Bridge, Academy: Similar Troubles

COMMENT

November 20, 1994|By LIZ ATWOOD

The governor and transportation officials at last have come up with a name for the newest bridge over the Severn River.

After considering suggestions such as the "The Severn-apolis Bridge of Brotherhood" and "Capital View Bridge," transportation officials decided to call it the "U.S. Naval Academy Bridge."

L That's a fitting moniker for the swerving, soaring new span.

The name is practical because, after all, the bridge does provide a gateway to the Naval Academy from the Broadneck Peninsula. The name also is a nice gift to the academy in honor of its 150th anniversary, which will be celebrated next year.

And naming the bridge after the academy seems appropriate for another reason: Both the bridge and the academy are highly visible fixtures that have been subject to much public scrutiny and criticism during the past two years.

You may remember that before construction of the bridge started, the names some people were calling it were not nearly so complimentary as the ones the transportation people eventually considered.

A group of Pendennis Mount residents tried to block the building of the new bridge, contending that proper environmental studies had never been conducted. Some residents protested the design of the 80-foot span and wanted to retain the existing drawbridge. Even after the work was under way, a dispute flared up over whether the bridge should be lighted.

At last the bridge was up, lights and all.

The Naval Academy leadership probably wishes it were as easy to turn out naval officers as it is to build bridges.

About the same time residents were fussing about the new bridge, the academy was embroiled in a cheating scandal that eventually led to the expulsion of 24 midshipmen. The scandal called into question the integrity not only of the midshipmen, but the top brass who were in charge of the investigation.

Cars were already passing over the new bridge this fall when the Naval Academy's spit-and-polish image was tarnished by a new incident. Six drunken mids were caught trying to rip off license plates from cars parked at the Renaissance Festival in nearby Crownsville.

Academy Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson, tired of his charges acting more like drunken sailors than officers-to-be, lowered the boom with a list of new restrictions:

* Sophomores will not be allowed to have cars in the Annapolis area and will not be allowed to wear civilian clothes unless on authorized leave.

* The number of liberty weekends is reduced from five to three each semester for sophomores and from eight to six a semester for juniors.

* Wednesday night liberty has been canceled for all midshipmen and replaced with brigade-wide training.

* All midshipmen have to be back to the academy by 7 p.m. on Sundays.

William R. R. Bogle, commandant of the midshipmen, summed up the new rules by saying: "This is a military school -- this is not a college."

That distinction seems to have been lost on some midshipmen recently.

Of course, the troublemakers are in the minority of the 4,000 enrollees at the academy.

Many mids spend their spare time volunteering for worthy causes around Annapolis. They tutor disadvantaged children and help with community cleanups. Annapolis is better because of them.

But there are some at the academy who fail to understand that when they survived the rigors of Plebe Summer, they were not inducted into a Greek fraternity.

These young men and women are training to be naval officers who eventually will be in charge of the lives of others and in whom we may one day have to trust the fate of our country.

There is something unsettling about entrusting the command of a nuclear submarine or an aircraft carrier to a fellow who would steal license plates.

The absence of personal honor and integrity cannot be remedied solely by mandatory uniforms and fewer weekend passes, but when there's a lack of discipline within, it must be imposed from without.

Ultimately, the only discipline that matters is self-discipline. If the midshipmen can recover that quality, they can recover the nation's full respect.

Liz Atwood is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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