Midshipman charting different career course

December 28, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Midshipman 1st Class Sean Fahey is accumulating the credentials to become the warrior with a scholarly bent, a Hyman Rickover or George Marshall of his generation.

He carries an "A" average in systems engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy and will become commander of the 4100-member brigade of midshipmen for the spring semester. He will study as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University next year and serve aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine when he finishes.

So, could the 20-year-old Rockville resident be a future chairman of the joint chiefs of staff? Central Intelligence Agency chief? Maybe a defense secretary?

No, Mr. Fahey says. He wants to rebuild America's cities.

"It must appear somewhat incongruous," he concedes. "From my mind it's a different type of service."

The problems that plague urban America can be seen as a national security problem, he says, more serious than any external threat. What he hopes to find -- after his Navy service -- are like-minded people to come up with a model that can be "cloned" in other cities.

Mr. Fahey got his first taste of community service as an Eagle Scout in Rockville, helping out with cleanup projects. But it was not until he arrived at the academy that he experienced first-hand the problems of the inner cities.

He joined the Midshipmen Action Group, a student community service organization. Soon, he was building homes in Anne Arundel County for Habitat for Humanity, a national organization whose nail-banging assistants include former president and Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter.

Later, he was renovating rowhouses in East Baltimore for the People's Homesteading Group of Baltimore.

Mr. Fahey was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar from among 1,200 applicants around the nation. He is one of only two Maryland residents chosen.

This is not Mr. Fahey's first academic prize. Last year, he was awarded a Truman Scholarship, a national memorial to President Harry S. Truman that reflects the president's high regard for public service.

But he says the Navy doesn't need his skills as much as the rest of the country.

"The Navy is not in a lack of leadership now," he explains. But America's cities and local governments need new ideas.

He plans to study urban development at Oxford, looking into what other cities around the world have done.

Singapore has made strides to rebuild, he notes, and a program in San Francisco helps ex-convicts with education and jobs.

Some of Mr. Fahey's friends at the academy have suggested some public high schools could become optional boarding schools.

And while the problems seem to be getting worse, even though some of America's best minds have weighed in on them, Mr. Fahey appears undaunted.

"I think we can come up with programs and solutions," he says. "Look for a more holistic solution, than just saying, 'We're going to get rid of drugs.'

"To get into anything with a defeatist attitude isn't going to solve the problems." Mr. Fahey says, recalling that Ralph Waldo Emerson said success is "to die knowing another life has breathed easier."

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