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Monday, November 09, 2015

My Ben Carson Days

I attended a three year high school from 1978 to 1981. I took the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT”) in tenth grade, and I checked off a box in the PSAT application inviting colleges to send me their literature. I was contacted by the United States Military Academy (“USMA”) at West Point, New York; my best friend was contacted by the United States Naval Academy (“USNA”) at Annapolis, Maryland. We were both invited to attend a conference for high school students interested in attending a service academy and in a military career.

I went to the USMA conference; my friend went to the USNA conference, as did 100s of other high school students that year. Everyone knew the score: (1) the government picked up your education costs; (2) the government paid you a salary as you worked towards an engineering degree; (3) when you graduated, you were made an officer; and (4) then you served for four years in the military. It was a great opportunity: but only if you could survive the rigours of military academy life. And the conference gave you a fair opportunity to observe those rigours close up.

During the conference, a major approached me individually, by name, and pulled me out of earshot of other student-attendees. I have always assumed he (or his colleagues) had similar conversations with many if not with all the other student-attendees. I was told that if I apply, I would get in. It was as simple as that. I had very good standardized test scores and very good grades from my high school. When the major told me that I would get in if I applied, I believed him. I was told that West Point would find a Senator or Representative to nominate me, or I would come in with a number of students the academy could choose itself. I did not inquire about the details of the application process.


I told the major—having observed what the academy expected of its students athletically and otherwise—that I was sure to fail his programme. So I thanked him for the opportunity to attend the conference, but my applying was not in the cards. I made the right choice that day—although my decision was a real disappointment to my late father.

My scores and grades were good, very good, but I have no reason to think mine were the highest among the many student-attendees. I cannot believe that I was the only person to have received, what was in effect, assurances that if I applied I would get in. By any fair-minded description: it was an offer to attend West Point. Albeit, the offer was not in writing; it was an informal oral offer. Surely, many, many other people received similar offers. I expect that large list also includes Ben Carson.

PS: My prior is post: Seth Barrett Tillman, Justice Jackson’s Biblical Metaphor in Youngstown, The New Reform Club (Nov. 5, 2015, 3:47 AM),

PPS: This conference was less than a decade after the end of the Vietnam War. This was a time when the service academies still had to make some substantial efforts to attract candidates with strong academic records. I expect those days are long gone. 

PPPS: Please do have a look around New Reform Club. I can tell you that the material you find here, you will not find anywhere else. And thank you Chicago Boyz, Legal Insurrection, Right Coast, and Instapundit readers. 


Twitter:  ( @SethBTillman )

Seth Barrett Tillman, My Ben Carson Days,’ New Reform Club (Nov. 9, 2015, 9:01 AM), <>.


Anonymous said...

There are a million discussions like these everyday with high-potential candidates. This is how recruiters and decision makers describe opportunities and understand candidates' interests. It's almost like journalists or liberals (but, I repeat myself) don't really understand the real world.

Anonymous said...

I too had a similar experience as I was doing well in both sports and academics. I asked about the possibility of flying and the recruiter implied I would be too tall to make the cut. That was that. What I really don't understand is the trouble over the term scholarship. Tuition paid by the school is generally called a scholarship - even if everyone gets it.

Brent said...

I was pulled out of the barracks during basic training, and sent to the US Air Force Academy Liaison Officer at Lackland AFB, Jan 1971.

"Airman Basic Glines. In looking over your enlistment aptitude exams, we want you to apply to attend the Air Force Academy. If you apply, we are confident you will be accepted."

Brent Glines
USAFA, Class of '76

Brent said...

Additionally, when I attended the Air Force Academy, it was called a government scholarship. West Point specifically uses the word scholarship in their recruiting literature.

Anonymous said...

Summer of 1983. Same kind of conference at USNA. Words from a lieutenant commander who oversaw the group of attendees assigned the floor of Bancroft Hall that we bunked in that week were along the lines of... "We will find a way to gt you nominated if you are interested in applying....".

I (wisely) decided that after 4 years at an all boys private high school, the idea of 4 more years with nearly no females around, and rules against closing the door if a female midshipman was in the room, was not the best choice for me.

Anonymous said...

This is all fine and good, but the Detroit News -- a conservative newspaper -- checked Gen. William Westmoreland's schedule for the day that Dr. Carson claimed that Westmoreland made the offer. Westmoreland couldn't have done it, because he was in Washington, D.C. that day.

Ben Carson is an amateur politician who has just learned what people who go into politics learn, along with those of us who for one reason or another have been in positions to observe politicians at work.

The lesson is that politics is, first and foremost, a word-slinging game, and that when you are in the business of slinging words, it is oh-so-easy to get carried away. Many a politician has stumbled -- or worse -- because of it. Ben Carson is the latest example. This happens equally to liberals and conservatives, especially those with little training or experience in politics.

Dr. Carson, it was nice knowing you, but I'm afraid you have as much chance of becoming president as I have of returning to my birthplace on Neptune and regaining the emperor throne that I left before traveling to Earth 46 years ago. Wait, what did I just say?

marieburns said...

I hope you realize your post completely disproves Carson's claim. Carson said he received an offer from an officer in May 1969, about two weeks before he was graduated from high school. Whether it was then, or in February 1969 when Westmoreland was actually in Detroit, Carson was in the second semester of his senior year.

You began the process when you were a sophomore. That, you suggest, was the way the system worked. I don't doubt it. It defies credulity that an Army officer would have made an offer to Carson when Carson was about to graduate, given the length of time it takes for a candidate to complete the multi-part application process & for the military colleges to sift & winnow the applications they receive.

Even if an officer had made some offhand comment to Carson like, "Wow! You're so super-duper terrific that you would be a shoo-in to get into West Point," Carson's response would have been, "Thank you, sir, but I've already accepted an offer to attend Yale." Which he had. Carson went to Yale in September 1969, a few months later.

Like so many of the stories in Ben Carson's Fantastic Life, Dr. Ben made up this one, too. And I remind you that he made it up in 1987 (the year of publication of "Gifted Hands") or earlier, not "40 or 50 years" after the "fact," as he's now trying to spin it. Thanks for making the case against him.

Marie Burns

Brent said...

Nonsense. I was approached well after graduation from High School. Candidates are recruited as they are found.

Brent Glines
USAFA, class of 76

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oback Arama said...

Marie Burns: Your comment reveals that your knowledge of this subject is deficient. February of 1969 was plenty early for Carson to have received an offer. I entered USNA as a quaffed alternate in 1963. Every congressman and senator had a primary appointment and 4+ alternate appointments for each military academy. Many of the alternate appointments remained vacant because of a lack of interest in certain rural or less populated areas.The academies were aware of congressional members who had vacant appointments, and by request of the academies, would insert candidates into those vacancies. Although I was from Baltimore, MD, my appointment came from Rapid City South Dacota. This is the path that Ben Carson would have taken and back then many of these occurred late in the process. All Westmoreland had to do was to call the academy and ask them to find an unfilled alternate appointment. His academic and leadership skills would have made him a cinch to be accepted. Your comment is nothing but slander of a fine man.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Marie Burns

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

marieburns said...

Several commenters have disagreed with an earlier comment I made here. Subsequent to my writing my comment, Robert Bateman, Esquire's military expert, wrote a lengthy post on the same topic, going into a great deal more detail than I have the knowledge to offer. Bateman backs up my comment -- that no officer offered Ben Carson entry into West Point in the spring of 1969. Moreover, no officer could have or would have done so for the myriad reasons Bateman outlines.

Bateman's post is well-worth your reading.

One commenter said he had been accepted into a U.S. military academy after having graduated from high school. I don't know that person's circumstances, but it is possible he received an appointment in conjunction with his military service. All of the academies accepted applications from young men at that time (up to the age of 22 or 23) who were serving in the military, & do so now for young men & women in the services. These applicants need not have even a high-school diploma; a GED suffices. The merits of their applications are based on their military service, not on their high-school performances & extra-curricular activities.

Marie Burns

Brent said...

Your comments ignore reality. Some cadets are accepted even after they have started attendance at other colleges. There is no commandment in place that candidates must apply at a specific time or circumststance. All that is required is that you are not married and you have not exceeded the age limit. Your post betrays your bias.