Woman fills No. 2 post at Academy

Naval school's new commandant of Mids starts in Dec.

October 21, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

A year after a Pentagon task force recommended that the U.S. Naval Academy promote women to address historic problems with sexual harassment, the academy named its first female to serve in its No. 2 post yesterday.

As commandant of midshipmen, Capt. Margaret D. Klein will oversee the academy's 4,200 midshipmen in a position equivalent to dean of students at a civilian university.

The 49-year-old native of Weymouth, Mass., was a member of the second class to admit women at the 161-year-old academy. She graduated in 1981.

Klein's appointment was announced yesterday by Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, who has vowed to reverse a culture that the task force deemed "hostile" to women by addressing its historical problems with sexual harassment and assault. In a written statement, Rempt called Klein "superbly qualified."

Female graduates of the academy, as well as advocates for women in the military, applauded the appointment last night.

"The doorways are open to everyone," said Nancy Sullenger, a member of the academy's first class to graduate women. "I think our class started that, but every class after has contributed."

Klein will assume her position in December. She replaces Capt. Bruce E. Grooms, who became the academy's highest-ranking African-American when he was named commandant of midshipmen in May 2005. Grooms has been promoted to rear admiral and will serve as deputy director in the Navy's policy office for submarine forces.

Klein is currently deployed aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and has been serving as chief of staff to the commander of Carrier Strike Group Eight, based in Norfolk, Va.

She will not be available to comment until next week, according to a Naval Academy spokeswoman.

She had previously been stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

Klein became a naval flight officer in 1983 and has served three operational tours. During her final tour, she commanded a flying squadron known as "the Ironmen."

She also has served on the battle group staff for the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during its deployments after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She has worked in the White House Military Office, as a Brookings Institution legislative fellow, and on the staff of Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican, briefing her on defense issues.

At the Naval Academy, Klein - who holds a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine - will be in charge of training, discipline and character development of midshipmen.

According to a 2005 report by the Pentagon's inspector general, more than half of the women enrolled at the nation's three military academies said they had been sexually harassed, and more than one in 10 said they had been sexually assaulted.

In March, the Naval Academy released a survey showing a growing number of female midshipmen who believe students won't be resented if they report sexual misconduct.

But less than half of the female midshipmen at the academy said they believe the school provides a positive environment for women.

The Naval Academy was shaken this year by rape charges against former Navy quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. He was acquitted in August of charges that he raped a junior midshipman in her dorm room on Jan. 29.

Meanwhile, Rempt has taken a zero-tolerance stance against behavior hostile to women, prompting criticism from some that he's overstepping his bounds.

This summer, Rempt brought charges against an oceanography professor who allegedly made explicit sexual comments to a female midshipman. The charges were resolved in a closed hearing, but officials would not say how the matter was resolved.

Last month, the academy imposed strict new alcohol rules, including plans to use Breathalyzer tests and the threat of expulsion, even for midshipmen who are 21 and older.

Officials have said the rules are designed to address the academy's continuing challenges with sexual assault.

Ann Munch, director of the advocacy group Ending Violence Against Women, said a woman's presence in the academy's leadership ranks can make a significant impact in improving the climate for female midshipmen.

She said the climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy improved significantly under the leadership of Col. Debra Gray, who directed a new sexual assault response office at that service academy until she retired earlier this year.

"It's always good to see the numbers evening out in the military," Munch said. "It's a natural progression as it should be."

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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