Should the United States Military Academy at West Point Remain Open?

I am a graduate of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Washington University, in St. Louis, Missouri. I graduated in July 1967 and because I received one of the first full two year ROTC scholarships I was given a Regular Army commission and had a four year service obligation, the same as graduates of the United State Military Academy at West Point.

I served in peace time and in combat with many officers, subordinates, colleagues and superiors, who graduated from West Point. They, to a man, were always fine officers and gentlemen. I retired from the U.S. Army in 1990 as a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC).

It saddened me to receive a copy of a letter from LTC Robert M. Heffington, U.S. Army (Retired). A sworn statement by Colonel Heffington has been referenced in multiple publications dealing with former West Point Cadet, and now U.S. Army Lieutenant Spenser Rapone. In a Breitbart column titled “West Point Launches Investigation over Its Handling of Communist Soldier” Kristina Wong reports:

 [I]t was unclear whether West Point was aware of his activity as a student until the Daily Caller on Wednesday published a sworn statement from a then-West Point history professor, which mentioned Rapone’s anti-U.S. and pro-communist views.

Retired Army Lieutenant Col. Robert M. Heffington gave the statement after a tense encounter with Rapone, whom he said had a “serious problem with military authority figures.”

Heffington said he shared his misgivings about Rapone with three close friends and colleagues, and one of them showed him Rapone’s Facebook page, which contained a number of anti-military, anti-government, pro-communist, and pro-Muslim posts stemming back to 2014. Read more.

West Point has produced former presidents, numerous corporate executives and officers of the highest caliber who have held the highest positions in our military and Department of Defense. I have only the highest respect for graduates of West Point. However, West Point is under intense scrutiny for admitting, graduating and commissioning someone like Spencer Rapone.

QUESTION: Is Spenser Rapone an anomaly or endemic of something bigger?

That is the question raised and answered by LTC Heffington in his letter.

LTC Heffington’s letter begins with,

Before you read any further, please understand that the following paragraphs come from a place of intense devotion and loyalty to West Point. My experience as a cadet had a profound impact upon who I am and upon the course of  my life, and I remain forever grateful that I have the opportunity to be a part of the Long Gray Line. I firmly believe West Point is a national treasure and that it can and should remain a vitally important source of well trained,  disciplined, highly educated Army officers and civilian leaders.

LTC Heffington then writes, “However, during my time on the West Point faculty (2006-2009 and again from 2013-2017), I personally witnessed a series of fundamental changes at West Point that have eroded it to the point where I question whether the institution should even remain open.”

Here are the reasons that, sadly, LTC Heffington questions whether West Point should remain open:

  • First and foremost, standards at West Point are nonexistent. They exist on paper, but nowhere else. The senior administration at West Point inexplicably refuses to enforce West Point’s publicly touted high standards on cadets, and, having picked up on this, cadets refuse to enforce standards on each other. The Superintendent refuses to enforce admissions standards or the cadet Honor Code, the Dean refuses to enforce academic standards, and the Commandant refuses to enforce standards of conduct and discipline. The end result is a sort of malaise that pervades the entire institution. Nothing matters anymore. Cadets know this, and it has given rise to a level of cadet arrogance and entitlement the likes of which West Point has never seen in its history.
  • The cadet honor code has become a laughingstock. Cadets know they will not be separated for violating it, and thus they do so on a daily basis. Moreover, since they refuse to enforce standards on each other and police their own ranks, cadets will rarely find a cadet at an honor hearing despite overwhelming evidence that a violation has occurred. This in turn has caused the staff and faculty to give up even reporting honor incidents.
  • Academic standards are also nonexistent. I believe this trend started approximately ten years ago, and it has continued to get worse. West Point has stated standards for academic expectations and performance, but they are ignored. Cadets routinely fail multiple classes and they are not separated at the end-of-semester Academic Boards. Their professors recommend “Definitely Separate,” but those recommendations are totally disregarded.
  • Even the curriculum itself has suffered. The plebe American History course has been revamped to focus completely on race and on the narrative that America is founded solely on a history of racial oppression. Cadets derisively call it the “I Hate America Course.”
  • Conduct and disciplinary standards are in perhaps the worst shape of all. Cadets are jaded, cynical, arrogant, and entitled. They routinely talk back to and snap at their instructors (military and civilian alike), challenge authority, and openly refuse to follow regulations. They are allowed to wear civilian clothes in almost any arena outside the classroom, and they flaunt that privilege.

LTC Heffington ended his letter writing:

It breaks my heart to write this. It breaks my heart to know first-hand what West Point was versus what it has become. This is not a “Corps has” story; it is meant to highlight a deliberate and radical series of changes being undertaken at the highest levels of USMA’s leadership that are detrimental to the institution. Criticizing these changes is not popular. I have already been labeled a “traitor” by some at the Academy due to my sworn statement’s appearance in the media circus surrounding Spenser Rapone. However, whenever I hear this, I am reminded of the Cadet Prayer:

“…suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish.

Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,

and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.

…that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice, and knows no

fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”

West Point was once special, and it can be again. Spenser Rapone never should have been admitted, much less graduate, but he was—and that mistake is directly attributable to the culture of permissiveness and apathy that now exists there.

It hurts me to publish this as a retired Army officer as much as it saddened LTC Heffington who wrote this letter. LTC Heffington is truly an officer and a gentleman. He is doing what his training, oath and rank require – to tell the truth.

Duty, honor, country!


Letter from LTC Robert M. Heffington, U.S. Army (Retired)

Letter from Commandant of the USMA at West Point.

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