AS MARYLANDERS, most of us think we know all about the Naval Academy. But are you familiar with the Naval Academy Information Program? It's been around since the late 1960s, long enough to develop a nickname for its participants.
They're called Blue and Gold officers.
Severna Park resident John Phillips, who has an impressive professional title -- Senior Code Enforcement Specialist for federal drinking water standards -- is adding Blue and Gold officer to his list of accomplishments. After a week's training at the academy this summer, he'll become one of 30 volunteer Blue and Gold officers who interview prospective candidates for the academy throughout the eastern United States.
Blue and Gold officers are often the first contacts future midshipmen have with the academy, and their assessment of students weighs heavily on appointments to the academy by the selection committee.
"In the late 1960s, there were many parts of the country where people didn't have a clue as to what or where the U.S. Naval Academy was," says retired Navy Cmdr. Michael W. Vision of Cape St. Claire, East Coast regional coordinator of the Blue and Gold program.
To reach potential students, the academy initiated a program to train a variety of volunteers -- former naval personnel, academy graduates and interested citizens, many of whom are parents of academy graduates -- to assist with academic recruitment in their communities. The volunteers soon were known by the nonmilitary rank of Blue and Gold officer.
"After a short training period at the academy, Blue and Gold officers are ready to assist with academic recruitment. They basically get out the word about the advantages of attending the academy," says Vision, a 1960 graduate of the University of Florida.
"Officers interview candidates and their parents to get a feel for what they're looking for and give them a realistic view of what the academy is really like," Vision says. "Some kids think it's going to be Club Navy. They're the ones who drop out.
"I'm hoping to interview prospective candidates who really want to dedicate themselves to the Navy or Marines. I'd like to interview someone who has the same drive and determination that my son Nicholas had. He wanted to go to the academy from the time he was 8 years old."
The younger Vision graduated from the academy in 1991.
A self-described "rabid Navy football fan," Vision says that a Blue and Gold officer must be able to answer a student's questions about the academy's academic standards and matters such as medical restrictions on height, weight and physical condition. He points out that all athletic recruitment is handled by the athletic department.
Blue and Gold officers are assigned to as many as 10 high schools, and potential applicants are often referred to them by guidance counselors. They also meet students interested in the academy at vocational and college fairs.
"We look at a student's class standing, community standing, SAT scores and home life -- the whole package," says Phillips. "Once we pass the training course, we'll know all the ins and outs of how to get into the academy, all there is to know."
The 49-year-old water inspector observed a Blue and Gold officer in action when his son, Brian Phillips, went through the academy admissions process two years ago. Now a second-classman, Brian and his friends spend weekends at the Phillips' Chartridge home.
Phillips feels he can handle almost any situation. Before he was a water inspector, he was a special deputy sheriff in Prince George's County, and that experience makes Phillips a good man to have around in an emergency.
A couple of years ago, he was conducting a routine class in cross-connection control/backflow prevention for plumbing contractors at the Kent Island firehouse when a young man rushed into the classroom, seeking help for his wife who was in the car and about to have a baby.
Taking charge, the former deputy sheriff placed the young woman on the closest thing in the firehouse to a hospital gurney -- a bingo table -- and helped her deliver a 4-pound, 5-ounce girl. The baby, Katy Mae Lyle, is now a healthy 2-year-old Kent Islander.
Not that Phillips expects the interview process for new midshipmen to be that dramatic. But it can be stressful.
"The academy receives between 10,000 and 14,000 applications every year," says Phillips, "and they select 1,100 and 1,400. We will do a lot of the legwork."
When Brian and his friends are at home relaxing, the house is filled with conversation. "Hearing the midshipmen, who are from all over the country, talk together made me realize what kind of young men they really are," Phillips says, "and I started to think how I would like to help someone else get into the academy.
"It was their inspiration. My schedule before this was so hectic, but during the last six months I felt I could make time to help someone be part of this honor system, this tradition."
The selection process for participating in the Naval Academy Information Program is held in January and February. Information: Michael Vision, 410-757-6828.