Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Naval Academy Grooming Officers for High-Tech Warfare

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Naval Academy Grooming Officers for High-Tech Warfare

Article excerpt

The U.S. Naval Academy-that legendary breeding ground for Navy and Marine Corps officers-is getting a thorough overhaul to improve its ability to prepare military leaders for the challenges of the 21st century.

The academy is embarked upon an ambitious strategic plan to "raise the bar of excellence" at the institution by the end of this decade, said its superintendent, Navy Vice Adm. John R. Ryan, in a recent interview with National Defense.

"The strategic plan sets us up to create our own future," Ryan explained. Under this plan-known as USNA 2010-the academy intends to:

Renovate all classrooms, laboratories, libraries and dormitories, at an average cost of $45 million per year through 2008, installing state-of the-art information technology, allowing midshipmen to communicate with their instructors, each other and virtually the entire world both in the classroom and their dormitories.

Create a net-centric warfare center to teach the concepts of information-age conflict.

Rebuild or replace outdated athletic facilities to provide modern physical fitness opportunities to all midshipmen, including women, who have been attending the academy since 1976.

Replace the academy's aging fleet of training sailboats and motorized patrol vessels.

Beef up the already highly regarded faculty to include the best military and civilian instructors.

Step up efforts to raise private donations to supplement the academy's regular budget provided every year by Congress, $179 million in fiscal year 2000.

Strengthen the academy's emphasis on the moral and ethical development of midshipmen, also known as middies, or simply mids.

Originally, mids received their training entirely aboard Navy ships, much as described in the late British author Patrick O'Brian's novels about the Napoleonic Wars.

To provide a more standardized, scholarly form of training, Congress in 1845 founded the academy, placing it in Annapolis, the colonial-era state capital of Maryland, where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

Since then, the academy has grown into a four-year university, with a 338-acre campus, awarding bachelor of science degrees. A brigade of 4,000 mids-of whom 15 percent are women and 20 percent are minorities-study a core curriculum designed to prepare them to become professional Navy and Marine officers, plus 19 other major fields of study.

Anchor of the Officer Corps

Approximately one third of all Navy officers attend Annapolis. The others either participate in Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) programs in civilian colleges and universities or attend officer candidate school (OCS) after graduation.

"The academy is the anchor of the Navy officer corps," said Ryan. "NROTC has its kids part-time during their time at a civilian college. OCS has them for a few weeks after graduation.

"We have ours for four full years, seven days a week, 24 hours a day," he explained. "It's a full immersion program."

The academy's approach makes a difference, Ryan argued. The academy has produced such well-known graduates as:

Adm. George Dewey, who led the defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, 13th commandant of the Marine Corps in the 1920s.

Adm. Chester W Nimitz, commander of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific theater during World War II.

In recent years, however, the academy began showing signs of strain, Ryan admitted. For one thing, the academy's revered Honor Concept, which forbids midshipmen to lie, cheat, steal or do anything unethical on pain of dismissal from the school, has taken some hard knocks. In the 1990s, the academy was rocked by a series of scandals involving cheating, drugs and sexual assaults by midshipmen.

"We suffered some trials and tribulations in those times," admitted Ryan. "But we benefited from that." The experience, he said, forced the academy to make needed changes. …

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