Navy can be smaller, yet strong, academy boss says

Q&A -- A Monday interview

April 27, 1992|By Michael Hill

The Naval Academy is facing choppy seas as it enters the post-Cold War era accompanied by calls for reduced military spending and smaller armed forces.

At the helm in Annapolis is Rear Adm. Thomas Lynch, who has been superintendent for just over 10 months.

A 1964 graduate of the academy -- he was center on the football team when Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy -- Admiral Lynch returned to his alma mater in June 1991 following a stint on the aircraft carrier Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf during the war with Iraq.

QUESTION: How has the downsizing of the military affected the Naval Academy?

ANSWER: We will be going from where we were a couple of years ago, 4,500 midshipmen, to 4,000 midshipmen by 1995. That's been directed by Congress. We are in agreement with that because the Naval Academy graduates make up about 15 [percent] to 18 percent of Naval officer accession, and we want to keep that percentage.

Q.: What does it mean that academy graduates will now be getting reserve commissions in the Navy?

A.: That will start with the class of 1997. All service accessions will have a reserve commission. That doesn't really mean a whole lot. A regular commission is somewhat akin to tenure in academia. A reserve commission just means that after a finite period of time -- one year, two years -- in commissioned service, you will apply for augmentation into the regular Navy. We have an augmentation board.

Congress mandated this. With the downsizing going on, there are officers out there with reserve commissions who are doing a great job but can get a pink slip on Monday. Congress feels that we should have everybody compete on an equal footing.

Naval Academy graduates have always received regular commissions, as have about 80 percent of college ROTC graduates. But Officer Candidates School graduates have not; they got reserve commissions. So Congress decided to make this equal, have everybody come in with reserve commissions.

I'm opposed to this, by the way, because I think, for our students, there was a level playing field for them at age 18 when they were admitted. And we put them through an intense competitive environment here, as our 24 percent attrition rate attests.

But I am really more concerned with the perception that it sends as to the purpose of the service academies as the places that provide the career officers for our armed forces.

To have a young person graduate and go through all this with the intent to become a career officer and then say, "Well, we're really not too sure about you so we're going to give you a reserve commission for a while," that sends the wrong signal, I think.

Q.: Has this had any effect on the morale here?

A.: No, because all the people here have all been grandfathered in. This won't have any effect until the class of 1997.

In the future, nobody knows what's going to happen.

I'm concerned about the future for several reasons. I, for one, don't think that 3.5 percent of the GNP is too much to pay for the defense of this country.

You can say we've knocked off the last bad guy on the block in Saddam Hussein; he still is a threat today. There still is a lot of turmoil out there, particularly in that region of the world.

Today you don't know your enemy.

With the proliferation of high-tech weapons and weapons of mass destruction getting into more and more hands, you can make strong case that this is a more unstable world.

One can make a strong case that, despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall coming down, the collaspe of the Warsaw Pact, the world is actually more unstable than before when you had monolithic communism, when you knew the enemy, knew his capabilities, knew what he would do.

Today you don't know your enemy.

Those of us who lived through the '70s -- when we had a 22,000 petty-officer shortfall, when we couldn't get our ships under way, when we had people on welfare, drug problems, racial problems -- don't want to go through that again.

I, as a taxpayer and an American, am very much concerned about the AIDS epidemic, about infant mortality, education, our infrastructure. It will take a lot of leadership and national assets to solve these problems. But I just believe that that the Husseins, and Gadhafis and the bad guys who are in our past are going to be in our future.

Q.: There are those who suggest that we should do away with the service academies. What do you say to that?

A.: I look at that as a very isolated part of the population. Their arguments are all dollar driven.

You talk about the cost of a young person graduating from here. Yes, it's expensive, to the tune of about $150,000. But I can tell you, with a son at Dartmouth, it's pretty darn expensive there, too.

You throw in the federal subsidies and the other things a school like that gets, and consider the people we need in our military, I can show you that this is probably the most cost-effective education program you can have for your officer corps.

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