Five former Superintendents return, interact during panel discussion

By Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

November 8th, 2018 | News, News and Features
 The five most recent former Superintendents of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point held a panel discussion at the U.S. Military Academy Nov. 2.  Photos by Matt Moeller/USMA PAO
  Former Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, retired Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., who served as superintendent from 2001-06, speaks during the panel discussion as former superintendents, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman (left) and retired Lt. Gen. Buster L. Hagenbeck, chuckle during his reply to a question.

The U.S. Military Academy saw the return of five men who helped shape West Point and overseen its role in producing leaders for a 21st century Army Nov. 2-3.
Five former superintendents—retired Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman, retired Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., retired Lt. Gen. Buster L. Hagenbeck, retired Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon and retired Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr.—spent the two days at West Point meeting with current superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, interacting with cadets and then watching Army beat Air Force in football to retain the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.
“These people have done more to shape the modern U.S. Military Academy than any other group that could be assembled,” Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Cindy Jebb said at the beginning of a panel she hosted with the former superintendents Nov. 2. “I really appreciate you taking the time to do this with us. The five gentlemen seated with us today really need no introduction.”
During their visit, the five former superintendents and their spouses met with Williams to talk about the Academy and receive an update on where things stand. Because of the nature of the position and the short tenure of superintendents, projects started by one are inevitably finished by his successor, such as the barracks renovations currently underway.
“What you are looking at here is a relay race,” Lennox, who served as superintendent from 2001-06, said. “Gen. Christman started some things and passed the baton. I got some things finished and passed it on. It goes all the way … It really is a relay race. One starts it and passes it all the way down. You probably will never see an item that you want completed on your tour, but down the line it has been. It is incumbent on us to keep that going.”
The former superintendents also had the opportunity to teach a class and each lunch in the mess hall with the cadets. After lunch, they participated in a panel discussion moderated by Jebb.
During the more than an hourlong discussion, the superintendents and Jebb talked about topics ranging from challenges they faced during their tenures and how the composition of the Corps of Cadets has changed in the last 20 years to changes they see coming in the future and the sustainability of an all-volunteer Army.
“I think the bigger issue is the civilian/military divide as an unintended consequence over many years and it is not getting any better and won’t get any better any time soon,” Caslen, who served as superintendent from 2013 until June, said of the impact of an all-volunteer Army. “The consequences of a civilian/military divide really go to what I talked about previously and that is that trust relationship with our client—America—and the risk to that trust. There is a lack of understanding of what takes place because of the volunteer Army.”
During the time Christman, Lennox, Hegenbeck, Huntoon and Caslen served as superintendents, the America they were preparing cadets to protect drastically changed. Most drastically, the attack on Sept. 11, 2001 altered the career paths of every class that graduated in the ensuing years.
During those years, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and the Academy became more diverse to better mirror the country. The economy crashed tightening budgets for every aspect of the country and they were forced to oversee plans to modernize both the buildings at the Academy and the curriculum to meet the needs of an evermore technologically connected world.
“I think the value of the Academy is clearly even more apparent and even stronger than when I arrived here in 1996,” Christman said. “Each of us at this table battled budgets. That hasn’t changed. What we battled in the early to mid-’90s were existential questions about whether West Point should exist. I know it is hard to believe this in 2018.”
A replay of the panel will play on the command channel Mondays at 7:30 a.m., Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. and Fridays at 7:30 p.m. through the end of the month.