by: Michael C. Morales, Ph.D.
International Graduate School of Leadership
Quezon City, Philippines firstname.lastname@example.org
(This paper is the first in a series on the leader development process at the US Military Academy at West Point and insights that can be gained to improve education and training at the Philippine Military Academy and allied institutions. This research was made possible through a grant from the US-ASEAN Fulbright Visiting Scholars Program.)
This is printed with the author’s expressed permission.
The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – the brainchild of General Douglas MacArthur, military adviser to the Philippine president in the final years of the colonial era – was created in the image and likeness of West Point. Many of PMA’s traditions – the Fourth Class system, the Honor System, cadet uniforms, even cadet slang – were borrowed from West Point. While West Point’s training process and traditions have evolved over the years, these have remained largely unchanged in PMA. It is held that some of these traditions, particularly the Fourth Class system, have contributed to PMA’s “three-headed nemesis” of hazing, mediocrity and growing disregard of honor (De Veyra, 2002). This has led to a high attrition of cadets. Beyond the obvious cost implications, chronic high attrition indicates a systemic problem that hinder the attainment of institution’s goals.
This study revisits West Point, the origin of PMA’s training model, to gain insights on how PMA might improve its leader development process. West Point struggled with the very same problems that continue to bedevil PMA and have overcome them to become one of the top leader development institutions in the world. The fundamental change that led to West Point’s success was its shift from an attritional to a developmental training paradigm. This was implemented through several initiatives, chief of which were achieving clarity on the purpose of the academy, creation of a formal leader development model, the high priority given to character development, improved training and dedicated role of tactical officers, and careful selection and longer tenure of the academy superintendent.
The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) is the premier officer training institution of the Philippines. Its alumni have distinguished themselves in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and in the country’s enduring counter-insurgency campaign, as well as in the more peaceful pursuits of rural development and disaster relief. Beyond military service, PMA graduates serve in government, business, education and other strategic sectors of society. Many “PMAyers” attribute their success to the leadership training they received at their alma mater. PMA’s reputation in leader development goes beyond national borders; other ASEAN countries have sent their young men to PMA to train to become officers.
Despite its rich history, PMA has struggled with problems with its leader development process for decades, preventing it from achieving its full potential as the premier military institution that graduates officers with “the character, the broad and basic military skills, and the education” to lead the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the twenty-first century (PMA website, 2017). There is no more glaring proof of the problem than PMA’s graduation rate – the number of cadets who graduate out of the original cohort – which hovered at thirty-eight per cent from 1981 to 2000 (MA5 Longitudinal Study cited in De Veyra, 2002, p. 11). Such a ratio is indicative of a serious problem for any educational institution. The fact that the graduation rate has remained low for over two decades suggests that none of the corrective measures that were implemented worked. With the presence of Officer Candidate Schools (OCS) that offer a faster and more economical way of producing officers, the viability of PMA in the future is doubtful.
The graduation rate is a litmus test of the total performance of an educational institution. It is used to determine the effectiveness of programs, set strategic goals and justify funding. In 2002, PMA’s high attrition alarmed AFP General Headquarters that the superintendent, Major General Rufo de Veyra, was directed to explain why the academy could not produce more graduates to meet the need for officers in the field. De Veyra’s report identified three factors that have contributed directly to the high attrition rate: widespread hazing of the fourth class cadets (freshmen) by upperclass cadets, a pervasive attitude of mediocrity among cadets leading to academic deficiency, and the rising number of violations of the honor code (PMA, 2004). Hazing hindered the cadets’ ability to concentrate on their studies often resulting in academic deficiency that led to dismissal. It has also triggered violations of the honor code. De Veyra’s successor, Major General Edilberto Adan, explored ways to stem the hemorrhage of cadets including streamlining the overloaded curriculum and creating centers of excellence to promote teaching and learning effectiveness, leader development and physical fitness. To discourage hazing, cadets were segregated by class in separate barracks. Tactical officers heightened their vigilance. Surveys showed that the measures were taking effect: the incidence of hazing dropped dramatically, cadets enjoyed more hours for sleep and study, and satisfaction in the mess hall rose (PMA, 2004). The intervention measures, however, were unpopular among many officers, cadets and alumni as they were viewed as a softening of training. The lack of acceptance of the reforms coupled with the rapid turnover of superintendents caused most of the measures to be reversed or diminished.
A study of best practices in the military academies of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia by the author as a research fellow of the Nippon Foundation Asian Public Intellectuals program in 2005-2006 revealed a startling perspective of PMA’s graduation rate, as shown in Table 1, below:
|Philippines (2006)||Indonesia (2006)||Japan (2006)||Malaysia (2006)||Thailand (2006)||USA (2016)||USA (2016)|
|Philippine Military Academy, PMA
|Akademi Militer, AKMIL
|National Defense Academy, NDA
|Akademi Tentera Malaysia, ATMA
|Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, CRMA
|US Coast Guard Academy USCGA
Military Academy, USMA
Table 1. Graduation Rates of Seven Service Academies (Morales, 2006a)
The Indonesian and Thai institutions with near-perfect graduation rates are heavily invested in graduating all of their cadets. Most of the cadets who enter these academies have spent the last three years of high school in military preparatory boarding schools. By the time they enter the academy as freshmen, they are almost halfway through their training to become military officers. The focus of AKMIL is to graduate combat officers; academics is an important but secondary activity. CRMA, on the other hand, gives failing cadets numerous opportunities to make up for failed exams until they pass. Cadets are encouraged to aim for academic excellence but those who don’t are not prevented from becoming officers. The military priority of AKMIL and CRMA guides the academic policy of those institutions (Morales, 2006c; Morales, 2006d).
The 2005-2006 study showed the Japanese and Malaysian academies with graduation rates of 80 per cent. Data from the US Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) and the US Military Academy (USMA) at West Point in 2016 also revealed graduation rates hovering just above 80 per cent (Rear Admiral James Rendon, Superintendent, USCGA, personal communication, December 10, 2016; Colonel Deborah McDonald, Director of Admissions at West Point, personal communication, December 9, 2016; Betros, 2012, p. 158.) Japan NDA, Malaysia ATMA, USCGA and West Point expect academic excellence of all cadets. Cadets must apply themselves to a rigorous academic program just like any student in a civilian university. Those unable to meet standards – be it academic, character, physical, or military – leave voluntarily or are dismissed. Moreover, none of the cadets in Japan, Malaysia or West Point are expected to face combat immediately after graduation; they go on to basic officer school and specialized training for periods ranging from a few months to two years before being deployed to an operational unit. Thus, military training in these academies are limited to basic infantry skills. Specialized technical and elite force training are taken in special schools after graduation from the academy. The goals of PMA
- to develop leaders of character and intellect – are more aligned with those of ATMA, NDA, USCGA and West Point than with those of CRMA and AKMIL (Morales, 2006b; Morales, 2006c; Morales, 2006d; Morales, 2006e).
PMA’s graduation rate has risen to fifty-six per cent in the last twelve years, as seen in Table 2 below. Although progress has been made, the new ratio is no indication of institutional health and falls short of the emerging “industry standard” of eighty per cent. (The factors that have led to this improvement are beyond the scope of this paper and invite further research.) Furthermore, the huge spike in attrition of the class of 2016 that graduated only thirty-six per cent of its original cohort suggests that the improvement is fragile; a more robust strategy is needed if PMA is to achieve and sustain a graduation rate of eighty per cent.
The data shows cadet attrition peaking during the first year at an average of twenty- one per cent (although the Class of 2006 lost forty-three per cent of its members in the first year alone), with further losses of twelve per cent in the second year, eight per cent in the third year, and four per cent in the final year. Although several possible factors influence the high attrition of first year cadets, the tapering attrition rate supports the long-held belief that the major cause lies in the Fourth Class System, the body of rules and traditions that govern the training of freshmen. While the Fourth Class System has been ostensibly superseded by the more enlightened Cadet Leadership Development System (which, like the Fourth Class System, was also borrowed from West Point), the PMA cadet subculture remains unchanged. This finding is not new; it merely confirms that the problem that has haunted PMA for decades still exists.
Table 2 also shows large fluctuations in the admissions policy of PMA with cohorts varying in size from a low of 137 (Class of 2016) to a high of 469 (Class of 2006) (mean incoming cohort size = 259). What are the ramifications of such a high variability in cohort size (standard deviation = 92) on the academic program, military training, faculty, and supporting facilities? Furthermore, increasing the size of an incoming cohort does not necessarily result in a higher graduation rate. Consequently, the size of each graduating class has also been highly variable (maximum 324, minimum 63, mean 197, standard deviation 69) which hinders good human resources planning.
West Point: PMA’s Template.
The search for answers to PMA’s problems led to a study of leader development at West Point. In his memoirs, General Douglas MacArthur, military adviser to the Philippine commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, recalls how he envisioned raising a 400,000- man army over a ten-year period to prepare the Philippines for independence from the United States. To train officers for this army, MacArthur – who served as West Point superintendent from 1919 to 1922 – established PMA in 1935 “on the lines of West Point” (MacArthur, 1964, p. 104). (PMA traces its origin to the Academia Militar of the Philippine revolutionary army that was established in 1898 but did not survive the Philippine- American War. In 1905, American colonial authorities created a school for constabulary officers. This school was abolished in 1935 and the Philippine Military Academy established in its place.) Its four-year engineering curriculum, uniforms and traditions – particularly the Fourth Class System and the Honor System – were copied from West Point. Vestiges of 1935 West Point are still evident in PMA today, particularly its training
paradigm. The shared history offers multiple points of comparison between PMA and West Point that are valuable for this study.
PMA administrators may find comfort in the knowledge that West Point at one time or another struggled with the same challenges that PMA faces today – high attrition, hazing, mediocrity, disregard of the honor code – and overcame them. In the early 1900s, West Point’s graduation rate hovered at fifty per cent (Betros, 2012, p. 117). Lance Betros, West Point alumnus and former head of its history department, gives a critical history of West Point in his controversial book Carved from Granite: West Point since 1902 (Texas A&M University Press, 2012). Established in 1802 as an engineering school, West Point produced officers who built fortifications, railroads and canals that opened the American west. Graduates displayed their valor during the Civil War, the Indian campaigns, and in the wars with Mexico and Spain. By its centennial, West Point had established itself as the premier military training institution of the land.
Yet when MacArthur arrived in West Point as superintendent in 1919, he found an institution in decline, its academic program resistant to innovation and its military training more appropriate for the wars of a previous era. Leader development was poor and hazing rampant, driving a freshman to commit suicide (p. 244). With insights gained from his experience as a division commander in France in World War I, MacArthur introduced revolutionary reforms, codified the Fourth Class System and formalized the Honor System which were previously based on oral tradition (pp. 266-267). He introduced a course in psychology to underpin leadership training. He ordered a rewrite of the outdated cadet regulations. To promote physical fitness and mental toughness, he made intramural sports mandatory. He introduced training in Army camps away from the academy to expose cadets to soldiers and non-commissioned officers, and assigned cadets responsibilities and duties such as they would find in the army after graduation. MacArthur was critical of the cloistered academy environment and gave the cadets more privileges and greater access to the world beyond the walls of West Point (pp. 120-123).
Not everybody shared MacArthur’s vision of a modern military academy with a liberal academic program and greater cadet empowerment. Much of the opposition came from old-timers on the faculty and staff of West Point. He was unable to implement all the reforms he envisioned. Some of his innovations – like the course in Psychology, training in military bases away from West Point, the privilege of cadets to carry cash – were later reversed (Betros, 2012, p. 220). Still, MacArthur’s reforms provided the impetus that loosened the grip of tradition on West Point and led it on the path of modernization (pp. 120-123). In the decades that followed, academy administrators would continue to debate over divisive issues such as whether academics should have priority over military training (“Athens versus Sparta”), whether non-West Point graduates should be recruited to the faculty, whether the curriculum should allow social science subjects which were viewed as wishy-washy, or whether the academy should offer academic majors. Policy would swing between opposing camps as superintendents came and went. Nevertheless, the impact of two world wars, two sensational cheating scandals involving cadets (1951 and 1976), an all-volunteer army, the admission of minorities and female cadets, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, America’s continued military presence around the world, and the shifting mores of American society made change inevitable.
Visionary leaders introduced radical reforms, often in the face of resistance, that transformed West Point’s training philosophy. The most fundamental change was the shift from an attritional training model to a developmental training model (Betros, 2012, pp. 240-243; Dopf, 2014). In an attritional paradigm, young men and women who are admitted as cadets are expected to already possess most of the character, mental, and physical attributes desired of officers. Standards are high and unyielding; those who fail to meet them are dismissed from the academy. The developmental training model, on the other hand, acknowledges that not all cadets who arrive at the academy possess the attributes of leaders. They are given four years to develop their character. This includes giving cadets some latitude for failure provided they recover and learn from them. A cadet who breaks the honor code, for instance, but who demonstrates a willingness to reform may be allowed to remain as a cadet and undergo a rehabilitative mentoring process. Figure 1, below, depicts how the character of cadets at West Point is shaped through the four developmental programs of the academy: character, military, academic, and physical (USMA “Goldbook”).
Figure 1. Why West Point needs a character development program (USMA “Goldbook”)
West Point has demonstrated an amazing capacity to accept criticism and correct itself, allowing it to turn a series of disasters into an opportunity for change. (In an honor and shame based culture like the Philippines and most Asian countries, such openness is rare). In 1951, a large-scale cheating scheme was uncovered involving members of the West Point football team. Ninety cadets were found guilty of breaking the Honor Code and dismissed from the academy. The ensuing investigation revealed flaws in the honor education program and in the implementation of the Honor System. West Point was criticized for applying too much pressure on athletes to win that led cadets to neglect their studies and created the temptation to cheat. Although the erring cadets were held responsible for their actions, the West Point administration was faulted for lapses in its oversight of the system. While the Honor System was affirmed, the single sanction of dismissal for any violation of the Honor Code was questioned (Betros, 2012, pp. 272-280).
In 1976, another major cheating scandal erupted implicating 239 second class (juniors) cadets. This triggered a series of high-level investigations. A fact-finding body headed by former astronaut and West Point graduate Frank Borman was created to investigate the incident. Comprising of the president of a major corporation (Borman), a former Army chief of staff, a university president emeritus, a law school dean, a church leader, and the chairman of the West Point board of visitors, the Borman commission worked from September to mid-December of 1976. Like the body that investigated the 1951 cheating scandal, the Borman commission found the honor education program inadequate and its implementation flawed. The Borman commission, however, recommended that the cadets involved in the scandal be given a second chance (Dept. of the Army (Borman), 1976). The guilty cadets were discharged but allowed to reapply to join the next class. Of 152 cadets who were discharged, 148 were eligible for readmission and, ultimately, ninety-eight cadets joined the class of 1978 (Betros, 286-290).
Not content with the Borman report that focused solely on the cheating scandal, the US Army Chief of Staff ordered a more thorough examination of “all aspects” of West Point. The West Point Study Group was composed of two Major Generals, a Brigadier General and over a hundred military and civilian members and consultants. The study took seven months during which teams pored over reams of documents, interviewed hundreds of individuals, surveyed thousands of respondents, and visited several colleges, army divisions, service schools and academies including four foreign military academies (Dept. of the Army (WPSG), 1977, pp. 152-163).
The West Point Study Group affirmed the findings of the Borman commission and made three further observations on the state of West Point: a slackening in the pursuit of excellence by the cadets particularly in academics (analogous to the problem of mediocrity at PMA), a decline in the academy’s standards to keep attrition low, and a lack of alignment and coordination by the various individuals and groups within the academy (Dept. of the Army (WPSG), 1977, p. 1). Both studies noted the frustration of tactical officers over the lack of clarity of purpose and equipping for their roles, and the excessive amount of “administrivia” that bound them to their desks and prevented them from spending more time interacting with cadets (pp. 98-100). One tactical officer vented that he was “Frustrated beyond explanation!!! Of all places in the Army this institution can and should be the most professionally and personally rewarding assignment imaginable; it is not!!! Instead, it has been and, from where I sit, will continue to be my worst assignment thus far and hopefully the worst I will have to endure.” (p. 99)
“As a result of [my] experience as a tactical officer, it is my finding that as an institution, we are not certain about our goals, that we have not specified what we want our graduates to be, that we do not have a unified philosophy of leadership, that we exhibit contradictory attitudes on how to teach and develop cadets….” (Dept. of the Army (Borman), 1976, p. 84)
Consequently, the West Point Study Group proposed a restatement of the academy’s mission to remedy the lack of clarity of purpose. The study group submitted 156 other recommendations on internal governance, external oversight, academic curriculum, military training, the honor system, the administration of turnback cadets, the grading system, the qualifications and roles of faculty and tactical officers, and other important facets of the academy. The work of the West Point Study Group was the most comprehensive study ever done on the academy. Within two years of the submission of its final report, ninety-seven per cent of their recommendations have been implemented (Betros, 2012, pp. 59-61).
Today, West Point is the top public college in the United States and one of the premier leader development institutions in the world (Howard, 2016). Its student population, once all white males, reflects a rich diversity of gender, race and ethnic origin. It is a fertile laboratory of best practices in transformational leadership. The rich literature of its history, curriculum, training practices and alumni are a treasure trove for any student or practitioner of leadership. Its character development program is a model for other institutions and corporations. Hazing is viewed as a mark of poor leadership and is universally rejected.
How did West Point overcome its challenges? What lessons are there for PMA and other institutions? The following sections highlight five factors that led to the transformation of West Point. This is by no means a complete list; these are offered because they directly address the pressing concerns of PMA. Each section ends with some points for consideration by the leadership of PMA and the AFP.
The mission of West Point is “to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army” (USMA, 2015b, p. 7). To put it succinctly, the purpose of West Point is to graduate leaders of character.
The themes “duty, honor, country” and “leader of character” reverberate across the historic buildings, offices, classrooms, barracks and homes of West Point. Monuments of storied leaders and alumni – Washington, Thayer, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton and others – and war relics that dot the installation are a constant reminder of why the academy exists. Testimonies of the service and sacrifice of recent graduates in remote places across the globe affirm that the mission is alive and well in the hearts of the sons and daughters of West Point. In the author’s interactions with officers, faculty and cadets in the course of this research, it was evident that the mission is more than mere words etched in granite but a lodestar that guides not only the mandated activities of the office or classroom but people’s lives and individual decisions big and small, like a cadet’s decision to major in Arabic in preparation for service in the Middle East, the tactical officer who brings his family on base on a weekend to support cadets in a basketball game, or the military professor’s wife who bakes cookies to encourage cadets.
At the organizational level, the mission has guided the transformation journey of West Point. Administrators returned to the mission time and again to resolve debates about the academy’s direction and manage conflicting demands for the cadets’ time and the institution’s resources. The imperative to graduate leaders of character has led to the decision to restore the four-year curriculum after it was shortened during World War I and World War II, to grant an accredited bachelor’s degree to graduates, to open the academy on several occasions to scrutiny by external entities, to offer academic majors, and to give cadets who fail a “second chance”.
The long-standing insurgency in the Philippines and pressure to graduate officers who are ready to be deployed immediately after graduation gave military training highest priority in PMA with a focus on combat skills for platoon leaders. West Point faced a similar situation in World War I and World War II when the curriculum was shortened to meet an urgent but temporary need for more officers (Betros, 2012, pp. 118-129). When the insurgency intensified and martial law was declared in the Philippines in the early 1970s, the military doubled in size including PMA which increased from four to eight cadet companies. Five decades on, the insurgency remains with no end in sight. What the AFP needs today is a stable source of officers who are equipped for a long and progressive career in the military, not the rapid mobilization of second lieutenants to meet the urgent need of the 1970s. Yet a false urgency to graduate “combat-ready” platoon leaders persists, undermining PMA’s strategic goal of graduating officers of character and intellect. As a result, PMA’s character development program is ad hoc at best, with limited doctrine development and equipping of the faculty and training staff. Academics have taken a backseat: science laboratories, once the best in the country, have been left to decay. The academic program, which is not subject to review by any accreditation body, is not aligned with the educational mainstream. The bachelor of science degree that PMA awards its graduates is woefully inadequate as a foundation for higher studies especially in the sciences.
Each school in the constellation of educational and training institutions of the AFP has a unique purpose and contribution to the mission of the AFP. These schools should complement rather than compete with each other. The Officer Candidate Schools (OCS) of the AFP have amply demonstrated that competent second lieutenants and ensigns can be produced in one year or less. What, then, justifies the huge investment in a four-year military academy? How should PMA be different from OCS?
None of the studies conducted on PMA in the past approaches the rigor, objectivity and strategic impact of the work of the West Point Study Group. Although a number of self-examination activities have been conducted by PMA, their scope were limited to a narrow area of interest such as the curriculum, the Honor System, the Fourth Class System, or the perception of cadets of some part of their training. Often, these studies were conducted at the behest of the superintendent by a few officers and civilian professors on top of their normal duties to inform a decision, or by a solitary officer as a research project at the AFP Command & General Staff College or graduate school. There is no evidence that any of these studies has had a long-term impact on the problems of hazing, mediocrity and disregard of honor.
- Revisiting the vision, mission and core values of Communicate it often and well. Ensure a common understanding and acceptance by the PMA community and the AFP leadership. The vision, mission and values should be part of the narrative and language of PMA – not empty platitudes – with abundant evidence of its application and impact on the strategic direction, curriculum and day-to-day affairs of PMA and its graduates.
- Creating a high-level, multi-sectoral body to perform a comprehensive examination of PMA. This body should include some of the best minds of the land, men and women of impeccable character, patriots, and representing the key sectors of society: government, business, education, media, the arts, the religious sector, indigenous peoples, law enforcement, as well as the The output of this study will guide future reforms. To give its recommendations highest priority, its report must be submitted to the Office of the President. The report of the 1976 West Point Study Group – its composition, methodology and recommendations – will provide a helpful reference for this body.
A formal leader development
The West Point leader development model is the product of continuous improvement over several decades. MacArthur’s formalization of the Fourth Class System and the Honor System, his introduction of the course in Psychology and its reintroduction by Army Chief of Staff Eisenhower, the creation of the Office of Military Psychology which later became the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership are significant milestones in the evolution of leader development at West Point (Betros, 2012, pp. 243- 262). From the informal, anecdotal style of officers teaching leadership from their personal experience, leadership training has adopted a more scientific approach that leverages in theory, research and best practices in behavioral sciences and leadership. Leadership is taught and modeled by a highly-qualified faculty composed of military officers with field experience and by accomplished civilian professors.
The Fourth Class System, a collection of traditions that shaped the early graduates of West Point, had over the decades produced a cadet subculture that was prone to abuse and undermined the character development agenda of the academy. The Fourth Class System had become a de facto “two-class system” consisting of the freshmen (fourth class cadets or plebes) and the upper three classes, with the latter group being preoccupied in training the former. The excessive attention given the fourth class not only caused undue harassment of the plebes but also obscured the leadership development objectives of the upper three classes.
To correct this problem, Lieutenant General David Palmer, superintendent from 1986 to 1991, launched the Cadet Leadership Development System (CLDS or “kleds”). This put an end to the “two-class system” and introduced a “four-class system” that defined the progressive and distinct leadership development objectives and roles of the four classes of cadets (Betros, 2012, pp. 257-262). Fourth class cadets focused on self-leadership or followership, third class cadets (sophomores) on leading a fourth class cadet or direct leadership, second class cadets (juniors) on leading a team of cadets or indirect leadership, and first class cadets (seniors) on taking organizational responsibilities or executive leadership (Donnithorne, 1992). No longer were the plebes the only ones being trained; all classes had clearly-defined leadership goals to attain. CLDS was implemented for over two decades and was instrumental in bringing about a developmental training environment in the cadet corps.
In 2014, CLDS was superseded by the new West Point Leader Development System (WPLDS) which established eight developmental outcomes for the cadets (USMA, 2014a):
- Live honorably and build
- Demonstrate intellectual, military, and physical
- Develop, lead, and
- Think critically and
- Make sound and timely
- Communicate and interact
- Seek balance, be resilient, and demonstrate a strong and winning
- Pursue excellence and continue to
Whereas CLDS focused on developing cadets, WPLDS expanded the scope of leader development to intentionally include the officers, faculty and staff of West Point as well. WPLDS underscores the need for the entire West Point community to continue to grow as leaders as they serve as exemplars and mentors for the cadets (Col Brian Reed, Brigade Tactical Officer, personal communication, October 20, 2016; Col Deborah McDonald, Director of Admissions, personal communication, December 9, 2016). West Point, in effect, has two products: freshly-minted second lieutenants, and “value-added” officers and NCOs who have been enriched by graduate school, polished by serving as a university instructor or tactical officer, NCO, or as member of the academy staff, and matured as mentor and role model to the cadets.
The West Point leader development model is guided by several documents which are all freely available from the worldwide web.
US Army Leader Development Strategy 2013
The New West Point Leader Development System (WPLDS) Outcomes (2014) USMA Strategic Plan 2015-2021
West Point Leader Development System Handbook (2015) Building Capacity to Lead (2015, currently under revision) Gold Book (character program)
Red Book (academic program) Green Book (military program) White Book (physical program)
The “US Army Leader Development System” (ALDS) defines the vision of “an Army of competent and committed leaders of character with the skills and attributes necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st Century” (ALDS, 2013). The ALDS describes the strategic environment and the ten primary functions that the Army is expected to perform: “counter terrorism and irregular warfare; deter and defeat aggression; project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges; counter weapons of mass destruction; operate effectively in cyberspace and space; maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent; defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities; provide a stabilizing presence; conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations; conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations” (ALDS, 2013). It establishes the attributes (character, presence, intellect) and competencies (leads, develops self and others, achieves results) expected of Army personnel. These are developed through education, training and experience.
The “New West Point Leader Development System (WPLDS) Outcomes” (2014) promulgates the West Point Leader Development System with its eight developmental outcomes.
The “USMA Strategic Plan (2015-2021)” states the desired overall strategic end state as “West Point is the preeminent leader development and academic institution whose graduates thrive in tomorrow’s complex security environments, and are inspired to a lifetime of service to our Army and the Nation” (USMA Strategic Plan, 2015). It establishes seven institutional strategic goals:
- Develop the United States Corps of
- USMA provides a world-class leader development experience that prepares cadets to become leaders of
- USMA graduates serve with distinction as Army
- Inspire to Live Honorably and Build
- USMA Cadets internalize the values of Duty, Honor,
- USMA graduates demonstrate all five facets of
- Develop Exceptional Intellectual
- USMA is consistently recognized as a top-tier institution of higher education in competitive national
- USMA is valued by the Army and the Nation as a trusted source of human intellectual capital used to address issues of significant
- Sustain Professional Excellence and Develop a Culture of
- USMA graduates earn the trust and confidence of the Nation to win its
- USMA Cadets have the tenacity to thrive and lead in complex environments, strive for excellence always, and have the resilience to reach their full
- Leverage Diversity and Foster
- Leaders at all levels at West Point are fully committed to diversity and inclusion principles, practices and
- USMA graduates and staff and faculty depart West Point with the capacity and commitment to be the Army’s foremost leaders of multicultural organizations.
- Among academic, military and federal institutions, West Point is a recognized leader in maintaining an inclusive
- Build Effective Stewardship and Shared
- USMA Cadets, faculty and staff embrace the tenets of mission command, effectively and efficiently undertaking tasks large and small with confidence and a clear sense of
- Through a robust and respected system of governance, all USMA stakeholders are engaged, involved and enfranchised in support of decision- making and organizational
- Attract, Recruit, Develop, and Retain a High Quality Staff and
- USMA faculty and staff provide world-class education, training, and inspiration to the Corps of
- Members of USMA’s faculty are recognized by our Army and by their academic colleagues across the Nation for excellence, professionalism, and character.
The “West Point Leader Development System” (WPLDS) booklet describes how leaders of character are developed at West Point. The West Point community – faculty, staff, civilians and cadets – and the four developmental programs – character, academic, military and physical – interact and collaborate to achieve the eight developmental outcomes. Annual assessments ensure that the WPLDS remains relevant and effective. The character program leverages in the academic, military and physical programs to achieve the first two institutional strategic goals: “Develop the United States Corps of Cadets” and “Inspire to Live Honorably and Build Trust”.
The pamphlet entitled “Building Capacity to Lead”, currently undergoing a rewrite to reflect the shift from the Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS) to the West Point Leader Development System (WPLDS), offers a detailed description of the leader development model to guide the principal agents in developing leadership in the cadets – the Brigade Tactical Department and the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic
- as well as the faculty, staff and cadets. The model recognizes that an individual’s character is inextricably linked to his worldview and is central to how he interacts with his environment (see Figure 2, below). It discusses the developmental goals (what young officers should know, be, and do), the underlying assumptions and framework of the system that is drawn from adult development theory (how people develop identity), leadership theory (how leaders develop), and organizational theory (environmental and organizational impacts on individual development) (USMA “Building Capacity to Lead”). It also provides a system for assessment and continuous improvement.
Figure 2. The West Point Leader Development Model (USMA “Building Capacity to Lead”)
The “Gold Book” is a detailed description of West Point’s character program. It gives an overview of how the four programs contribute to character development. It describes the Honor Code and the Honor System, and how the values of “Duty, Honor, Country” are cultivated at a deeper level each year. It explains the Cadets Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (CASHA) Program, the Cadet Respect Program, the MX800 Officership capstone course, and the key developmental experiences that contribute to character development. The “Gold Book” and “Building Capacity to Lead” serve as the ready references of tactical officers for their day-to-day task of molding cadets.
The “Red Book”, “Green Book”, and “White Book” describe in detail West Point’s academic, military and physical programs, respectively (USMA (2015a), USMA (2014b), USMA (2013)).
Aside from the official Army or West Point publications listed above, numerous books have been written by West Point alumni and others that describe the West Point leader development experience from various perspectives. Noteworthy are The West Point Way of Leadership (1992) by Larry Donnithorne who was a member of Superintendent David Palmer’s staff that developed the Cadet Leader Development System. Lance Betros’ Carved from Granite (2012) which is the main source of historical information on West Point for this study has raised some controversy for his critical view of West Point’s athletic program. He gives four areas of vigilance if West Point is to remain the preeminent leader development institution: to affirm character and intellect as the lodestars of the academy; to ensure good governance by selecting superintendents suited for the role and by reinvigorating the Academic Board; to improve the admissions process; and to ensure that intercollegiate athletics does not undermine the strategic goal of graduating officers of character and intellect (Betros, 2012, p. 301-313). Angela Duckworth’s 2016 book Grit describes how persistence plays an important part in developing character at West Point. Popular leadership author Jim Collins, who held the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership in 2012, has given talks on his leadership insights from West Point (Burlingham, 2013; Global Leadership Summit, 2015).
PMA does not have a formal leader development model to guide its training staff, faculty and cadets. It relies on traditions derived from West Point in 1935 – the Fourth Class System and the Honor System – to drive its character development program. There is a dearth of literature on PMA’s system of training to guide the faculty and training staff. PMA’s adoption of West Point’s Cadet Leader Development System in the 1990s is superficial: a “two-class system” is still in effect. The effectiveness of the Honor System in its present state is doubtful (De Veyra, 2002). Without a standard leader development framework, training and tools for teaching, mentoring, coaching, and counseling cadets, tactical officers are forced to devise their personal style of leader development. This hinders PMA’s vision of becoming a world-class leader development institution.
- Developing a formal leader development model for PMA and the AFP with excellent documentation to promote clarity of goals, roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders.
High priority of character
The importance of character development in the US Army has been underscored by numerous cases of misconduct by senior officers in the field (Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, West Point Superintendent, personal communication, December 19, 2016). Lying and rationalization of unethical behavior are widespread in the US Army (Wong and Gerras, 2015). The blurring of ethical standards have serious ramifications when lives and the nation’s honor are at stake.
The Simon Center for Professional Military Ethic was created at West Point in 1998 to focus expertise and resources on the character and leadership development program (Betros, 2012, p. 295). Its offices located in the historic Pershing barracks at the heart of the cadet area is symbolic of the central role of character development in West Point’s leadership model (see Figure 2, above). Given the brief tenure of the Commandant of Cadets (2 years), Brigade Tactical Officer (1-2 years), Regimental Tactical Officer (1-2 years) and Company Tactical Officer (3-4 years), the Simon Center provides stability and continuity to the character program. Staffed by senior active-duty and retired military officers, the Simon Center, working closely with the Brigade Tactical Department (tactical officers and NCOs), oversees the honor system and honor education, and supervises an annual honor conference where West Point cadets interact with their counterparts from other service academies and civilian institutions. The center developed the capstone course on officership (MX800) where first class cadets thresh out moral and ethical dilemmas such as they might encounter as officers in the field. MX800 students study, for instance, the factors that led to the horrific rape and massacre of an Iraqi family by US Army soldiers in 2006 described in Jim Frederick’s book Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death (Crown Publishing, 2010). (This is another example of West Point’s willingness to learn from past mistakes). The Simon Center is currently engaged in research on metrics for character development in collaboration with Tufts University (Colonel (Retired) Jeff Peterson, Simon Center Professor for Officership, personal communication, October 5, 2016).
At the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, the counterpart of the Simon Center is the Admiral James M. Loy Institute for Leadership. Newer and smaller than the Simon Center, the Admiral Loy Institute for Leadership has nonetheless developed a leader development framework and tools to help implement the leader development program at the USCGA. Both the Simon Center and the Admiral Loy Institute for Leadership were established with funds provided by private donors. Endowed professorial chairs allow the centers to feature lectures by distinguished individuals and fund positions for lecturers and scholars.
PMA recognized the need to jumpstart reforms by focusing resources on priority areas. In 2002, PMA created three centers of excellence for academics, leadership and physical fitness and sports. Each center launched programs to advance their distinct goals
– academic colloquia, leadership fora, sports events and the like. Succeeding administrations, however, were not as keen on the centers as their original proponents and resources and interest dried up. The three centers were eventually collapsed into one, the current Center for Leadership and Professional Excellence (CLPE).
- Affirming the fundamental importance of the character of future officers by establishing a center for leader development with the mandate, tenured staff and resources to harmonize and sustain to the character and leader development program of PMA. The center could be partly funded by donations and endowed professorial chairs as they are in West Point and the US Coast Guard
Qualified and dedicated tactical
The tactical officer is the principal agent of character and leader development of the cadets. Betros (2012) highlights a remarkable insight on the powerful impact of tactical officers on cadets from the 1976 cheating scandal: all of the cheating cadets belonged to twenty-seven out of thirty-six companies. Nine companies had no cheaters. Colonel Howard Prince, the director of the Cadet Counseling Center who interviewed each of the 152 cadets about to be discharged for cheating, observed:
“[T]he nine companies that had no cheaters had [tactical] officers that were seen by cadets and other officers as approachable and developmental. The ones that had large numbers of cheaters had [tactical officers] who were authoritarian and distant … It was amazing to me to see nine companies with no cheaters. Why? Something is going on there that’s different from these other companies. If it were one or two, you’d say it’s random. But twenty-five per cent is not random. There’s something systematic there.” (p. 256)
In the 1970s, newly-assigned tactical officers at West Point were given a two-day orientation to prepare them for their role. This was inadequate to address the complexities of the Honor System, the Fourth Class System, the system of discipline, and other key components of the West Point experience (Dept. of the Army (Borman), 1976, pp. 84-85). The lack of a unified training philosophy resulted in varied approaches by tactical officers in training cadets. Many focused on their role as disciplinarians, diminishing their role as mentors and coaches. The Borman commission noted the Tactical Officers’ clamor for “a more comprehensive training” (pp. 82-85).
In 1988, West Point launched a masters program for tactical officers. After a brief period of being offered as a West Point masters degree, the program was contracted out to Long Island University which awarded a masters degree in counseling. Since 2005, the Eisenhower Leader Development Program (ELDP), as the program is now known, has been conducted by Columbia University Teachers College. The program leads to an M.A. in social and organizational psychology and is supervised by West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. The intensive, one-year program consists of fifteen courses, two-thirds of which are taught at Columbia University in New York City and the remainder at West Point. The ELDP ensures that officers are aligned with the Academy’s vision and strategy, and grounds them in theory and skills to implement the character development program effectively (Betros, 2012, pp. 258-260). An ELDP cohort consists of about two dozen students including officers from allied organizations such as the US Army Special Forces, the US Coast Guard Academy, and the Canadian Army. Table 2, below, lists the courses offered in the ELDP. The master’s degree from an ivy league university is an added incentive for officers to serve at West Point (Col Diane Ryan, ELDP program director, October 5, 2016. Personal communication).
Table 2. Eisenhower Leader Development Program Courses, (Columbia University Website, 2017)
Company tactical officers (“Tacs”) are recruited from captains with seven to eight years field experience and who have completed their tour as company commander. Tacs serve at West Point for three years but may extend for a fourth year. The first year is spent as a fulltime ELDP student and the remainder as a Tac or as a member of the staff. Tac duties include teaching, mentoring, coaching, counseling and maintaining standards and discipline among the cadets, as well as granting passes and maintaining records. A Tac spends most of his or her time meeting cadets one-on-one or in small groups, attending cadet functions and sports activities, and hosting cadets at home.
A company tactical officer is in charge of about 120 cadets. He is assisted by a tactical non-commissioned officer (Tac NCO) usually a Sergeant First Class (E7). (The US Coast Guard Academy has a similar arrangement with a Chief Petty Officer assisting each company officer). Tac NCOs undergo the Benavidez Leader Development Program (BLDP) at Columbia University, a compressed three-week version of the ELDP but with a more practical approach. With their experience and wisdom from serving many years in the Army, some with multiple deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan, Tac NCOs greatly enrich the cadets’ learning experience. Many have completed or are completing a bachelor’s degree, and some have started working on their master’s degree. Tac NCOs perform the same role as Tacs in terms of teaching, mentoring, coaching and counseling cadets. Tacs usually focus on the first and fourth year cadets while Tac NCO attend to the second and third year cadets.
PMA tactical officers include some of the finest officers of the AFP. They have the awesome responsibility of developing leaders of character but often without clear goals or adequate preparation for the task. Since most are PMA graduates, it is often assumed that they know what needs to be done having once been cadets themselves. This thinking is obviously erroneous. With the cadet regulations – a book of rules and penalties – as their only guide, many tactical officers default to the role of policeman and disciplinarian, and end up playing cat-and-mouse with the cadets. In time (and after much trial-and-error), the more proactive tactical officers manage to develop their own style of positive leader development, but their approach is highly personal and difficult to replicate.
Leadership seminars for tactical officers have been conducted by PMA sporadically over the years. Since 2012, a tactical officers seminar has been conducted each year by the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL). Five such seminars have been conducted so far, focusing on the culture change that is necessary to combat hazing, mediocrity and problems with the honor system. By the end of each seminar, the tactical officers had developed goals and reform measures that they were to implement. Due to other pressing demands on the tactical officers’ time, however, very few of these reform measures have been implemented. Unlike West Point tactical officers whose sole responsibility and focus is the training and development of the cadets in their company, PMA tactical officers have a plethora of staff and other collateral duties that leave them little time to properly mentor cadets or to pursue personal development.
In 2015, applying insights gained from the five previous leadership seminars, IGSL developed a more structured Leader Development Course for tactical officers of PMA, the Philippine National Police Academy and other allied institutions. The program included modules on the psychology of change, leadership models, coaching, conflict resolution, and culture change. The faculty consisted of IGSL professors as well as former professors of PMA, West Point, and the US Air Force Academy who all had doctorates. Four PMA tactical officers, four tactical officers from the Philippine National Police Academy and a few other officers from allied organizations completed the first eight modules. Due to lack of funds and other factors, however, the succeeding modules were not conducted.
“One cannot share what one does not have.” The purposeful development that the Eisenhower Leader Development Program and the Benavidez Leader Development Program offers is a key factor to the success of leader development at West Point. There is a need for a similar high-quality development program for PMA tactical officers and faculty. Unless the administration, teachers and trainers of PMA are aligned with the vision and equipped with the right tools, transformation will remain an elusive dream.
- Establishing a formal, masters-level leader development course for tactical officers, instructors and staff officers of
- Making the position of Company Tactical Officer a full-time job with no collateral duties. The creation of another full-time position for an Assistant Company Tactical Officer or Tactical NCO should also be The crucial task of mentoring, coaching, teaching, counseling and maintaining discipline of over a hundred cadets is more than one person can handle.
Fixed tenure and purposeful selection of the PMA
The very first recommendation submitted by the West Point Study Group was to give the superintendent a longer tenure of four to eight years to provide the stability and continuity needed by an educational institution especially when it was going through major changes. Prior to 1976, the average tenure of the West Point superintendent was three years which was deemed too brief to effect meaningful change. Since 1976, most superintendents have served for an average of five years (Betros, 2012, pp. 317-318). The position of superintendent is a final assignment; retirement follows.
The National Defense Academy (NDA) of Japan takes a unique approach towards providing stability of leadership. The academy president (equivalent to superintendent) is a civilian who is accorded the courtesies of a Major General. Although he does not wear a military uniform, he is saluted by all cadets and military personnel on post. His staff car displays two stars. Besides providing continuity, the civilian head symbolizes the supremacy of civilian authority over the military. The average tenure of the NDA president is seven years (Morales, 2006b).
Aside from a longer tenure, the selection of the superintendent should be deliberate. The Borman commission recommended that “… selection should be based upon [the candidate’s] interest in education and a demonstrated ability to provide educational and military leadership.” (Dept. of the Army (Borman), 1976, p. 21). Lieutenant General David Palmer, one of the most influential superintendents of West Point, opined:
“The branch [Infantry, Artillery, Armor, etc.] of the officer is not as important as it might be in many other jobs. The “warrior” image is borne mostly by the Commandant; the “scholar” image principally by the Dean. (Which is not to say that the Commandant need not be intelligent nor that the Dean need not be a soldier – both must be exemplars as military leaders.) The Superintendent should be a person of wisdom and balance with a record as a general officer in the field, the school house, and high staff.” (Betros, 2012, p. 306)
To provide leadership to drive the sweeping reforms needed at West Point in the wake of the 1976 cheating scandal, the US Army recalled a highly esteemed officer from retirement, General Andrew Goodpaster. Former NATO commander and respected for his intellect and character, Goodpaster assumed the position of superintendent with the rank of Lieutenant General, one rank lower than his pre-retirement rank. The fact that he would return to retirement after his tenure protected him from political influence. Goodpaster served from 1977 to 1981 and implemented most of the recommendations of the West Point Study Group (Betros, 2012, pp. 60-62).
Men of vision and character have served as superintendent of PMA. Their impact, however, has been limited due to their brief tenure. PMA superintendents serve for an average of one year, some mere months. This alone is sufficient to doom transformation. Regrettably, it reflects a lack of appreciation of the strategic importance of the military academy and the crucial role its superintendent plays in stewarding the future of the armed forces.
The PMA landscape is littered with the wreckage of good intentions that showed early promise but withered when a new administration took over with a new set of priorities, e.g. the back-subject system (introduced 1990, abolished early 2000s), academic majors (introduced 1993, abolished mid-2000s), centers of excellence (introduced 2003), the PMA roadmap (initiated 2005 but faltered, although this has been re-launched recently).
- A fixed tenure for the PMA superintendent of five This will be a terminal position. The incumbent will be evaluated at the midpoint; if expectations have been met, he/she is allowed to finish the term. Otherwise, a replacement will be found. Character, vision, academic qualifications, and the ability to inspire officers and cadets alike towards excellence should be considered in the selection of a superintendent. Special legislation may be required to deal with retirement age limits.
Breaking the curse of Sisyphus.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was cursed by the gods to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a mountain only for it, upon almost reaching the top, to roll back to the bottom of the mountain forcing Sisyphus to repeat the task over again and again. The curse of Sisyphus is to repeat a pointless task endlessly.
Unless meaningful reforms are sustained, PMA is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. But unlike Sisyphus who had no power to break the curse, the leaders of PMA and the AFP have the option – indeed, the duty – to implement the bold measures that are needed to save the academy from decline or, should reforms continue to flounder, to end to the futile exercise that is PMA.
PMA is a national treasure, a source of pride for all Filipinos, a repository of our people’s hopes and aspirations that, like Sisyphus’ goal, continue to elude fulfillment. Despite its many challenges, PMA does graduate leaders of character but at greater cost than is necessary not only in financial terms but more so in wasted opportunities and unfulfilled potential. The true measure of a transformed PMA is not an improved graduation rate – although that is a key performance indicator – but a transformed AFP. The transformation of PMA cannot be accomplished by PMA alone but only through a determined transformation effort by the entire AFP. The Filipino people deserve no less.
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DISCLAIMER: Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Corps Magazine. – Ed.