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Why Army has struggled when Navy and Air Force have flourished (Part 3)

The grim realities of Army life.

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Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

It isn't easy for a young individual to explain to their parents why they want to join the military. For the young man or woman there is a sense of duty to serve their country, but to their mother and father there is apprehension.

That is one of the issues confronting recruitment at the service academies. No one wants to go to war, but it is a grim reality of serving in the military and for parents it's something they'd rather their children completely avoid.

In Part 3 of why Army continues to flounder while the other academies excel, the standards and expectations that come from being an officer for the United States Army are weighed. Are the traditions of yore holding the football program back? And what role does the inevitable ramifications of war weigh on potential recruits?

The Army Standard

West Point is a fine school and therefore only wants the best and brightest. However, sometimes it's hard to get the best and brightest football players when they have to serve a five year commitment after graduation.

Not many players go from West Point to the NFL. Even when a few get the chance, the military can squash that notion rather quickly.

These are problems at Navy and Air Force too, but it doesn't seem to affect their abilities to recruit football players.

Herein lies the idea of relaxing the standards of academies to bring in better football players. However, is this the best way to go about military business?

Bruce Fleming, an English professor at the Naval Academy, often accuses the academy of more lenient standards when it comes to football players and told the USA Today back in 2012 the following:

"Giving a guy or two a waiver to play football is a way to encourage good ones come to the academies."

But those waivers aren't easy to get. Ask former Navy long snapper Joe Cardona who was drafted this year by the New England Patriots or former Navy fullbacks Eric Kettani or Kyle Eckel. Eckel was kicked out of the Navy. Kettani served three years of active duty and received a seven-year reserve gig to aid in his quest of making an NFL roster. However, it came with some hate mail to boot.

Army allowed Caleb Campbell to pursue a professional career with the Detroit Lions with the ASO (Alternative Service Option). But the Army suspended the option and mandated all unsigned players return to their active duty stations. Campbell was already signed but when the ASO was dropped altogether, it forced Campbell to serve two years before requesting for an early release.

Campbell lost out on a three year contract in 2008 and after he served his two years was given a one-year deal. He was cut in 2011 and bounced around practice squads until 2012. Campbell was the first Black Knight selected in the NFL Draft since quarterback Ronnie McAda, who also said he would have made the Green Bay Packers if not for his military obligations.

It isn't just making the leap from an academy to the pros that affects recruiting, but the academy life as well. The schedule of a Cadet or Midshipman is well known - early revelles, class, study, practice, study, maybe eat something, take a nap, repeat.

Moreover, honor code violations at service academies make things a little more controlled. Steelman faced honor code violations during his sophomore year and went through the academy's softest punishment for such: a six-month honor mentorship.

Meanwhile at the Naval Academy, former defensive end Jabaree Tuani nearly missed his own graduation due to an honor violation of having off-campus housing. He graduated at the mercy of the Navy honor board.

It wasn't the same for former Navy quarterback Kris Proctor who resigned after facing honor violations and has to pay back the tuition of $160,000.

The standards at the academies are brutal and they're enough to keep many recruits away, but it's something that is shared by all three academies. Could Army be the stricter of the three?

Possibly, but right now Army has four players on NFL rosters, Air Force has one, and Cardona is awaiting if he can represent Navy with Kettani getting a crack with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This alone can't be the manner in which why Army has continue to struggle because Navy and Air Force face the same issues yet have stable, winning programs.

So perhaps it isn't just the standard at West Point but the grim realities that come with serving in the army.


All of the academies have to produce officers to lead in war time and they all have to know they can face combat when global conflicts arrive.

But Army carries a far worse stigma during conflicts than Navy or Air Force.

Yes, the Naval Academy produces officers for the Marines. They also produce SEALs. Both are almost certain to be placed into combat situations.

However, some civilians don't know that the Marine officers come from the Naval Academy.

That may seem like an insulting comment to some, but there are a collection of people who think that the Army-Navy game is between the enlisted men of both services.

So for these people it may not compute that the Naval Academy produces ground troops and if their child were to say, "I'm going to Navy." The parent will think they're better off than being in the Army.

That's a struggle Army faces when attempting to find better football players. The coaches have to find ones that are still Div. I talent but know the grim reality of having to be deployed to a war zone.

To the civilian, the Navy has ships and the Air Force has planes. They're not in the heat of things but the Army is always in the crossfire. That perception isn't right, yet sometimes perception is reality. That notion may be enough to scare recruits' parents away from Army.

West Point's recruiting troubles didn't start after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. But it certainly created a huge problem for all the academies.

Yet, Navy revived its program shortly thereafter and Air Force had a mild recruiting hiccup from 2000 to 2002, but recovered in short order.

Army has to deal with a public perception that if one were to join then they'd face a future of immediate danger. While all three academies all have that purpose, it is Army that suffers as Navy and Air Force have more known jobs that don't involve direct combat.

But I believe this only has a marginal impact on the Army team as the argument is based more on generalizations of how some parents and recruits might think.