After an early morning workout with the plebes, forty midshipmen from my company and I journeyed to Alumni Hall at the Naval Academy to attend the 2011 USNI Naval History Conference.
Although I required those forty midshipmen to attend, we all found the conference relevant to our future career choices. Every Saturday, the underclass midshipmen complete Saturday Morning Training (SMT). My job is to organize the SMT each week. The conference was probably the best SMT thus far- providing a unique opportunity for the plebes to hear from the extremely distinguished speakers.
The first panel discussed a topic aspiring aviators at the Academy dread- unmanned airplanes replacing pilots. I have no idea when or if UAVs will completely overtake manned planes, but the Economist recently labeled the F-35 the “last manned fighter.” Even so, I predict that unmanned aerial technology will not significantly affect aviation billets when my plebes graduate in 2015.
With three former astronauts, the second panel discussion inspired us all to reach new heights. CAPT James Lovell discussed his involvement in the Gemini and Apollo space programs. I found it interesting that he originally saw service in the space program as a sidetrack in the naval aviation career path. CAPT Wendy Lawrence explained how she worked for over two decades to achieve her goal of becoming an astronaut. MajGen Bolden, Administrator of NASA, told us how one statement from a friend encouraging him to apply for the astronaut program changed his life forever. On a separate note, he argued that China’s rise in the space program will be good for the NASA as Americans need someone to compete against. All three worried that money for the space program would be slashed even though NASA spends half of one percent of the U.S. budget.
I am glad that we all attended; I think events like this conference will inspire future junior officers to read and write for the Naval Institute.