Learning through Failure, Toward Greater Challenge: Self-Discipline, The Key

Ralph Masi


Ralph Masi was born in Palermo, Italy, while his parents were stationed there, and grew up near New York City. As a boy, he loved reading history and playing baseball. Though his father had been a Marine during WWII (he led on Iwo Jima, in the first wave), he sought West Point, and he recalls interviewing with Senator Jacob Javits, NY, for the appointment that followed. Beast Barracks was “very tough,” and upperclassmen suggested he resign -- within 30 minutes of starting, on R-Day, he fondly recalls. He found the Academy so challenging and discouraging that his first Sunday afternoon during Beast, he walked right out the barracks to the Catholic Chapel to speak with the Chaplain about dealing with his likely resignation. He learned right there that his greatest shortcoming was fear of failure - and that how one reacts to failure is critical to success, making each experience a learning opportunity -- like baseball, a game of failure. He began to look to better command his environment as best he could within his own limitations, and persevered. He only did B/C work academically, but validated two years of Spanish, and he enjoyed history and social sciences classes -- but not math. Attending Daily Mass gave him the moral strength to face the challenges of the Academy. He chose to branch Infantry because he loved small unit leadership (he relished the challenge of Ranger School), but also wanted to fly, badly. He initially struggled in flight school, but graduated as an AH-1 Cobra pilot. He became first in his class to make Pilot in Command, and to "break" 1,000 hours. His early assignments included infantry postings at Ft. Hood and in Germany, and an Air Cav assignment in Hawaii. While with the 25th, he also earned a Masters’ Degree via a University of Oklahoma extension there. He attended the Armor Advanced Course, where he studied the Soviet threat. He was next assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and once again served as a Cobra Platoon Commander, in the 1st Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry, and then as Assistant Division G-3. He was subsequently offered command of an Airborne Infantry company, E Company, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the Brigade's Anti-Tank Company. In 1988, he earned a second Masters’ Degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from Texas A&M, but more importantly, there he met his wife. His career then transitioned, and he began a period of working at the highest levels of the Department of Defense in management science and strategy. He began addressing key issues with VOLAR, the Volunteer Army, and used scientific analysis to help improve Army recruiting and retention. He employed mathematical modeling to develop successful monthly recruiting goals for 55 battalions, in the period of the Army's highest quality recruiting. In 1994, he earned his PhD in Management from the University of Illinois, fully funded there from 1991 to 1994. From 1994 to 1996, he served as Chief of Officer Analysis for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in Headquarters, Department of the Army, managing all 30 "year groups" on active duty -- and leading the cessation of involuntary separations. During the post-Cold War transition, budget was the biggest issue. Another concern was Army shrinkage to a bare-bones 10 Division force. Both on active duty and beyond, he helped lead its development and understood -- and underscored -- its inability to support a two-theater war. After retiring from the Army in 2002 and leading DCSPER's reorganization following the 9-11 attacks (discussed in detail), he continued his career as a college professor, one that began in 1995 as an adjunct faculty member at Marymount University, teaching corporate strategy and leadership at the University of Maryland. He did so while leading analyses at RAND Corporation as senior Scientist and Study Director from 2002 to 2012, conceiving and leading studies for DoD on wartime strategies and effects through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He eventually transitioned to a full professorship and full appointment with Maryland. In this interview, he talks about his boyhood, his formative experiences at West Point, his service, and his career in analysis and higher education. Discussing the Electrical Engineering cheating scandal in 1976, he states that honor is what sets West Point apart, and notes the importance of the honor code and service to the 724 members of his class who graduated in 1977 -- just about half of the entering class of 1,376 under the old "attrition" model. He reflects on several of the great leaders he served with throughout his career. At the close of the interview, he shares what his service and West Point mean to him.


conflicts Cold War
topics GWOT Global War on Terror September 11 2001 USMA 1977 Spring 1976 Cheating Incident Honor Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie
interviewer David Siry
date 27 July 2022


name Ralph Masi
institution USMA
graduation year 1977
service Infantry / Aviation
unit 5th SQDN, 7th CAV, 1CD; 3rd BN, 41st IN, 2AD; Air Cav SQDN, 25ID; 1st SQDN, 17th Air Cav, 82nd ABN; 504th PIR, 82nd ABN; HQDA; OCSA; ODCSPER
specialty Personnel Analysis
service dates 1977 2002