By John Hughes, USMA 1996
On March 14, 2022, you sent the following letter to the Long Gray Line via email regarding allegations of cadet criminal misconduct in Florida:
March 14, 2022
Members of the Long Gray Line,
As many of you know, the United States Military Academy has been working through a serious incident involving several Cadets. The health and safety of all our Cadets is my top concern and priority. I ask that you refrain from speculating or commenting on the details of any ongoing investigation.
Initial reports indicate that four Cadets were transported to nearby hospitals in various conditions while on spring break in Florida after allegedly being exposed to a substance that may have contained Fentanyl. As of today, all but one Cadet has been released. We will continue to support any ongoing investigation, and once completed, we will take appropriate action to ensure the health and safety of our Cadets and to maintain good order and discipline within the Corps.
America looks to the Academy to develop leaders who embody the highest level of character. Character development is the most important thing we do here at the Academy. Good order and discipline are vitally important to our success. Therefore, illegal drugs of any kind have no place at West Point, in our Army, or in our Military.
The Academy remains committed to educating, training, and inspiring the Corps of Cadets. I encourage Cadets to take care of each other and themselves. Thank you for your continued commitment to West Point.
Darryl A. Williams
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
Your letter to the Long Gray Line regarding cadets purchasing and overdosing on drugs is deeply concerning. As Superintendent, you have neither the authority nor the right to restrain the freedom of speech of graduates of the Unites States Military Academy. As grads we have as much right as any American to address grievances with our country and our alma mater.
Further, your use of the phrase “exposed to a substance” is very different than the alleged reality that they willfully and purposefully purchased and ingested cocaine. As the Superintendent of USMA and guardian of the Honor Code, this borders into equivocation of events to mitigate the damage to West Point’s reputation. What happened to the Cadet Prayer that challenges 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?”
More importantly, West Point has a recent history of serious ethical problems. In 2013 LTG David Huntoon, 58th Superintendent of USMA, retired from his post and received a letter of reprimand for unethical conduct with subordinates. (1) The 59th Superintendent, LTG Robert Caslen, became President of the University of South Carolina after retiring from the Army, only to resign in 2021 over allegations of plagiarism. (2)
In 2020 we learned of an online cheating scandal involving 73 cadets. 2021 saw the shameful treatment and expulsion of unvaccinated cadets revealed on national news and a controversial preoccupation with social issues. In 2022, cadets on spring break allegedly purchased and overdosed on cocaine laced with other drugs.
This follows on the heels of America’s longest war ending in embarrassment and disaster in Kabul in 2021. For nearly 2 decades, general officers (many of whom were West Point grads) failed the people of the United States with their false and misleading assessments of the war that led to the loss of trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and global standing. The United States left behind $87 billion dollars of military equipment, needlessly sacrificed 13 more service members, abandoned American civilians to the enemy, and begged terror organizations to allow us to escape.
At a recent class reunion, when confronted with the Afghanistan debacle and asked what West Point, the pre-eminent military leadership institution in the world, was doing to analyze the actions and behavior of senior American military leaders, West Point’s current Dean (a BG and USMA graduate) replied everything was great and did not foresee the need for any changes. He was flanked by another USMA graduate BG who went on to caution USMA graduates about not believing “misinformation” in the news and that Kabul was not as bad as we think and further that the US Military was as ready as ever to fight and win wars.
There is no denying that West Point, and the military at large, has serious leadership problems. While the behaviors of the individuals involved don’t reflect on all cadets and recent graduates, the gravity and frequency of the events indicate there is a significant underlying institutional problem. While West Point’s leaders may have tried to address ethical shortcomings at the academy, they still invited LTG (retired) Huntoon back to West Point in 2015 as a guest speaker in Eisenhower Hall to discuss West Point history despite his unethical past.
Recently, West Point allowed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the honor to stand with the cadets during the Army-Air Force Game in Dallas, TX after recently speaking on national TV and deflecting all blame for Afghanistan. The current leadership is obviously failing to train military leaders to win America’s wars and is also not providing leaders of character for the nation. None of these problems are solved by ‘hiding them’ through silence or calling investigative news “misinformation.”
It appears that the recent ethical makeover of West Point and the military has borne only costly military disaster, denialism, and cocaine parties. While winning football games, building a beautiful campus, and earning Rhodes Scholarships are nice touches, the sole reason for West Point’s existence is to train officers to win wars. Period.
“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.” This quote is engraved on the Douglas MacArthur monument next to your official house on the Plain. Perhaps current West Point leaders should reread this sage advice from a West Point graduate, former Superintendent, and combatant commander who not only knew how to win wars and behave honorably but actually did both.
USMA Class of 1996 (#1 graduate)
3rd Generation West Pointer
4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan
This article reflects the opinion of the author and not of any organization or corporation.
(1) “West Point Superintendent misused his office IG says.” Craig Whitlock. www.washingtonpost.com. 14 June 2013
(2) “University president resigns after plagiarizing part of a speech by the Former Head of US Special Operations Command.” Amanda Jackson. CNN.com 13 May 2021
Follow-up Letter by Hughes (23 March 2022):
Open Letter to the Long Gray Line
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