Navy Capt. Bruce E. Grooms has been named the 81st commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy, the first time an African-American has held the No. 2 post at the 160-year- old Annapolis military college.
Grooms, a Cleveland native and 1980 academy graduate, will be responsible for the day-to-day activities of 4,000 midshipmen as commandant, a title equivalent to the dean of students at a civilian university.
One of the first African-American submarine commanders, Grooms assumes the academy post 60 years after the plebe year of Wesley A. Brown, who endured bigotry and ostracism to become the first black midshipman to graduate.
Grooms will be the highest-ranking black leader in the history of the academy.
"It's always significant when an African-American naval officer achieves what no African-American has achieved before," said Robert J. Schneller Jr., a Navy historian and author of the newly published Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy's First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality. "It indicates that the Navy's racial policy is working."
Academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said Grooms will succeed the departing commandant, Capt. Charles J. Leidig Jr., sometime next month. Leidig, who came to the academy in September 2003, will serve as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Guam. Leidig replaced Marine Col. John R. Allen, the first Marine to hold the position.
A highly decorated career submariner, Grooms was until recently the commodore of Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Va., where he was in charge of four attack submarines. He also served as executive officer of the USS Pasadena during two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf. His appointment was first reported by The Capital newspaper.
Grooms could not be reached yesterday for comment, but former colleagues in Norfolk said they are celebrating.
"Captain Grooms is a great submariner," said Lt. Cmdr. Jensin Sommer, spokeswoman for the naval and submarine forces in Norfolk. "He's certainly representative of the talented group of leaders we have in the submarine force, and we're thrilled that he will be second-in-command at the academy."
In 1999, Grooms received the Navy's top leadership honor - the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Award - for his command of the USS Asheville, a fast-attack submarine. He was also the Arleigh Burke Award nominee for commanding the most improved submarine in the Pacific Fleet.
The move will mark Grooms' second posting to the academy, where he served as company officer in the mid-1980s. Grooms was the coach of the basketball team at the academy, and graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering. In 2000, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Black Engineers.
Grooms, who was a National Security Affairs Fellow at Stanford University, also holds a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the superintendent of the academy, previously served as president of the war college.
Rempt was not available for comment, Gibbons said.
In Black Submariners in the United States Navy: 1939-1975, Glenn Knoblock wrote that the Navy did not appoint a black submarine commander until 1982. In a March interview with the newspaper Navy Compass, Grooms - a member of "The Centennial Seven," a group of seven black naval officers who commanded boats in the first 100 years of the submarine force - said he's proud of how far African-American submariners have come.
"The submarine force has made important strides in its commitment to diversity within its ranks," he told the paper.
Attracting a diverse pool of applicants - one that reflects the racial and ethnic makeup of the Navy and Marine Corps - has long been a challenge for the Naval Academy, where minorities represent about 21 percent of the total applicants. Admissions officials said that challenge comes mainly from other colleges, which offer full scholarships to students qualified to attend the academy, with no five-year commitment.
This year, academy officials voiced concern over a 22.5 percent drop in minority applicants from the year before. Although that drop was consistent with an overall decline in applications, school officials said the academy planned to step up minority recruitment efforts.
Officials said one of the most diverse brigades in the academy's history is the Class of 2006, which is made up of 299 minority students - about one-fourth of the 1,214-member class.
Grooms is relocating to Annapolis with his wife, Emily, and their two sons, Geoff and Jared.