Iraq War Causes Sharp Drop in Military Academy Applications
WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) – Applications from high school students to each of the three prestigious U.S. military academies dropped this year, officials said on Monday, at the same time the Army is struggling to sign up new recruits.
This drop in applications represented the latest sign that the all-volunteer military is having difficulty attracting people during an Iraq war that is producing a steady flow of U.S. casualties, defense analysts said. Applications to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, which produces junior officers for the Army, declined 9.3 percent this year compared to last year, the academy said. The Army provides most of the ground troops in Iraq, and has born the brunt of the military’s recruiting problems. But the decline was even steeper at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where applications were down 20 percent from a year ago, and at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they were off 22.7 percent. The Naval Academy mints junior officers for the Marine Corps and Navy. The Air Force Academy produces them for the Air Force. Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson cited three factors in the drop in applications. “First of all, the economy is recovering, and so military careers look relatively less appealing,” Thompson said. “Second, the Iraq war is creating a very powerful negative impact on the propensity of people to sign up and serve. And third, the wave of patriotism that followed 9/11 has largely dissipated after two years of fighting in Iraq,” Thompson added, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ‘NO HARD FACTS’ West Point spokesman Mike D’Aquino said it would be speculation to blame the war for the decline in applications. “There’s really no hard facts to make that conclusion,” D’Aquino said. Meade Warthen, an Air Force Academy spokesman, agreed, saying: “We just don’t know, and we wouldn’t want to speculate. I could come up with a hundred reasons and so could anybody else.” Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers said that in contrast to the military academies, application volume appears to have increased this year at most colleges and universities. Attending one of the academies, all possessing strong academic reputations, involves at least a nine-year commitment to the military. Those who attend the four-year institutions get free tuition, room and board, and commit to at least five years of active-duty service after graduating. Applications declined from 11,881 last year to 10,774 this year at West Point and from 12,430 last year to 9,604 this year at the Air Force Academy, the schools said. The Naval Academy released figures as of Jan. 31, the deadline for applications, showing them falling from 13,922 at the same time last year to 11,140 this year. D’Aquino said this year’s drop left West Point at about the level of applications it was receiving before the 2001 attacks, adding that there has been no decline in the quality of the incoming class compared to previous classes. “We’re still getting a big pool of qualified applicants, good applicants,” D’Aquino said. The Air Force Academy, rocked by a recent sexual assault scandal and currently the subject of an investigation into allegations of religious bias, said its applications also had receded to levels predating the 2001 attacks. Warthen said last year’s number of applications was the highest since the class that entered in 1988.