Cadets don't have to study the opinion polls to know they're heading off to an unpopular war. Applications to the military academies are down substantially. At West Point, applications hit a post-9/11 high of 12,383 for the school year that began 2003. The 10,412 applications for the coming school year represent a 16 percent drop in two years. The Naval Academy is down 2,852 applicants, a 20 percent drop in just a year, and the Air Force Academy is down 3,054 applicants from 2004, a 24 percent drop.The attrition rate for the Class of 2006 at West Point is 25%, an increase of 5% from the previous five classes:
After two years at West Point, a cadet is given a last chance to leave without having to serve in the military. Last summer, 52 members of the sophomore class of 963 left, compared with 32 the year before and 18 the year before that. West Point officials were relieved it wasn't more. (emphasis added, Michael Winerip, "For Cadets, Iraq Doubts Bow to Duty," New York Times, February 9, 2005)
West Point is the only service academy dealing with an above-average attrition rate for its Class of 2006 as of the start of this academic year. Of the 1,197 cadets who entered West Point in the summer of 2002, 904 remained by the end of August. The loss rate of 25 percent is greater than the previous five classes, which averaged a 20 percent loss rate.According to one of the cadets interviewed by Michael Winerip of the New York Times, half of the remaining class are highly critical of the Iraq War, especially the lack of an "exit strategy":
Of two recent West Point dropouts who spoke on the condition of anonymity, one cited disenchantment with Army life and the other said Iraq was a major factor in his decision.
"I didn't want to be deployed in a war I didn't believe in," he said. (emphasis added, Associated Press, "Military Academy Admissions Down," Military.com, November 23, 2004)
Among the 13 cadets I interviewed, Jarick Evans was the most openly critical. "The thing that disturbs me most, we don't have an exit strategy," he says. "When all we're told is we'll leave when the job's done, it leaves a bad taste in mouths of soldiers. That's the reason a lot don't want to go back the second and third times."
Cadet Evans estimates that half his class may feel that way. "There's a big fear we'll go back and forth, back and forth our entire military career because there is no clear mission," he says. (Winerip, February 9, 2005)