'Wrong kind' of mids are not to blame

April 21, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ANNAPOLIS -- Naturally, the talk has started. What did anybody expect? You have sex charges at the U.S. Naval Academy, and it's a whisper. You have drug charges and car theft charges, and the whispering gets louder. And then somebody remembers that cheating scandal from a few years ago, and somebody else remembers those guys who handcuffed the female mid to a urinal and took photographs, and at midweek you've got this weird story about two senior midshipmen breaking into the home of the former head of the Maryland State Police, and the whispers become a declaration.

They're letting in the "wrong kind" of kids here.

They're letting in kids who don't measure up to the Naval Academy of blessed memory when the country sent these brave kids off to fight our wars and get themselves immortalized in the movies.

They're letting in kids who never heard of Staubach and Bellino who won Heisman trophies and still mastered the art of close-order drill and weren't like these kids today who, now that you mention it, are starting to sound like the cast of The Dead-End Kids Join the Navy.

That's what they're saying now, and some of it's a little hard to push aside. In the past two weeks alone, we've had:

A top midshipmen leader, with dreams of joining the Navy's elite special operations force, now sitting in a Marine Corps jail after charges that he sexually assaulted four women midshipmen.

Two former and three current midshipmen, indicted on suspicion of running a car theft ring involving eight stolen autos worth $85,000. One of those former midshipmen was labeled by Navy investigators as a key figure in 1992's stolen electrical engineering exam that led to the largest cheating scandal in the academy's 150-year history and subsequent allegations that the school punished the smallest offenders most heavily while going easy on football players.

Drug testing of the entire brigade, whereupon 24 mids were found to be using LSD.

One mid accused of sexual abuse of a 2-year old.

Last week, the Navy was attempting to put a positive spin on all the recent troubles.

"Choppy seas," they were calling it.

"Isolated things happen all the time," Lt. j.g. Scott Allen, academy spokesman, said, heaving a sigh at week's end. "These just happened in the same week. Look, 99.3 percent of the people here are doing superb. About 0.7 percent are in trouble, and everybody's focusing on them. They've disgraced this institution, and we're taking hard stands to change it."

He's right, it's a small number. But whoever imagined anyone at the U.S. Naval Academy doing such things?

Who? Well, maybe a lot of people.

Two weeks ago, the academy removed from the classroom an instructor, 51-year old Vietnam veteran James F. Barry, who teaches leadership. Barry's crime? He wrote a newspaper opinion piece saying the school "is plagued by a serious morale problem caused by a culture of hypocrisy, one that tolerates sexual harassment, favoritism, and the covering up of problems."

The Navy's response? "Half-truths and falsehoods," they said.

But there's also a new book, "Fall from Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy," by Newsweek Magazine correspondent Gregory L. Vistica, best known for his work on the Navy's infamous Tailhook scandal. Here, he skewers the Navy in general and takes some pretty good shots at the Naval Academy, including sexual harassment cases that can't be printed in a family newspaper.

So, back to the original question. Is the academy admitting the "wrong kind" of people?

Former Navy Secretary James Webb, a 1968 academy grad, told The Sun's Tom Bowman, "When you lower your standards for political reasons, are you not bringing in a different kind of person, a person who's not meeting the same exacting requirements as other people?"

At week's end, Lieutenant Allen, speaking for the academy, said, "There's been no lowering of standards. There hasn't been a drop in the SAT scores in the last 10 years. We weigh things differently. We look for moral character, as well as SAT scores. We're still bringing top people into the academy."

Are they the "wrong" kind of people? Well, they're a "different" kind from most people their age, and they happen to have arrived from a world that's changed. What kind of kids choose a military career when we seem to be running out of wars? What kind of kids choose this sort of regimented life when their contemporaries are picking colleges because the climate's nice for their suntans?

The Naval Academy, for all its current troubles, is still a place with remarkably high standards. The recent troubles, however humiliating, however deplorable, are not symbolic of a brigade gone to hell.

The academy is also, for all its insularity, and its smugness and the holier-than-thou attitude it's capable of shoving down people's throats, still a place where they bring in kids fresh from their parents' embrace. And sometimes kids will go badly astray.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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