Naval official rejects Mid's appeal

Student expelled for failing running test must repay $127,000

January 18, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

A top Navy official has rejected the appeal of a local Naval Academy midshipman who was kicked out for failing a running test by 20 seconds, exhausting his options for readmission and forcing him to repay the $127,000 cost of his education.

Waiving Frank Shannon's financial obligation "was not in the best interest of the United States," Navy Assistant Secretary William Navas wrote in a Jan. 4 letter.

"Based on the evidence, the U.S. Naval Academy provided you ample opportunity to meet the minimum physical fitness standards required of each midshipman," Navas wrote. "Your multiple physical fitness failures over your U.S. Naval Academy career, including the last one, justified your disenrollment."

He also denied Shannon's request to repay the government through service in the enlisted ranks, where Shannon served for two years to achieve his dream of attending the Annapolis military college.

Shannon, who was expelled in April, six weeks before graduation, said yesterday that he and his family will fight the military's attempts to recoup the money.

"When I got the letter, it was hard, because it meant the end of everything I wanted to do in my life and everything I stood for," he said. "But we're still trying to hope for the best, that someone will step in and help us find a way out of this."

A talented football player who also attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School for a year, Shannon is the first to admit that the physical rigors of life as a midshipman were tough on him.

He failed his biannual physical fitness test 12 of 18 times. He could handle the push-up and sit-up tests. But he said he found the distance run - where Mids have to cover 1.5 miles in 10 minutes and 30 seconds or less - particularly grueling.

Shannon was put in a remedial program to help him meet the requirements and always passed with coaching from friends, until the final test of his fall semester of 2005. After failing several consecutive tests, the academy dismissed him. His final time was 10 minutes, 50 seconds.

The academy has declined to provide information about Shannon's case, but in a letter to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the academy superintendent said Shannon is lazy.

"For your information, the recent Board considered the fact that Midshipman Shannon has failed 12 of 18 physical readiness tests given to him at the academy and that he has not passed the run portion since February 2005," wrote Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt. "The Board also noted that Midshipman Shannon was more than capable of passing the test when he applied himself."

Shannon and his wife, Gloria, are now pinning their hopes on the intervention of a congressman or help from the community of alumni and neighbors who have taken up his cause.

Not long after he was expelled, Mikulski's office asked the academy about his case, and one of her aides encouraged him to reapply for admission in October, indicating that he had a good chance of returning to finish his degree.

But because Shannon was married - which the academy does not allow - he would have had to wait another year and divorce his wife just to gain the possibility of readmission - an option he declined. He didn't hear back from Mikulski's office after that, and other attempts to reach Maryland congressmen have been fruitless.

Last month, the Shannons bought a house in Nottingham, and they worry about losing it because the Defense Finance and Accounting Service - the military office that collects such debts - has threatened to garnish his wages.

A native of Middle River, Shannon works as an apprentice engineer at Siemens Building Technologies, and his wife for the Maryland Lottery. Both said they are seeking additional part-time jobs to prepare to repay the debt- and to hire an attorney for a possible lawsuit.

But even if he does receive legal support, Shannon faces an uphill battle in trying to avoid repaying the government. In recent years, cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy who appealed repayment claims through the legal system have failed.

A former West Point football player who sued the Army last year for his diploma had his case thrown out in federal court, according to his New Jersey lawyer, Frederick W. Klepp. The lawyer then filed an application with the Army to eliminate his client's $189,000 debt.

"It's just a real tragedy," Klepp said. "Our military really doesn't need this type of thing. It has so many other concerns and vital interests, it shouldn't be bothered with a situation like this, where you have someone who desperately wanted to be an officer and that was swept right out from under him."

Although Shannon is hopeful, his wife is angry, noting that midshipmen who admitted to using illegal steroids at the academy were retained.

"I guess if he would have been doing illegal steroids, he would have passed with flying colors," she said. "When does it pay to be good and tell the truth?"

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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