call a couple friends who are logistics officers and ask them how to work the logistics system better. The squadron might just see "Lt X helped fix our logistics issues." In another situation, I might hear from a friend that a cool assignment just opened up, and apply for it.
  • kkuo12887kkuo12887 Registered User Posts: 117 Junior Member
    Not necessarily, though it has been noted that Academy graduates go through the ranks quicker than other commissioning sources. Best of luck.
    I'm not sure if this can be entirely attributed to the Academy. The Academy is pretty selective to begin with. The only way to determine if the Academy results in more below-the-zone promotions is to centralize the admissions to both ROTC and Academy and randomly distribute the candidates.
  • raimiusraimius Registered User Posts: 2,360 Senior Member
    I can attest to the fact that AFROTC and USAFA use different factors in admissions/scholarships, as I have had friends go to USAFA who got rejected by AFROTC and vice versa.
  • Whistle PigWhistle Pig - Posts: 4,093 Senior Member
    KPS has provided an outstanding analysis with great explanation.

    Essentially the answer might be as follows ...

    1. Individually, it is not the determining or even primary predicting factor in forecasting or projecting a career in the military service. It is important but can be overcome, i.e. graduating from a SA vs. other commissioning source. George Marshall (VMI), the first 5 star general, and General of the Armies, and more recently Colin Powell (CCNY) are vivid examples.

    2. Collectively, generally, in the aggregate, it is THE PRIMARY FACTOR. While anecdotal and a bit dated, one illustration ... 8 of 9 of the only 5 star admirals and generals were Academy grads. As one insightful professor always waxed eloquently and correctly ...

    "There is no random behavior" ... and ... "EVERYTHING is political."

    It's clear IF one aspires to superior military career, a Service Academy is the optimal route. But neither the only route nor the exclusive route.

    It's also clear that IF one aspires to a commission, a Service Academy is the optimal route. But neither the only route nor the exclusive route. The % of officers graduating from their respective academies is huge relative to any other institution, and more collectively, advantageous as well, i.e. when looking at SA grads vs. ROTC vs. OCS.

    So in the end this is about 2 unavoidable truths. There are simply more SA grads than any others ... AND ... relationships count. ESPECIALLY as one achieves the higher echelons of his respective service. The higher one goes, the more political it becomes.
  • MD MomMD Mom Registered User Posts: 6,728 Senior Member
    ^^Patraeus married the superintendent's daughter, speaking of relationships!
  • Whistle PigWhistle Pig - Posts: 4,093 Senior Member
    ^^NO random behavior! ;)

    Musta married the good lookin' daughter. He's only a 4 star! :eek:

    In truth, there are quite a few "coincidental" and beneficial hook-ups in military history, i.e. Mids marrying the "farmer's" daughter, the roommate's sister, etc. In the book, "The Admirals" by Walter Borneman (a GREAT read about the Navy's only 5 stars), Schwarztkopf's autobiography, and "The Nightengale's Song" (a 3rd outstanding read about 4 Mids who became men of great visibility ... North, Webb, Poindexter, McCain) ... there is vivid illumination of how these relationships, that in isolation or lacking a lifetime of context, seem so serendipitous, lucky, coincidental, and are anything but. Network, network, network. And that's likely the essence of the SA thing vs. other sources. Little to do w/ intellect, ability, etc. All of these are very insightful about the nature of the military beast.
  • MD MomMD Mom Registered User Posts: 6,728 Senior Member
    Ha. My husband is a classmate of Patraeus (not really sure on the spelling). I think his class has four, four-stars.
  • Whistle PigWhistle Pig - Posts: 4,093 Senior Member
    WOW! That's impressive. Reading between the lines from Schwartzkopf, seems no lost love there.
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