Archive for the 'usna' Tag

460xThere is something sad in what should be a good news story about a young man in his last year of high school with an opportunity to go to do what he has always wanted to do – play D1 football.


First of all, let’s think about the young man;

… his 6-foot-3, 280-pound frame …

That is a large young man. An athlete in his late teens with that genetically blessed body shape is, in most cases, at the leanest he will be in his life. He isn’t even through growing. Odds are that with age he will get heavier and perhaps even taller. I’m roughly his height and kept growing until I was 20. That is just how, in most all cases, nature works.

D1 football is full of guys his size and even larger. No issue here, unless you are buying dinner. Good football schools look for men like that.

How about our Navy?

Well, check the Navy’s height-weight chart – at 75″ he will need to work on that neck to be in our Navy – your maximum weight is 217.

What if there is only one D1 school was interested in that young man, but he really does not want to “go Navy.” That is just a means to an end, but his primary drive will lead him to the one door opened to him, the US Naval Academy.

Would this be – in the long run for both USNA and the young man in question – the best path to take?

Why does he want to go to USNA? Football. He simply wants to play football.

The offer from Navy couldn’t have come soon enough for Ronnie Brooks. The Maret lineman had just wrapped up his junior year, and at the time, he said, it seemed like all his friends and former teammates were getting heavily recruited.

Brooks was not. In spite of a strong junior season and his 6-foot-3, 280-pound frame, there was little interest.

“I was a little down on myself, thinking this wasn’t going to come. Everything wasn’t working how I thought,” he said.

But his luck turned early in the summer after a one-day camp at Navy, one which he nearly didn’t attend. Brooks considered forgoing the camp since he hadn’t heard from the recruiting coach; he was going to instead spend that day looking for a new helmet.

“My dad was just like, ‘Why don’t you just skip the Navy camp?’” he said.

But Brooks convinced his father that the Annapolis visit would be worth their time, and he was right, as it resulted in an offer from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision school.

Catch that. Just another “school.”

“Schools” must be careful that they define who they are. Football is, rightfully, seen as an important part of the collegiate experience for all, and the desire to play is strong with young men. But, it is also seen as a supporting activity to what is the real purpose of the college/university/academy – education. For the service academies – it is also producing officers to lead Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers in to combat.

For schools with student population in the four-figures, what do you have to do to compete with schools who don’t have such a refined mission, and have a pool of “seats” in the tens of thousands to pull from? You have a smaller pool and are going to have to take exceptional measures to compete. You will have to make exceptions.

All of our service academies are D-1 FBS (nee 1-A) schools – the top level. Each year the pressure gets greater and greater for the best players as the level of play continues to get more intense.

Here and at other places, we have covered what kind of compromises USNA makes to play D1 football. Compromises to the mission of NAPS, academic, discipline, and other standards that support the broader mission of USNA. These compromises are only there because they have to be for USNA to unnaturally compete at the D1 level.

It brings us back to the core question: at what price to the institution and the players?

At what point do the compromises become too much? Is FBS really where we should be? Why not another division? Even D-III? What is wrong with D-III? Nothing. Good enough for MIT – why not USNA? Fewer compromises would be made – but you’d still have the game. This is, after all, just a game – remember that.

Would the desired mission-related effects of playing sports – leadership, character refinement, school spirit – still be there? Of course they would. So, why D1?

Sure, the highest paid person that works for the Navy is the football coach – paid for by alumni, of course … and there you go.

This isn’t about the best interests of USNA, the MIDN, or the Navy as a whole. If it were, then you wouldn’t need outside funds to pay for the quality coach you need.

So, this is about the alumni and desire for a D1 team to cheer for? If so, perhaps they should have gone to a different school with a NROTC scholarship? What compromises are they willing to have their USNA make to allow them to have USNA at D1? Would they be willing to make “sacrifices” in order to let USNA compete at its natural level, say D-III? If not, why not? Does the lack of D-1 football make MIT any less of a school? Attract any less a quality of student?

Let’s go back to Ronnie Brooks. Because this is where the real tragedy is. He loves football. He really wants to play football. After four years at USNA, will he want to go pro? In the highly unlikely event he would have an opportunity to go pro – will we let him – or force him to serve? Will he even be physically able to serve, or to even make the cut as a walk-on?

The most likely event, as it is for all college athletes, is that he won’t. Even more unlikely for someone from the service academies. As a result, is he positioned to compete in the highly competivive profession of being a Navy or Marine Corps officer? Even though this wasn’t a desire that brought him to think about USNA, after a few years, he may decide he does.

Once he joins the fleet, will he be able to make a physical standard that, as an officer, he will have to enforce on his Sailors? The years of special treatment will be over; he will just be one more ENS or 2LT.

Every year he has company making that challenge work – and I saw it in my career. Right now on the Naval Academy team we have a 6’3″ 300# MIDN, 5’11” 277#, 6’2″ 293#, 6’2″ 315#, 6’1″ 310# … and so on.

Few things are more depressing than seeing a 25-yr old man having an emotional breakdown because he can’t get below 215# even if he eats like a supermodel. It is not easy – but after demanding they do one thing so middle aged men can watch them play D1 football, on a dime their Navy will require them to drastically change their body shape … if they can. Not everyone can and still be healthy.

Are we setting him up for something he may, coming out the door, be doomed to fail in? Whose fault is it?

I don’t want to get in to a battle over the Navy’s height-weight standards – I happen to have significant issues with them. Was never a problem with me, as those who have met me know, I have your standard issue Anglo-Norman genetics of being about Ronnie’s height with a 33″ waist and 46L coat – as I have since high school +/-. What I have seen are some of the best people I have served with struggle simply due to their DNA to make it – and their career suffered for it. Love or hate – it is what it is and if you are on the wrong side of the tape – your career is over – or stunted where you are when your metabolism changes.

It was one thing when I was 22 to go from 225# to 185#. It is another to go from 300# to 215.9#. I wish them all well.

There is one last institutional side issue; would USNA recruit a 17-yr old 6’3″ 280# young man who was a winner at the Google Science Fair? If they did – would they let him stay at that weight? What about a 5’11” 210# female softball player?

Supported, or supporting?

I also wish that all those who invest so much of their own personal feelings of self-worth – and money – in to the NAAA and football would ask themselves, why? To what end?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 111 Comments

One of the many great joys of a billet at USNA is the ability to reconnect with former professors and professional mentors. As someone who graduated 5 years ago, I am fortunate enough to see many of them still on the Yard.

I want to share with you a conversation I had with someone whom I really didn’t know during my time here. If you attended USNA anytime from 1991 onwards you may have seen him around. He’s likely barked “Strike!” at you during Plebe Summer’s introduction to martial arts or has evaluated your ability to perform a wrist lock during a PE course. He may have even coached some of you in gymnastics.

If you didn’t go to USNA, you’ll still find his story fascinating and revealing about two nations’ abilities to heal following history’s most destructive, fearsome war.

Sho Fukushima was born in Hiroshima, Japan in September 10, 1946, a little over a year after the bomb was dropped on the city. His family ended up in Hiroshima after the war during which his father was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army in Pusan, Korea. With the war’s end, the Japanese were expelled from Korea, and his parents hopped on a freighter bound for Japan. Sho’s parents had heard “a new type of bomb had wiped out everything” in Hiroshima and it was rumored that nothing could grow there for the next 70 years.

“I asked them why did they really come back to Hiroshima, where there was nothing. It was because our relatives were there.”

He, his four siblings, mother and father lived in a “wooden structure, with a metal roof.” There were no real buildings yet.

His kindergarten teacher passed away from a bomb-related illness. His 1st grade teacher, who had facial scars from glass shards from the blast, died from leukemia. He lost an aunt, uncle and 5-6 cousins to the bomb. On that day his grandmother was 20-30 miles outside the city and saw a “bright, white flash” followed by the mushroom cloud. A search of the city the next day by the surviving family members revealed those in downtown had simply “evaporated.”

Hunger was a central feature of childhood. “We just didn’t have enough food to eat,” Sho explained, “so all four kids had to learn to share.” The staple dish was rice mixed with wheat or sweet potatoes, and was considered an adulteration–“not white rice.”

Growing up in Hiroshima, he remembers playing with one of his “best friends,” the “shadow man” of the city’s bank. “Mom had a couple of bottles,” artifacts crystallized by the blast. “She told me if I could break that thing she would give me a 100 yen. Even with hammers and throwing it against the rocks, I couldn’t break that thing. It became a family joke.”

During our talk I tried to imagine growing up with such stark, ever-present reminders of war and death. I asked Sho if all of this seemed normal. “It was totally normal. I didn’t know any other life,” he responded. There were parts of Sho’s childhood that seemed normal. “The ocean was my playground. I had a little fishing pole and starting fishing. I loved to fish. Besides that, I remember playing with my brothers and sisters. My older sister was an avid reader so at least once a month we would get a new book.” Yet, Sho was quick to point out that fishing also served to supplement their food.

Meanwhile, his father, despaired with losing the war and escaping death. A graduate of a professional military academy, all of his classmates had died in the South Pacific while he served in the national guard in Korea. “How would you feel about cheating death?” Sho asked me. “He was the strongest military guy before the war, but after he lost the war and he lost his classmates…he lost a kind of spirit,” as he struggled with the thought of suicide.

Sho’s gymnastics talents led the University of Washington to recruit him. Hearing about the promises of America from his grandfather, who had lived in Seattle and San Francisco, Sho jumped at the opportunity.

The son of a IJA officer, Sho found himself staying in the home of a Pearl Harbor survivor, Jack, who offered to sponsor him. “My father asked him to take care of me, and my American father promised he would. He did everything like a father was supposed to. The families stayed in touch, hosting one another in Japan and the US.

I was most struck by Sho telling his father of his job offer at the Naval Academy. Sho had maintained a green card, but with the job offer his father suggested something more. “Such an honor,” his father told him, “that you can get a job like this at the Academy. You have to show them your commitment.” His father meant applying for American citizenship. “That’s him–Japanese military guy,” Sho explained.

In October, Sho will retire after nearly 25 years at the Academy. As a child, his mom would take him once a year to see US Army doctors, who would give him a cookie and check him for radiation related illnesses. He plans to search for his medical records at the University of Maryland, which archived many records of Japanese patients affected by the bombs.

“I always dreamed of being a bridge between the US and Japan,” Sho mused towards the end of our talk. I think he has done just that.

Sho Fukushima

Sho Fukushima

The last couple of years have been an exceptionally difficult one for the U.S. Naval Academy. For the MIDN, Alumni, and the larger Navy family. USNA had to deal with serious issues of honor, a race-focused admissions policy, misguided priorities – to the more curious tactical details of the Potempkin Color Guard, odd traditions warped, a strange good-bye for the previous Superintendent, a penultimate act – the IG Report, and finally a sad, lonely changing of the watch. No, not a very good run for a critically important part of our Navy.

With a change in leadership there is always hope – and I think the new Supe, VADM Michael Miller, is off to a very good start. A few promising nuggets on background have come my way from the Severn Underground, and we recently saw some more in open source.

If you didn’t get it from Facebook – VADM Miller gave a speech recently to USNA alumni. It was a very good talk – and that is what it was; a talk. Not a lecture, not really a speech – but a talk among friends. Watch the whole thing at the Facebook link and then come back..

There is one point that I wanted you to think about. Think about all the times you have spoken to a group of people. Now segment them into those where you never expected an applause line. If you have ever had that happen – you know the impact that can have on a speaker. It breaks your stride and makes you ponder – it emphasizes to you that something you said hit a nerve – it is important. Think back to some of the more negative things that came out of Annapolis up to and including the IG Report. In many, what was a common thread? Now, watch this shorter cut of the larger speech and come back again.

VADM Miller’s initial response was right on. In the X-ring. That is the right answer – that is the right idea – that is in the finest traditions of our Representative Republic and the ideals that will help keep it together. Yes, I know he refined his comments a bit to broaden his running room – but I trust his initial comments and instincts and will grant him his hedge. VADM need running room.

I wish him the best of luck, support, and the will to see it through. He has quite the headwind if he wants to do this. Institutional inertia and those whose paycheck relies of sectarianism will oppose him. Congressional pressure will be huge – heck, they just removed language from the USCG funding bill – dangerous language it seems,

Buried in the annual Coast Guard authorization act passed this week by Congress is wording that would strike from the U.S. Code the statement that all appointments to the Coast Guard Academy “shall be made without regard to the sex, race, color or religious beliefs of an applicant.”

No, a correct policy of judging people by the content of their character is unquestionably out – an unjust policy of judging by the color of their skin is the in thing from the CNO on down.

With the drive to reinforce active discrimination from DC – VADM Miller’s “radical” support for a just system will run into opposition, but that’s OK. Compared to the challenges he has faced in his career, this should be easy.

We have the right words, we should look forward to the right actions – and look forward to a great year for the Naval Academy. Our Midshipmen and our Navy deserve it, not to mention the taxpayer.

The first women selected to serve onboard submarines have been identified. Some questions are worth asking…and they deserve answers. In the interest of transparency, the Navy owes the public – at the very least the sub community – an explanation of how these ladies were chosen for this elite duty. How many competed for selection? And how will future female submarine assignments be made?

USNI Blogger MIDN Jeff Withington recently described the rigorous screening process he completed for selection to nuclear power and the submarine community. Considering that annual nuke power and sub assignments were made last October, was a similar selection process held recently for these female candidates? Was some other process used?

Because the first group of females did not compete for assignment in October, they apparently didn’t compete against anyone except themselves. Until we know how many women applied, we won’t know how tough (statistically at least) the competition was. In the future, women should compete against for assignment to the submarine community without quotas, on equal footing against men and each other. Certainly the ‘right’ number of women need to be selected to fill staterooms and not leave a ship’s manning unbalanced, but otherwise, women should compete against every other applicant for assignment to this community.

Over the last year with the distressing series of problems continuing to come out of the United States Naval Academy on race-based admissions standards, special considerations for D1 enabling athlete-students, and an honor system under stress – many people have asked why aren’t the alumni speaking up?

Well, they are. Last week we had one, this week another.

Today’s guest post is by USNA alumnus, Francisco Alsina (’97).

Recently, the Naval Academy was in the news because of one of its football players. Midshipman Curry is being retained after a positive drug test result for marijuana. Why? Is it because he is a star athlete? According to Chet Gladchuk, director for the Naval Academy Athletic Association, and Ken Niumatalolo, the head coach for the football team, it’s not. Both were rather emphatic in a February 13th newspaper article from The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland’s newspaper, that there is no double standard. I disagree. As an alumni (with a sibling that also attended and graduated) and former company officer, and current sponsor of midshipmen, I am convinced a double standard exists for some.

In the article, mention was made about the medals earned and honorable deeds done by other football players once they hit the fleet. I agree that there are many phenomenal student-athletes at the academy. They do well there and beyond in the fleet. But, to be terse and honest; big deal. It is our job to excel; as midshipmen and Naval officers we are paid and expected to do that. Mention made of medals earned by football players out in the fleet merely obfuscates the current issue. It is a reactive and insidious attempt to deflect criticism. I recognize that Mr. Niumatalolo has never served in the military, but after coaching at Navy for 13 years, I would have expected more of him than this cheap and ineffective tactic. I still remember one of the laws of the Navy from my plebe year: “On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain, who knows when thou may’st be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain!” The ‘metal’ used to make some of the links (midshipmen) is of inferior quality to begin with, and this is unacceptable. Curry’s front page article for his misdeeds is disappointing, yet increasingly unsurprising, to midshipmen and alumni alike. He didn’t pick up the bad habits at the academy; it must have been before.

Our country, Navy, and those led by academy graduates deserve better than the worst we allow to graduate. Midshipman Curry is pretty bad if we are to believe accounts that he already had not one, not two, but three honor violations before testing positive for marijuana, and has been awarded over three hundred demerits. This poor conduct begs the question, “How many honor offenses or conduct infractions does it take to get kicked out?” But, he’s only a third class midshipman, with two and a half years left. I’m confident he will not graduate if he does not see the error of his ways. If I were him, I would leave after this semester, before he incurs any financial obligation for the education he received (whether it sank in or not). Then, he can smoke all the marijuana-laced cigars he wants, knowingly or unknowingly.

Part of the mission of the Naval Academy is to ‘develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically’ but some of the demands varsity and junior varsity sports are putting on midshipmen and the institution is ultimately harming our mission. There are double standards at the academy, contrary to Mr. Gladchuk’s statement in the Capital.

The athletic association says they recruit academically sound recruits, yet only 19 football players are coming to the academy while 35 to 40 are reporting to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) this fall. NAPS was originally created to academically prepare enlisted sailors and Marines for the academy. Now, amongst other things, it has become a de facto red shirt year for academically unprepared athletes.

Some football players are allowed to be out of height and weight standards for much of their time at the academy in order to be competitive on the field. The academy may say that these athletes are expected to meet standards before graduation; the same standards can be used to separate other midshipman when they fail to meet them during their tenure, well before their planned graduation.

During some meals, plebe (first year) athletes sit apart from their unit and with their team, where they can relax without being subject to the same rules as non-athlete plebes. Further, varsity athletes, as a group, often sit apart from their company during many meals. In the desire build a strong athletic team, plebes fraternize with upperclass outside of sports events or practice, to the detriment of good order and discipline, bedrock principles of military life.

As a company officer, I was pressured by the chain of command to allow academically unsatisfactory midshipmen to participate in most if not all varsity athletic events when a similar request would never have been made, much less allowed, for nonathletic events. A double standard was created and the entire Brigade knew it. NCAA guidelines were cited by our chain of command, permitting athletic participation for college students so long at their cumulative GPA was above a 2.0. Yet, when athletes we reluctantly approved for sports participation found themselves at academic boards for poor grades, the chain of command came down on company officers for not holding athletes back, citing academy policy allowing us to deny sports participation for athletes with a semester academic GPA below a 2.15. The same chain of command that was silent or outwardly hostile to company officers if we wanted to hold back an athlete from a sporting event due to grades was just as hostile and unsupportive to company officers when athletes were academically unsatisfactory at the end of the semester.

Few know that some candidates applying to the academy are labeled ‘Blue Chip Recruits’. These candidates are recruited for sports at the academy and given special consideration in the admissions process. Raw data I reviewed while on staff at the academy indicated that blue chip recruits don’t remain in the Navy as long as non blue chip athletes after graduation . failing part of the academy’s mission by not being ‘..dedicated to a career of naval service..’ I am not surprised, given that they were brought into the Navy in large part for being pretty good at playing a sport. To be fair, most recruited athletes are not given special consideration in the admissions process. Now, I can expect the athletic association to respond with their own statistics, leading with the fact that varsity athletes have a higher academic GPA, and that was true when I was on staff. However, the difference is so negligible as to be statistically insignificant, and does not account for the different types of majors chosen by midshipmen; some are more academically rigorous than others.

Many midshipman (athletes or not) resent these double standards. Other examples exist, but I’ve made my point.

Knowledge of Midshipman Curry’s positive drug test and its aftermath has hit the fleet. What do Sailors and Marines think of academy graduates now? Naval Academy graduates are supposed to be the best the nation has to offer; but if a recent letter to the Navy Times from a First Class Petty Officer captures the thoughts of our sailors, the perception is the opposite of what it should be. Navy athletics and the Naval Academy is not in a crisis; yet. But, unless current policies change, we can expect more midshipmen of Curry’s caliber to bring dishonor upon the academy. At the end of the day, I hope that those led by academy graduates, upon learning their division officer was a star athlete, will not have cause to wonder if they have an officer worthy of the responsibility entrusted to them.

If his poor conduct and honor violations are not cause to separate Midshipman Curry from the Academy, what is so special about him that allows him to stay? To hear from Mr. Gladchuk and Mr. Niumatalolo, it’s not because he’s a star athlete, but I’m sure that didn’t hurt. And I don’t buy the excuse that Midshipman Curry’s ignorance of exactly what he was smoking is why he is staying in. A former senior enlisted advisor has personally told me the very same excuse didn’t save another midshipman not too long ago from being separated for a positive drug test. So, why is Midshipman Curry allowed to stay? I challenge the Naval Academy to provide some believable response, not falling for the ‘I didn’t know’ defense Curry used.

Francisco Alsina graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1997. He has participated in Operations Northern and Southern Watch, and Iraqi Freedom, deploying four times from 2001 to 2007. Currently, he is an activated reservists awaiting deployment to Pakistan.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 10 Comments

There are a few things that I hold as self-evident. This simple progression, is one of them;

– The most effective things and the most important things are simple to describe and protect.
– When effective and important things are inconvenient to some, barriers to their needs – they complicate the effective and important.
– When effective and important things are made more complicated, they become flaccid and ill-defined.
– Flaccid and ill-defined things can be easily shaped and avoided.
– Things easily shaped and avoided are useful for everything and nothing.
– Things that can be used for everything and nothing are ineffective and unimportant.

This weekend at The Captial, Ensign Stephen E. Shaw has an important article that requires your attention titled, Naval Academy Honor Concept strays from roots.

You don’t have to be a Annapolis Alumni to be concerned with Annapolis – I’m not. The fact remains that this is the critical core of our future leadership – its seed corn. What is learned there is brought to the Fleet. What is damaged there has to be repaired in the Fleet. Honor – or one’s respect of it – is the wellspring from which all else flows. If you don’t get that right, it is hard to make the rest work from being a DivO to running a Program Office.

You have to read it all – seriously – because the strength of the article is how ENS Shaw describes how a simple system has been perverted in such a way that it is almost impossible to talk about it. So complicated, that good people can’t even argue about it because no one really understands it. You cannot enforce something you can’t explain, understand, or follow.

The French have a great word for someone who works in and is stuck in a bureaucratic mindset – fonctionnaire – that about describes the only personality type that could support the system at Annapolis as it exists today.

Here is the pull-quote,

The current widespread problem of cynicism at the Academy is an indication of a failure to do this. I often wondered, What legitimate reason does the Naval Academy midshipman have to be cynical? The quality of education is high and is provided at no cost to the midshipman. The opportunities available to each member of the Brigade far surpass those available to any comparable undergraduate student in the country, including cadets at West Point and the Air Force Academy who have fewer options for service assignments.

It is difficult to believe, as it is oftentimes claimed, that trivialities such as limited weekend liberty or regulated exercise uniforms are the main causes of cynicism. The average midshipman is not, and has never been, adverse to hard or challenging work. In fact, this is what typically attracts him or her to the Academy in the first place. Something is driving midshipmen to acquire cynical attitudes towards the Naval Academy.

In 2005, the committee structure was completely abandoned. The current “honor staff” is a subcomponent of the regular Brigade organization, and honor staff members are selected by a panel of senior officers at the Naval Academy. 27 It must be noted that few, if any, midshipmen have had a “say” in the changes that have been made to the system over the years— a system which was originally created by midshipmen and enacted by a nearly unanimous Brigade-wide vote.

Nonetheless, since the system was established in 1951, each new class of midshipmen has been taught that the Naval Academy has a non-codified, or concept-based, standard of honor despite the system’s actual structure. There is still regular discussion and proclamation that the Brigade “owns” the Honor Concept (sometimes meaning both the statement and the system, depending on whom you talk to), despite the fact that: 1) the Brigade plays no role whatsoever in the selection of honor staff members, and 2) the selected staff members report directly to the Honor Officer, who is a member of the Department of Character Development and Training Division under the Commandant. This is a far cry indeed from the original structure, which on occasion saw the First Class Committee Chairman, who was the midshipman responsible for overseeing the system, report directly to the Superintendent. 28

While the system has undergone drastic changes throughout the past 60 years, the description and discussion of it have remained basically unchanged. Due to the inconsistency between how the system was understood and how it actually operated, midshipmen, alumni, faculty members, and staff officers have little confidence in the effectiveness of the current program.

The system is claimed to be non-codified, yet definitions remain; it is claimed to not be based on fear, yet its only function is to punish (although I am unaware of any midshipmen who were separated solely due to an honor offense in the last four years); it is claimed to be owned and operated by the Brigade, yet the Brigade has no “say” in the selection of staff members, nor do those staff members have any real authority over the system, other than the execution of documented procedures and orders from the staff officers assigned over them.

As long as the inconsistencies described above are allowed to exist, it remains practically impossible to address any issues afflicting the honor system. Since the same terminology (concept, ownership, etc.) has been used for the past six decades, officers, midshipmen, and alumni who attempt to discuss these issues are not aware that they very well may be talking about different things. For example, it took me nearly four years to completely piece together the evolution of the honor system from its creation in 1951 to what exists today. The confusing language and recycled terminology has made work on this program convoluted and tedious at best. The current honor system at the Naval Academy is inconsistent, ineffective, contradictory, misunderstood, and confusing, and has little support from the Naval Academy community as a whole.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with the MIDN at Annapolis. This generation of men and women are just fine, thank you very much. The problem is with the older generations above them.

These MIDN – the ones you want – will have no problems meeting a superior standard, all you have to do is ask. All leadership has to do is to have the courage to meet the standard in action that they describe in words.

Remember, what is learned at the Academy is brought to the Fleet – the good and the bad. Even we knuckle-dragg’n NROTC types know that……

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 7 Comments
Tags: ,

As part of summer training, midshipmen spend time out in the Fleet, my past two summers were spent in Pearl Harbor on a submarine and a destroyer; however, this summer I was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Communication Team (II MEF PCT).

Marine Corps Public Affairs, the community’s guiding publication, opens with the following quotation from Major General Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps:
“The future success of the Marine Corps depends on two factors: first, an efficient performance of all duties to which its officers and men may be assigned; second, promptly bringing the efficiency to the attention of the proper officials of the Government, and the American people.”

On our first day with the team, MAJ Gilmore, the team’s director, gave us more than an hour and a half of his time to talk about Marine Corps public communication, emphasizing the importance of training Marines to think of communication as a two-way process of information sharing. As no public affairs team can (or wants to) completely control who says what to whom, proper training allows Marines to express themselves more effectively to friends, families, or anyone with whom they communicate.

While public affairs offices are generally perceived as providing information and assistance to the media, the II MEF PCT prefers a different approach. Understanding that the media is another party in the public domain, the II MEF PCT focuses its attention on getting its message to its “key publics,” members of the community who share an interest in II MEF-related issues. For the II MEF PCT, this means Marines, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the main focus of the team is not trying to target or “handle” the media, but establishing dialogue with the key publics.

This dialogue with key publics is central to II MEF PCT. For instance, the PCT responds the same way to questions from MEF family members and friends as it does with civilian media representatives. Furthermore, by calling and informing the interested parties of the press releases, the team builds connections with the community.

Blogging is a trend with some units, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Due to limitations of current policy as well the time and manpower requirements, the II MEF PCT does not operate one. However, the team does engage readers in the discussion section of blogs belonging to other groups including civilian media organizations.

The Marine Corps public affairs community only includes around 150 officers. Capt. Patrick, the team’s deputy director, served as an enlisted infantryman before accepting a commission. Coming out of The Basic School with any MOS open to him, he chose public affairs much to his peers’ surprise. “I had been reading and studying about fourth-generation warfare,” he explained, “and it was apparent that communicating information was incredibly important…Besides just basic leading Marines, I’ve never had such a broad impact.”

The Internet and “new media,” such as blogs, enable readers to draw information from sources outside the traditional media filter. How can the military and public affairs teams better adapt to these developments?



July 2009


“Liberty is a device for relaxation and decompression, used only when necessary.”- Plebe Summer 2009 Standing Operating Procedure, p. 26.

Always Training.

Always Training.

Bruce Fleming has been an English professor at the United States Naval Academy for twenty-two years and has served as a member of USNA’s Admissions Board. He has expressed concerns over the Academy’s admissions process which he strongly believes places too much emphasis on racial diversity at the cost of quality students. He explains these concerns as follows:

Here’s a question: would you rather be defended by the officer with high all-around predictors (including leadership and athletics in addition to grades and test scores), or low ones? I bet you think I’m joking when I say that at the Unites States Naval Academy, we let in the ones with the low scores and reject the ones with the high. As a taxpayer, I object to that.

We do this to ensure that we get students who self-identify as racial minorities. “Diversity is our number one priority” at the Naval Academy, as the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and the superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler have both said. Of course, this is a technical use of “diversity,” having nothing to do with age, with skills, with temperaments, with gender or sexual orientation, but only with skin color. In June of 2009 came the stunning boast that the class of 2013 is the “most diverse ever” at 35% minority. At the same time I’m getting e-mails from the parents of stellar white students who have been rejected to make this possible. We tend to forget the ones who aren’t there: I don’t.

It’s a two-track system: whites have to excel to get in, non-whites don’t have to. They just have to be non-white. And their seat, once taken, is thus denied the stellar one. In the long run this has to dilute the quality of the Navy. That’s scary. It’s also immoral. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis and arguably in the military, we’re back to the childhood I remember on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with separate water fountains for the “colored people.” Only the water fountains for non-whites now are much better than those for the whites. Is this the way our “post-racial” Obama society was meant to play out?

We let in students by two tracks: one is based on a basket of skills and is intended to get the strongest all-around candidates. Because this system would pull in very few minorities, we’ve instituted a second track whose intention is specifically to ensure the presence of minority midshipmen. Minority applications are briefed separately to the Admissions Board, let in “direct” to USNA over a lowered bar or sent to our hand-holding revolving door remedial school if really weak. We send them for tutoring, let them take courses over, and assign them to majors we think they can pass. Many graduate, though at about a 10% lower rate than the Brigade as a whole (which includes them, so the real split is greater). We’re in an “anything it takes” mode to get them, and in an “anything it takes” mode to keep them: success is defined as getting them and keeping them, at any price.

This elimination of the necessity to achieve high predictors echoes the case with the New Haven firefighters on which Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued her now-famous ruling that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week. If not enough minority applicants get over the bar, you lower it—or eliminate it altogether. That’s what we’ve done. USNA administration officials have said in public that “SAT scores are not good predictors for minority students.” But we do use low SAT scores (below 600) as a way to eliminate white candidates. Not the minority ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your military. In the wake of the AIG meltdown it seemed that American taxpayers suddenly became aware that what was okay on private money wasn’t okay on the taxpayer dime. Many people felt that the ones paying for it should get a say in how it was run. The military has always been run, 100%, on the taxpayer dime (or rather, the taxpayer’s hundreds of millions of dollars). In addition, unlike AIG, it exists for the sole purpose of defending those taxpayers. Yet all too often the military acts as if it thinks it’s working on its own money, and exists for itself. This business of affirmative action at the Naval Academy and in the fleet is such an issue.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole deal is that the military is lying to the taxpayers about what it’s doing—misdirecting by throwing up a dust screen of irrelevancies designed to get people off their track or out and out misstating facts.

The USNA Dean of Admissions was quoted in the Baltimore Sun last year as saying “we don’t lower standards for minorities.” I suppose if you twist that enough it’s just misleading, rather than a lie: we don’t “lower” (as a verb) because the standards for minorities are already “lower” (adjective). We’ll guarantee admission to a black candidate with B and C grades, no particular leadership or academics, and SAT scores of 540 on each part. A white candidate like that is voted “not qualified.” The black one is voted “qualified”. A “qualified” (to a lower standard) minority candidate has a seat reserved; a “qualified” white candidate competes with other “qualified” ones for the remaining seats. If they’re not even this qualified, we send them to Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), which is overwhelmingly minority. Here they are ‘remediated’ for a year, and the system rigged to ensure they come to Annapolis, taking a seat the next year. There is almost no bottom to what we’ll take for minority applicants through NAPS.

All minorities are let in over a lower bar, and most would never be admitted competitively; some are far lower than the bar for white candidates. However this doesn’t mean that all minority midshipmen are weak; I’ve had some stellar ones in my career. However they all got in ‘direct’ (which white applicants don’t): lowering the bar doesn’t mean all needed it that low.

None of this is written down, it’s just the game rules I learned on the Admissions Board. We were told not to write anything down because “everything is “FOI”able”— it can be demanded under the Freedom of Information Act.

After being on the Admissions Board, I understood a lot of what I’d seen in the classroom. I realized that there was a close to 100% correlation between the students who just couldn’t get basic concepts and couldn’t express themselves and those who either had been recruited to play sports like football and basketball, or who had checked a box saying they were Hispanic or African-American.

The Naval Academy has engaged in blatant race-tracking for years, but never with any justification. Then in March of 2008 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) issued a “diversity policy” that has been cited repeatedly when “affirmative action” is questioned. The document signed by the CNO is unexceptionable, and raises no eyebrows. Of course not. This is the written form of the intent, which here is being kept purposely bland: this could be easily challenged in court. The question then becomes, how is it understood and put into practice? Similarly, The CNO’s “diversity policy” begins as follows: “Diversity has made our Nation and Navy stronger. To derive the most from that diversity, every individual, military or civilian, must be encouraged and enabled to reach his or her full potential.” Who can disagree with that? But isn’t that just the opposite of race-tracking and separate water fountains?

Even if it’s illegal, it might be we could understand why it’s a good idea, somehow, in some form. Only the military isn’t good at providing justification. We’re told the navy has to “look like” the general population (i.e. non-white). But actually the enlisted corps already does. What they mean is, the officer corps has to be just as non-white as the enlisted corps. Why is that? Who says a black male soldier relates better to a black or Hispanic female officer than to a white male one? Does this mean that white soldiers need white officers? None of this is explained or justified, and the taxpayers are paying the military’s salaries to defend them.

This is the demand for justification that I’m issuing here. In the military, none of it happens. We decide what we’re going to do, keep it secret if possible and in any case “inside the walls,” as the military says. We assert loudly that what we do is serving the policy, and that’s the end of the story. Only it isn’t. The military is here to protect the Constitution. They need to be reminded that they can’t violate it.

For more about Bruce Fleming, his book about the Naval Academy “Annapolis Autumn” and the forthcoming “Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know About the Other, and About Itself,” visit his web site at A longer consideration of the Naval Academy experience from the perspective of students is currently on

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 83 Comments

Times Past

March 2009


My single favorite page in any Proceedings issue is the last page: “From Our Archive.” It’s great to read of things past, but seeing the faces and emotions really drives it home. This has to be my favorite photo since joining the Institute. The full version of the picture can be found here:

From the August 2008 issue of Proceedings
From the August 2008 issue of Proceedings

It was around 2345 the other night when we discovered a goldmine of memories. As I checked in for the night, a firstie (senior) called me over. “Hey, I have all these pictures and video from your plebe year,” he said as he handed me a CD. “Thought you might have wanted them. Make sure they get spread around to your classmates.”

I was now holding a time capsule of sorts. This disc held images of my friends and I which we had never seen. Sites like Facebook make it extremely easy to share and view all your friends’ photos. That’s certainly neat but after awhile you’ve seen all of them; I was given something “old” but refreshingly new. It was our version of “From Our Archive.”

I grabbed a couple of friends, one of whom was currently reading old emails from plebe year (“Wow, did I really sound like that,” he wondered), slid the CD into the tray, and started going through it. The pictures chronicled our plebe year starting from Hello Night (August), where we were “welcomed” by the upperclass. That’s when we felt it. “I sort of wish I were a plebe again.”

Yeah, I said it. Do I really want to go rewind spend another two and half years to get to this point? No, not really. But there was something exciting, fresh, and simple about the first year. There’s something exhilarating about the “Us vs. Them” mentality of it all.

I know a lot of readers here are former/current military…I’m curious as to what you reflect upon and say “I sort of wish I were a _________ again.” Was it a remarkable crew? First division? First command?

« Older Entries