Opinion: A corps cadre member speaks out

I am cadre in one of the rook battalions at Norwich University. For the sake of protecting myself from possible reprimand or retaliation, I will not provide my name, rank, unit, or building. For the sake of maintaining a level of professionalism, I will also not give the names of recruits, cadre, or commandants in this statement.

As a cadre member, I arrived at school two weeks prior to Rook Orientation Week and underwent various trainings under the supervision of my Corps leadership as well as the commandants in order to ensure that my peers as well as myself, were proficient and knowledgeable in conducting the tasks required of cadre during Rookdom. This training consisted of your run-of-the-mill expected instruction: drill and ceremony, PRT’s, etc. Along with this training, we were also given numerous briefings regarding Title IX, legalities, professionalism, etc. Hiccups during training were minimal and were quickly addressed and the quality of leaders present, ready to fulfill the duties of cadre were impeccable based upon my own observations and based on what was said by the commandants overseeing our training as a whole. We started off the year firmly believing that things would run smoothly, aside from the usual initial issues with Rook training, and believing that the commandants had a level of faith in us and backed us entirely. We are only a few weeks into the academic year and this has proved to not be the case whatsoever.

Immediately, upon acquiring our Rooks and throughout Rook Orientation Week, commandants we were dealing with at the time attempted to tell us we did not have the right to do certain things, although they were expressly enumerated in the Cadet Handbook, NUSRR, Corps, SOP, and other such publications. Commandants who had never even attended this school, who had been here less time than the cadre they were leading, were quick to dispel so called “Norwichisms,” which they claimed were not actual Norwich traditions. These issues were quickly resolved. However, it set the tone for the rest of the year and there have been numerous reoccurrences and issues that relate to the overall relationship between commandants and cadre.

From Rook Week until now, there have been many cases of unprofessionalism in regards to encounters with certain commandants and SEA’s. These instances range from openly berating cadre in front of their subordinates, being hypocritical in many cases, and undermining the authority of the cadet chain of command, to name a few. These instances have made cadre less apt to do the job they volunteered for and gave up part of their summer for.

Now, when commandants are present, most cadre lock up, they feel as if they are being looked at and evaluated beneath a microscope, awaiting to be berated or corrected – even though what they are doing and saying are within the scope of their power as cadre and in accordance with the SOP, NUSRR, and the various policy letters published. I firmly believe that what has been created, to an extent, is a toxic command climate. Thus far, the commandants have been adamant about conducting things according to Army standards, unless of course the Army standard is not convenient for them. Two Army standards which have seemed to be neglected, based upon the relationship the commandants have created with cadre, include ADP 6-22 and AR 600-100, both Army publications which outline leadership and toxic leadership which the commandants even cited as the basis for leadership at Norwich. In reading AR 600-100, it is quite easy to see, based on actions thus far, that many commandants have violated the provisions outlined or have met the standards to be considered a toxic leader. Here are a few examples:

AR 600-100 Chapter 1-11

(1) Leads others. Leaders motivate, inspire, and influence others to take the initiative, work toward a common purpose, accomplish tasks, and achieve organizational objectives.

But cadre are not motivated to do their jobs. Furthermore, the objectives of cadre and the commandants do not align. Our objective is to facilitate the development of leaders who will better the Corps of Cadets, whereas the objective of the commandants is the retention of even the most unmotivated and undisciplined of recruits for the sake of revenue. This is the general opinion shared by many cadre and members of the Corps of Cadets.

(3) Leads by example. Leaders are role models for others. They are viewed as the example and must maintain standards and provide examples of effective behaviors. When Army leaders model the Army Values, they provide tangible evidence of desired behaviors and reinforce verbal guidance by demonstrating commitment and action.

Perhaps this is one of the largest examples of the commandants falling short. The overall amount of years of service amongst all of the commandants at the school are probably accumulatively greater than the age of the school itself. But often times, commandants are seen cutting corners on even the most basic of standards regarding such things as adherence to uniform standards and even how to hold a proper salute. Men who have at one point been entrusted with the command of numerous personnel and millions of dollars of equipment by the United States Military are failing to even render a proper salute.

(4) Communicates. Leaders communicate by expressing ideas and actively listening to others. Effective leaders understand the nature and power of communication, practice effective communication techniques so they can better relate to others, and translate goals into actions. Communication is essential to all other leadership competencies.

It has become apparent from a cadre standpoint that the only communication sought after by the commandants is the “we talk, you listen” sort, for the most part. Even when given the opportunity to openly voice our opinions with the commandants arises, we have seen time and again, our ideas and thoughts instantly being shot down and disregarded if it does not coincide with a commandant’s views. I think the key area of the definition above where the commandants fall short would be “…and actively listening to others.”

The commandants may have all the sensing sessions they wish; they may institute an open-door policy; they may, on the surface, institute all sorts of policies that would suggest they want our input and are willing to listen to the cadre within the Rook Battalions. However, their past and present actions have proved this is not the case. From my perspective, the vast amount of cadre members are sick about what is going on. Many cadre believe the commandants view the Rooks more as a dollar sign, as civilians in uniform, rather than as incoming recruits. My priority, and the priority of the cadre, is to facilitate the development of leaders while simultaneously enhancing my leadership capabilities. There have been concerns in the corps that levels of communication with some, not all, commandants and SEA’s are not adequate and do not address situations involving recruits well. It is apparent this is the case through the retention of recruits who exemplify horrid performance during Rookdom and through the school’s actions of over-accepting applications to the extent that upperclassmen are left wondering whether they will find themselves rooming in a lounge or worse yet in Plumley Armory to make room for the influx of incoming students.

I can understand now why so many people had told me not to take this job. It is instances like these that make me wonder why I hadn’t picked VMI or the Citadel. It has become apparent to myself and other cadre why standards for Rookdom have been lowered and why the rooks are being coddled. If a Rook leaves, the school is out $200,000. If I leave, the school has $100,000 from me for the past two years already, plus the approximately $25,000 I’ve paid for this semester. Whatever I have left to pay is just pocket change to them. Expansion of this school is important but it is also important to understand that quantity seldom translates to quality. A meager force of 300 Spartans held the pass of Thermopylae against a vastly superior force of Persians for three days. This is as good an example as any that a small, well-trained force will beat a hastily pieced together and horridly trained force any day. I don’t expect the Corps of Cadets to be going to war anytime soon; however, I believe that my explanation illustrates my point.

At the end of the day, I can count on the fact that what I have to say does not matter. Unless a commandant is caught doing something utterly immoral and egregious, they will continue to stay employed at this university and conduct themselves however they see fit. They stress they are open to input and care about what we have to say but it couldn’t be more obvious that 30-plus years of doing things their way have ensured they are set in their ways. Inevitably, nothing will be done and this problem will continue on for years to come.

Let me be clear: What I have stated thus far does not encompass each and every commandant, assistant commandant, or senior enlisted advisor at Norwich. There are some here who strive for the same objectives of the cadre to produce good and effective leaders. They value and understand the importance of quality over quantity. They come in before they have to and leave hours after they have to, sacrificing time they could spend with their families that they most certainly didn’t have during their busy careers as members of the various armed forces, to insure their subordinates are taken care of and to offer their help and their years of expertise to any situation that may arise. To these various NCO’s and officers of the Vermont State Militia, we are grateful and appreciative of their dedication not only to their subordinates but to the purpose for which this school was originally founded, to produce citizen soldiers, leaders of character who are well disciplined.

Comments

  1. Interesting piece. My son decided not to become part of leadership a couple years ago because of these very issues. I remember the outcry when Cadets who did not pass requirements were still recognized. That is saying the standards no longer matter. Things have changed as they always do but not for the better it seems. I ran into a lot of Alumni in my travels and when told of this new way of doing things, they cringe.

    Cadet, you are brave to speak up. But never fear, nothing will be done. You are correct. It is all about money. Why else would they allow Rook Cadets to pass without being able to meet the physical requirements? Because mommy called and threatened to sue. As my son once told me, I could have just sat around eating pizza and drinking coke instead of working out and still would have gotten recognized like some of the other Cadets did. So why not just go all civilian if this military aspect is too difficult to handle? The reputation of developing great leaders is being tarnished beyond repair. A sad commentary for such a revered school.

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