Admiral Lynch's Medal

August 04, 1994

The Navy reserves its Distinguished Service Medal, the fourth-highest prize it offers, for "exceptional performance of duty, clearly above that normally expected."

One has to wonder what it considers "exceptional performance of duty." This week it gave the prize to Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, whose watch as Naval Academy superintendent was marred by the biggest cheating scandal in academy history and criticism over the half-hearted way he handled it.

The Navy's behavior makes no sense.

On the one hand, Navy top brass have sent unmistakable signals that they are not impressed with Admiral Lynch. They consider the academy in enough trouble at the end of his three-year tour to call in a four-star admiral to straighten things out. This has never happened before; the job of academy superintendent has always been a two-star billet. The Navy also refused to promote Admiral Lynch and give him a third star and command of a fleet; instead, he was offered a lateral position.

On the other hand, the Navy gives the admiral a medal which, according to a Navy spokesman, goes only to "individuals of great responsibility in peacetime and who have acquitted themselves in good fashion."

Admiral Lynch had a good reputation before coming to the Naval Academy, and in the future he may well erase the specter of Annapolis with a strong record of service. If the Navy chose to give him this medal years from now, at the end of a sometimes rocky but generally distinguished career, few might argue.

But the Navy should not be honoring him now. Giving the medal as he leaves Annapolis implies that he earned it on the basis of what he did there. He did not. No less an authority than the Navy inspector general sharply criticized him for his lackluster efforts to get to the bottom of the cheating scandal. What message does the awarding of this medal send to the inspector general, other than that the Navy doesn't seem to care about his assessment of Admiral Lynch?

One academy graduate said that "if the academy were a ship, it went aground" during the Lynch era. There is no more egregious offense in the Navy. Heaping laurels on officers who run aground does not mitigate their shortcomings; it only cheapens the laurels.

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