New academy commandant meets press

First woman to hold the position doesn't see herself as being a pioneer

December 22, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Even as she sat in a room lined with photos of her 81 precdecessors, the first female commandant of the Naval Academy said yesterday that she does not see herself as a trailblazer.

Navy Capt. Margaret D. "Peg" Klein, a 1981 graduate who was in the second academy class to admit women, said the young men and women in the 4,400-member brigade of midshipmen should receive equal treatment, regardless of gender, and that she had no "laundry list" of policy changes in store.

In her first public comments since accepting the appointment last month from Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, academy superintendent, Klein deflected questions about being on the front lines of women integrating the military and brushed off some old-guard grumbling about a so-called "feminization" of the academy.

Looking to future

"I look forward, not back, at the [boat's] wake, as we say in the Navy," Klein, 49, said. "We'll press on from there. "

A week after she began her job of preparing future military officers and developing their character, Klein said that she might adopt a new emphasis on "respect and dignity" in leadership training.

Her remarks come at a time when 54 percent of female midshipmen report the school "provides a positive environment" for them, up 12 percentage points since last year.

Eight percent of the female Mids who responded in the latest annual survey said sexual harassment had impeded their development as midshipmen.

This year, the academy has received unwanted notice for two rape cases and the administrative hearing of a former instructor who used crude language in front of female midshipmen

Sen.-elect James Webb, a Virginia Democrat and decorated Marine, who caused a furor in 1979 with a magazine article titled "Women Can't Fight," is welcome to visit the academy, his alma mater, to explain how his views have changed on women in the military, Klein said.

"I would give him an opportunity," she said. "It would be very interesting."

Klein, formerly a naval flight officer and squadron commander, has had 1,500 sailors under her command at one time. Serving as a wing commander was the Navy assignment she has relished most so far.

"I'm Goose in Top Gun," she said, laughing.

Flew with father

As a girl growing up in Weymouth, Mass., she said, her aviation fate was sealed when her father took her, the eldest of four daughters, along on his spins as a private pilot.

"One flying lesson and I caught the bug," she said. "I knew I wanted to be in the air. That's how I came to attend the academy."

(Sheepishly, she confessed that she applied and was accepted at West Point, too.)

She met her husband, Frank Klein, a retired Navy commander, a day before he graduated from the academy and the couple married on campus in 1982. They have two children.

Her experience in making family life work with joint assignments with her husband, neither serving at sea duty at the same time, might be a valuable model for midshipmen, Klein said.

She said that in her time at the academy, she never imagined returning as its No. 2 officer with four stripes on her sleeve.

"I didn't dream on this grand scale," she said. "What they [commandants] said was gospel. Better be careful of what I say."

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