West Point Changes Its Mission and Loses Its Way

LTG Steven Gilland, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point


On March 7, 2024, the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY informed West Point’s Board of Visitors of an “Army Senior Leader Approved Mission.”  Superintendents have changed the mission statement before.  Changing the mission, values, vision, goals, branding, and logos of organizations is something executives in business and government – including the military – do.


The problem with this change is West Point isn’t Bud Light.  And never should be.

Consider the current USMA Mission:

To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.

Contrast it with the “Army Senior Leader Approved Mission”;

To build, educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets to be commissioned leaders of character committed to the Army Values and ready for a lifetime of service to the Army and Nation.

Adding “build” looks nebulous, but could be nefarious if it means build bogus “diversity” teams by continuing race-based admissions.

Focus on deleting “the values of Duty, Honor, Country” and substituting “the Army Values.”

Ask any serving soldier or retiree to pop off to “How many Army Values are there?”  Or, “Name the Army Values!”  <Crickets>

Follow up with “Who determines the Army Values?”  When and how?  Who defines them?

You and your befuddled soldier/retiree buddy can find the seven Army Values on the Army website along with the Warrior Ethos, Soldier’s Creed, NCO Creed, Ranger Creed, and the unforgettable Army Civilian Corps Creed.

The Army Values include Duty and Honor, but omit Country.  They add Loyalty, Respect, Selfless Service, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  They are one and all admirable values.

But, the Army Senior Leaders made a serious mistake.  They inverted the fundamental relationship of West Point to the Army.

West Point isn’t a reflection of the Army on any given day.  It isn’t just another liberal arts college officer commissioning source.

West Point is the cradle for Army values as the formerly monastic, professional school for soldiers.  It’s the castle keep for maintaining the Army values to keep the Army’s promise to the American People – “This We’ll Defend.”  The seven Army Values are an expansion of what West Point brings to the Army for most of our Nation’s history from its motto “Duty, Honor, Country.

The Army values come from West Point.

Official West Point is quick to point out the Motto remains unchanged.  Good.

The Army Values may shift with any new administration.  West Point shouldn’t.

As tempting as making new word salad or slogan soup is to Army executives, they should be discouraged from doing so.  No one can improve on the Gettysburg Address as a statement of America’s national purpose.  Likewise, no one can improve on the bedrock values of Duty, Honor, Country for West Point and the U.S. Army with flexible, corporate “Army Values.”

Changing USMA’s mission from a career as an officer in the United States Army, to a “lifetime of service to the Army and Nation” may reflect how few West Pointers stay in the Army for a career as an officer.  Clearly, USMA is failing its current mission statement.  Changing the mission reflects the reality that ROTC and OCS officer retention is higher than USMA.

Regardless of that short-coming, the Senior Army Leaders shouldn’t fiddle with the USMA mission statement by reversing West Point’s role in establishing, preserving, and upholding the values essential to the Army.  All “Army Values” come from West Point’s Duty, Honor, Country.

James Atticus Bowden

USMA, Class of 1972

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2 thoughts on “West Point Changes Its Mission and Loses Its Way”

  1. I am an 85 grad. The mission when I arrived was:
    “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate shall have the character, leadership, intellectual foundation. and other attributes essential to progressive and continuing development throughout a career of exemplary service to the nation as an officer in the regular Army.” Note no Duty, Honor, Country.

    Duty, Honor, Country is the motto. The words of Douglas MacArthur: “Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn”. As long as the motto resonates with each cadet, I am not convinced it needs to be an explicit part of the mission statement. But then maybe I am biased….

    • The motto was added to the mission statement in 1998 on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the motto and coat of arms in 1898. It was an apropos addition and an improvement. No one, including the Supe, has been able to articulate how removing the motto is an improvement to the mission statement. It is not. This is an unnecessary self-inflicted wound and a sign of the diminishing standards at West Point.

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