Prediction: Army will change policy

I'm not sure who created the Army policy that allows officers to pursue professional careers while serving on active duty, but I think I know who will put an end to it. I'll give you a hint: he or she will work in the Oval Office. But I don't think the Secretary of the Army will let it get that far. I predict the policy will be amended before we inaugurate the next President.

The Political Dimension


The Army policy which gives West Point a competitive advantage on the gridiron over its service counterparts most likely won't come up in the next President's inaugural address.  Yep, even if Sen. John McCain, a 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy, is the next Commander in Chief, I doubt one of his top priorities will be to restore order to service academy football.  However, if you think that he isn't aware of the policy, think again.  Do I have any inside information on this topic? Well, sort of.  In my interview with his son, Jack, earlier this year, he did let me know that his dad "loves Navy football" and is a "huge fan" who rarely, if, ever misses a game when he has time to catch it either in person or on television.  I don't think there is a need to revisit Sen. McCain's military career, but I think it is safe to say he probably isn't a fan of this policy.  I think it is also safe to say that the Secretary of the Army will be made well aware of this in short order if the next President is a Republican.


On the other side of the political spectrum, the Democrats have two candidates who are promising to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, as early as several months after taking the oath of office.  If either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama stays true to their campaign promise, there will be two short-term effects on Army recruiting.  First, the U.S. Army will probably be able to scale down its current yearly recruiting goal of 80,000 soldiers.  Second, the U.S. Army may see a significant increase in the numbers of recruits lining up to join if they know that their first tour won't be in Iraq.


If a Republican wins – this policy will be dead.  If a Democrat wins – this policy will be unnecessary. 


Army Needed Better Football Players in 2003-04, Not More Soldiers


Of course the decision to alter this policy will never make its way to Pennsylvania Avenue because it will be killed before then.  Not because it is necessarily a bad policy (more on that in a moment) but because the premise of it and how it has been sold to the public at large is a sham.  All you have to do is look at the date the memorandum was signed by then Secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey: April 2, 2005.  Then, look at the U.S. Army's recruiting goals for the five years leading up to that date.  Don't have them in front of you?  No worries…I'll summarize the numbers for you.  According to statistics provided to by Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, the Army surpassed each of its recruiting goals, for both active duty and reserve soldiers from 2000 through 2004. 


Why look back five years?  Well, for those who have never served in the military, let me give you a quick course on how long it takes for a policy like this to go from a draft on somebody's desk to a signature by the Secretary of the Army.  It takes FOREVER.


It's important to note this because skeptics will point to the Army's recruiting shortfall in 2005 as the rationale for this policy.  Don't kid yourselves.  This policy was drafted way before 2005, most likely during a surge in Army recruiting and also during another surge – in Navy football.


If you think it is a coincidence that Navy's manhandling of Army in football came at the same time this policy was making its way from West Point to the Pentagon, I've got some property in the Everglades I'd like to talk to you about.   


I must give credit to my colleague at the Times-Herald Record for pointing this ‘coincidence' out, but I think it is necessary to analyze deeper which recruiting problem this policy was supposed to address.  The state of recruiting soldiers at the time this memorandum was making its way up the chain of command had not been adversely affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least statistically.  However, the state of recruiting for the West Point football team from 2003-2005, well, that's a different story…at least statistically.


The Navy Point of View


I do have a small problem, though, with the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy both crying foul about this policy now.  It has been in effect for over three years, and nobody (at least not me) heard a peep out of either academy regarding a recruiting disadvantage.  Perhaps that is because they were both pummeling their rival on the gridiron at the time, and because Army really did not have a player worthy of a look, never mind being drafted, by the NFL.  Now that Army has sent four players to the NFL via the draft, free agency or a mini-camp invite, the Naval and Air Force Academies are up in arms.


The Navy does deserve some credit because it is standing by its word to support the Army in its current time of need.  In January 2007, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter cited other services' utilization of its stop loss authority as reason enough to not continue any policy that allows officers to play professional football before their service time is up.  Furthermore, active-duty naval officers have confirmed to me that the Navy is filling a lot of Army ground billets in war zones to help out as well. 


The Air Force has also said that they have no intention of changing its early release policy.    


In the meantime, the Army's solution for its own recruiting problems is to allow its most well-educated officers to play professional football or to compete in American Idol.


A Joint Solution that Delivers Results


Make no mistake the Army is selling this policy as a business decision.  However, is it smart business to have Caleb Campbell serve once a week at a recruiting station in Detroit where he may have some effect locally? I would have been sold on the program a bit more if he were assigned to a joint recruiting command with a national focus.  At such a joint command, a capable public affairs officer or two could oversee the publicity tour for not only Army officers like Campbell, but for Navy and Air Force officers as well.  Make the focus about recruiting people into the military, not just a particular team…err…service. 


There will still be critics of this joint policy, but if this is a business decision, which is what the Army is trying to pass it off as, then put together a program that will work and deliver real results for all branches of the military.


A Word for the Critics


In the meantime, critics need to stop pointing fingers at the West Point players who are taking advantage of this policy.  I'm sure a lot of people go to the service academies because it has always (since birth) been their dream to serve as an officer in the U.S. military.  I'm sure instead of posters of Dan Marino and Bruce Springsteen on their walls, that some, maybe quite a few, idolized Rambo and Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun.  However, I can only speak for myself when I say that if someone came to me in either my junior or senior year at Annapolis and said that I could spend my first two years after graduation as a groundskeeper at Yankee Stadium while doing recruiting duty for the Navy, I'd have taken the deal in a New York second.  As a midshipmen or cadet, it's not every day that a good deal comes your way during your four-year ‘college' experience, so if one came in my direction; I would not have turned it down. 


Does that make me unpatriotic or worthy of some of these other ridiculous insults being directed at Caleb Campbell and Mike Viti just because I would jump at a good deal? No, of course not – it makes me human…and perhaps a little insane for wanting to rake dirt and roll out tarp when it rains, but if you don't like my dream, get your own.  Then, ask yourself if you wouldn't follow it if someone dropped it into your lap and said, ‘here you go.' 


I was disappointed with Navy senior fullback Adam Ballard, who recently questioned the manhood of the NFL-bound cadets. What if the Navy changes its policy next year and an NFL team drafts his teammate, rising senior fullback Eric Kettani?  Would Ballard criticize him as well?  Perhaps, Ballard may rethink his own decision and make a few calls around the NFL if the Navy's policy changes.  I mean if Kettani could get a look, there is no doubt Ballard, who will be in pretty good shape 11 months from now, would interest plenty of scouts.


Personally if I was a Navy or Air Force football player, if asked about Campbell and Viti, I'd publicly say, "Good for them."  And then, later on, I'd have fun telling stories to my troops and Sailors about the day in December when we destroyed an Army team full of NFL-bound players on the football field.  But that's just me.


A Word for the NFL-bound Cadets


If any Army player makes an NFL roster, they will be guaranteed a starting salary of $295,000.  And since they are all on active duty with the U.S. Army, that means they are also entitled to basic pay and allowances for a second lieutenant.  For example, Caleb Campbell would be entitled to collect an additional $48,713.52 from Uncle Sam which includes his housing allowance for the Detroit area.  The two salaries combined is about $120,000 or so more than a four-star general, living in Detroit, makes per year.  Taking this into consideration, I would highly recommend Mr. Campbell and his colleagues to find a worthy cause, like this one to donate the equivalent of their military salary if they make a roster.  It still won't make a difference in the minds of many critics, but it will make a difference where it counts – in the lives of the injured service members returning from war.


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