Mids call for more discipline as academy ends stand-down New curfew, rules on uniforms are set

April 25, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Naval Academy, struck by a recent rash of lawbreaking and criminal allegations, ended its weeklong stand-down yesterday with calls by the midshipmen for a more disciplined and military atmosphere.

The 4,000 midshipmen, who met in small groups over the past week, issued a memo through their student leaders saying that the brigade "craves discipline and esprit de corps."

As a result, academy officials immediately tightened the school's requirements, ordering juniors and seniors to wear uniforms on weekend liberty and to begin weekend liberty on Saturday morning rather than Friday night.

In another new requirement, during weeknight liberty upperclassmen must return to the academy by 10 p.m. rather than midnight.

"This wasn't meant to be a panacea," said Karen Myers, an academy spokeswoman, about the two-page memo, which the academy did not release. The academy's superintendent, Adm. Charles R. Larson, has yet to decide whether to implement other suggestions offered by the midshipmen, she said.

"It's going to continue to evolve, and we're going to continue to have discussions," Ms. Myers said.

The unprecedented academy stand-down came in the wake of allegations over the past several weeks of a car theft ring, sexual assault, child abuse, breaking and entering, and drug use by midshipmen. Admiral Larson's move drew support yesterday from the Navy's top officer, Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, chief of naval operations.

"There is no one better to guide this institution right now than Chuck Larson," said Admiral Boorda, speaking before the annual meeting of the U.S. Naval Institute, a private organization based on the academy grounds. "We have a good leader and a good staff which are working together to solve these problems."

Sen. John McCain, a member of the academy's Board of Visitors and an academy classmate of Admiral Larson's, said he has "high confidence" in the superintendent.

Still, the Arizona Republican indicated that the problems at the academy may require more extensive examination, and said the board at a special meeting next month will debate the creation of a special panel or task force.

'Thorough evaluation'

"I think we have to make a thorough evaluation of the admissions and screening process," Mr. McCain said, after an address to the Naval Institute.

"We have to restore confidence in the public about this institution."

The calls by midshipmen for a more disciplined academy echo those of alumni, who for years have complained that the 151-year-old school has lost its strict military edge and has become too much like a civilian college.

Some midshipmen, however, may not be satisfied by the changes in uniforms and liberty. One senior -- or first class -- midshipman said there were "a million" rules, ranging from what HTC types of uniforms must be worn to a prohibition on shoulder straps for book bags.

What his squad talked about during the stand-down, he said, were the "cynicism" that pervades the brigade and the " 'us' vs. 'them' " attitude between the brigade and the academy leadership.

The group talked about creating "more of a team atmosphere" at the academy. "I don't know if we've come up with any solutions," he said.

After Admiral Boorda addressed several hundred officers, retirees and midshipmen, he fielded several questions about the academy.

Dan Howard, a former undersecretary of the Navy during the Bush administration, said the troubles can be traced to society, which "has lost its moral compass."

"Whatever society gives us is the raw material we'll have to deal with," Admiral Boorda responded. "We'll have to deal with it; you can't lament it."

'Blanket of silence'

One woman, whose family has "sponsored" midshipmen for 27 years, said she was troubled by her experience of midshipmen who retreat behind a "blanket of silence" to protect wrongdoers at the academy.

"You've gotten to the heart of one of the concerns," the admiral said. "If we solve that problem, we'll have solved most problems."

Among the midshipmen accused recently of wrongdoing is Scott T. Ward, who was the third-ranking midshipman leader before four female midshipmen stepped forward two weeks ago and said that he had sexually assaulted them.

The academy this week recommended that he be charged with nonconsensual sex, indecent assault and disobeying an order, which refers to allegations that he intimidated the women after they made the charges, said his attorney, William B. Cummings of Alexandria, Va.

A Navy investigator will decide whether those charges merit a court-martial, said Navy Lt. Scott Allen, an academy spokesman.

Midshipman Ward, 21, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who was sent to the Marine brig in Quantico, Va., after approaching several of the four women, was transferred Tuesday night to a Navy holding facility in Washington, said Mr. Cummings.

It is unusual for a midshipman of Mr. Ward's rank -- a regimental commander -- to be accused of wrongdoing, since such commanders are carefully screened and selected by top academy officials.

But academy sources paint Midshipman Ward as an "Eddie Haskell" who charmed his superiors and was far different with his fellow midshipmen.

Mr. Cummings dismissed that view. "Our client is a person who is a natural leader and who has an outstanding record at the academy," he said, noting that Midshipman Ward had "established relationships" with all four women.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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