Department of Defense

Military Education, Sequestered

With furloughs and reduced spending levels, U.S. military academies are struggling to live up to their own standards of excellence. By Eric Katz

Children often watch the local weather forecasts with glee, hoping with every fiber of their being the storms will grant them the most vaunted wintery gift of all: a snow day.

Less common, however, are students who gather ‘round to watch C-SPAN, hoping beyond hope that lawmakers will fail to strike a bipartisan deal to end the sequester, leading to a less celebrated occasion: a furlough day.

At the U.S. Naval Academy -- and across the U.S. military academies -- furlough days have become a reality. For midshipmen, this means many classes taught by civilian professors during the furlough period are canceled. For the sailors-to-be and cadets at the Air Force Academy and the Army’s Military Academy this means less training, fewer upgrades and cancelled programs. The result, university officials have told Defense One, is a fraction of the college experience typically provided to future military officers.

“We will continue to meet our mission of developing midshipmen morally, mentally and physically, but I cannot emphasize enough that sequestration and furloughs will have a very negative impact here,” said Vice Adm. Michael Miller, USNA’s superintendent.

A majority of the academy’s professors are civilians subject to furloughs. With the academic year starting Aug. 19, midshipmen will face about five weeks in which those professors must take at least one unpaid vacation day. This, inevitably, will lead to canceled classes. If and how the classes are made up will depend on each specific class and teacher.

“English lit may be different than a physics professor,” said Cmdr. John Schofield, a USNA spokesman. “It’s not like we’re going to make people come in on weekends.”

The Naval Academy will also have to close its library every Friday at least through mid-August, with the first semester’s schedule still to be determined. The academy museum will close every Monday. Meals will be cut. The list goes on.

The Army’s U.S. Military Academy will not cancel classes but will rely on military professors to take on the extra workload. Civilians make up about 27 percent of the West Point faculty. In some cases, military professors will have to double-up their class size; in others they will simply have to take on an extra session. For the military staff, the extra burden will result in an inability to participate in activities outside the classroom, such as athletics, according to West Point Chief of Staff Charles Stafford.

“For civilian faculty, it goes beyond simply teaching in the classroom,” Stafford said. Civilian professors have to reduce the number of office hours they have open to students, limit the amount of time they have for research and publications and cancel travel to present findings at academic forums.

“As we delivered our furlough letters,” Stafford said, “by far and away at a large margin, the biggest problem that people brought forward about the furlough was their inability to get the job done to the standard they expect of themselves and to the standard they expect West Point to do.”

Taken in totality, sequestration cuts have forced officials at West Point to “meet minimum requirements” required to graduate their cadets and produce commissioned officers. West Point officials have cut programs to send cadets to international Army bases for training. They are relying on private donations to fund the reduced number of semester abroad opportunities at foreign military academies. While no athletic events have been canceled, coaches cannot travel as often or as far to recruit and teams and only “starters and immediate backups” will travel to away games.

Similarly, the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., will avoid class cancellations. Also like West Point, however, the Air Force is postponing maintenance to buildings and delaying upgrades to its technological infrastructure. John Van Winkle, a spokesman for the academy, said the academic schedule will be compressed and flying hours will be reduced. Programs to take cadets to active duty bases so they can identify which jobs appeal to them will be trimmed, while initial basic training will be cut by two days. “It will hurt, no doubt,” Van Winkle said, “but we will still continue the mission.”

There is one silver lining, Van Winkle said. While cadets “will see there are some fiscal pains,” they also will “see that we are still finding ways to executive the mission. They will see there is not an endless pot of money out there. That does not exist. Sooner or later we may face this again, and they will be the leaders.”

So for now, the military academies are doing what they must: getting by, and nothing more. In the future, however, the impact could become more severe.

“The best way to describe this is termites,” Stafford explained. “Right now we got a couple of termites chewing on a board. Every year there’s going to be more…Ultimately if this goes on for an extended period of time there will be a degradation in the living conditions, a degradation in our ability to deliver the education and a degradation in the ability to deliver relevant information and technology to these future college graduates.”