The Carson West Point “Scholarship” Hoopla

Posted on: November 9th, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 5 Comments
IJR video screenshot of Dr. Ben Carson

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.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • YankeePapa

    ….While members of Congress make many of the nominations (Pickett of “Pickett’s Charge” was put forward by Abraham Lincoln… long story…) other routes exist.   Enlisted personnel can be nominated by their services.  Presidential appointments are best known re offspring of recipients of the Medal of Honor… but the category is actually somewhat broader.  .
    .

    “…Children of a deceased or disabled member of the Armed Forces may apply for nomination if the parent was killed or is 100% disabled by wounds or injuries received or diseases contracted while in active service.  
    .
    Children of armed services members or civilian employees in active government service who are in an officially determined status of missing in action may apply for a nomination.
    Children of Medal of Honor recipients from any branch of the armed services may apply for nomination…”
    .
    …Of course even if the President of the United States signs off… you still have to pass the exams.  You don’t have to get a blazingly high score… but you must pass.   One famous case involved a lad named John Clem.
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    …John Clem attempted to enlist as a drummer boy early in the Civil War.  Much nonsense has been written about him… in large part due to confusion with the fictional “Johnny Shiloh…” (Clem’s regiment was not at Shiloh…)
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    …Clem was temple-shy of 10 in 1861 and was rejected… but ultimately “tagged along” with one regiment who used him as a drummer boy but did not officially place him on the rolls until 1863.  Collections among the men and officers had been periodically taken up on his behalf.  
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    …Long story short, Clem ultimately wound up as the youngest NCO in the U.S. Army.  Known for “soldierly qualities and bravery” again, many tall tales need to be ignored.  Image below of Clem after being promoted to Sgt.
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    .https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Little_John_Clem.jpg
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    ….In late 1864  Clem returned to civilian life… “…Clem graduated from high school in 1870. In 1871, he was elected commander/captain of the “Washington Rifles” a District of Columbia militia unit…”
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    ….Eventually President Ulysses Grant backed his application to West Point.  But Clem did not pass some portion of the exam and was not admitted to the Academy. ….Grant decided to cut to the chase and gave Clem a direct commission as a 2nd Lt. in the Twenty Fourth United States Infantry in December of 1871…..
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    …Picture below of Clem as a junior officer.  Lad with him is his younger brother who later enlisted in the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, but perished at the Little Big Horn in June of 1876. 
    .
    .http://www.fielddrums.com/uploaded_images/00716v-731869.jpg 
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    …..Clem had a distinguished career… especially considering that the period between 1866 and 1897 was a sort of “Dark Ages” for the Army… Forty year old captains being quite common…..Image below of Clem in later years..
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    http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/fall-2010/images/john-clem.jpg
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    ….Through his military career Clem held the following ranks:Musician and Lance Sergeant, Co. C, 22nd Michigan Infantry – 1 May 1863 to 19 September 18642nd Lieutenant – 18 December 18711st Lieutenant – 5 October 1874Captain – 4 May 1882Major – 16 May 1895Lieutenant Colonel – 2 February 1901Colonel – 15 August 1903Brigadier General (Retired) – 13 August 1915Major General (Retired) – 29 August 1916Clem was the last officer with Civil War service on active duty..-Yankee Papa-

  • Luddite4Change

    YankeePapa 
    FWIW.
    In the early 1900’s Congress passed a law advancing all Civil War Veterans on the retired list by one grade and authorizing retired pay (equal to 75% of then basic pay) at the retired grade.  Congress authorized a special promotion from BG to MG in recognition of his long service (over 45 years) in peace and war.

  • Txazz

    YankeePapa Oh my in the first picture the Clem boys looked so young.  Interesting story round and about West Point.  LOL
    Incredible photos of this outstanding soldier.

  • Txazz

    Will, excellent article – thank you.  I never saw a problem and why all the hoopla except a Politico hit job on Carson.  I certainly had my say over at REP so no need to discuss it.  I’ve been at peace with it all the time.  There are some honest ppl in this world.

  • Txazz 
    Thank You.
    I didn’t see a discussion over at Rep.   Feel free to post a link on either site.  
    I did have a pretty animated debate with Brad on the subject in chat though.