Recently the media alleged that presidential candidate Ben Carson lied about receiving a “scholarship” to West Point as a teenager. My intent here is to explain the very unique process one goes through to get into the Academy so as one reads the various reports one is better educated than the overwhelming majority reporting on the subject. I’m pretty familiar with the subject having spent eight years at the Academy as a cadet and later as cadre. I volunteered to do minority outreach recruiting during both periods.
The initial headline stated, “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship.” Within five hours Politico changed its headline to, “Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied”. The quote from Ben Carson’s book that started this media circus was, “Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point. I didn’t refuse the scholarship outright, but I let them know that a military career wasn’t where I saw myself going.”
The fact is Ben Carson never got a scholarship to West Point. No cadet In the Academy’s over 200 year history has ever received a scholarship to the Academy although the term has been used in many official publications, by Cadets and Officers and West Point itself attempting to dumb down the Academy’s unique application and acceptance process to non-graduates.
If I had a nickel for every person that told me they “could have gone to West Point” I’d be able to fill the gas tank of my car. Some of these people were trying to convince themselves (and others) they could accomplish something they never tried. Others sincerely believed because of a lack of understanding of the complicated process. Many assumed that letter that said they had successfully established a file, received a nomination or been accepted to United States Military Academy Prepatory School meant they had been “accepted” by the Academy.
Getting into the Academy is a long laborious process. Besides taking the typical academic tests college students take to get into college, one must also take physical/medical tests, get numerous letters of recommendation and undergo batteries of interviews. An Academy candidate must open an application file and secure a nomination, often in that order but not necessarily especially if the Academy is courting the candidate. Almost all new cadet candidates receive nominations from congressional representatives but they also can secure a nomination through the executive branch or the Army itself if they qualify in certain categories e.g. child of a Medal of Honor awardee, a distinguished Junior ROTC cadet etc. I received two nominations to the Academy, one from the Army for my JROTC accomplishments and another by Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm.
Mr. Carson as an academically gifted, minority and high ranking JROTC cadet would have undoubtedly been a highly desired candidate. Carson attributes his belief that he would have been able to go the Academy to a meeting he shared with General Westmoreland who commanded all military forces in Vietnam. While technically unable to guarantee entry into the Academy, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind who has any experience with the Academy’s selection process that any four star general could get a ham sandwich a letter of acceptance to the Academy let alone a distinguished graduate like Westmoreland.
Finally, there are no scholarships to the academy. Cadets are granted appointments to the Academy. They are in effect internships of officership. Upon attending one’s first class of one’s third year, the cadet incurs an obligation for the nation’s investment in their education. The government can recover compensation should a cadet not complete one’s course of study. I know of no scholarship that demands its repayment if one doesn’t graduate. Upon graduation each graduate owes half a decade of active duty service in whatever capacity the Army deems is in its best interest. After that term of service is complete, officers owe a varying amount of years of service to be served in the Guard, Reserve or Individual Ready Reserve. Again, I know of no scholarship that demands almost a decade of service as repayment.
It’s understandable that Ben Carson thought a four star general was offering him a scholarship. That said it is a silly mistake to not understand the entire application process to the Academy but an understandable one for a teenager that never seriously attempted to participate in it. I constantly chuckle at those that conflate completion of Ranger School with serving in the Ranger Regiment or serving in a combat zone as the same as being in combat.
Why is it so hard to understand that many don’t know the relatively complicated process it takes to get into the Academy? Well most won’t unless they actually try to walk that path that can take up to two years. Others don’t want to understand because of their own motives. Some will accuse Dr. Ben Carson of trying to pad his resume. Considering how many unflattering stories he’s told about himself and his upbringing I don’t think arrogance is his sin. The fact that he and the media continue to use the term “scholarship” should illustrate how few understand the process. Now you’re better informed than the overwhelming majority being paid to report on the issue.