Academy to stress war readiness

Fleet, study time key, says superintendent

September 25, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Standing before a screen that showed smoke rising from the Twin Towers after the Sept. 11 attacks, the new Naval Academy superintendent told the school's oversight panel yesterday that spending more time studying and in the fleet and less time on extracurricular activities will help prepare midshipmen to join the battle against terrorism.

In a brief presentation to the Board of Visitors, a group of lawmakers and other civilians, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler imagined aloud that one of his successors 30 years from now "will be standing here talking about this long war."

Fowler asked: Will the academy reflect "the attitude of wartime service? ... All other activity is secondary, optional and conditional."

Before a mostly supportive audience, Fowler defended major shifts in how the academy is preparing its 4,000 officers for combat, including nearly tripling the number of mandatory meals, requiring three hours a night of study and limiting the participation of midshipmen in after-school clubs and sports.

"I think the shake-up is good," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said at the quarterly meeting, although she acknowledged concern about a food shortage last month, which she called a "fiasco." She urged Fowler to communicate better with officials in Annapolis.

"I think you need to find the right balance," Mikulski said in the meeting. "Feed 'em right, treat 'em right, is a good way to go."

After being inundated with complaints from all over the country about the food issue and other changes, lawmakers on the panel said yesterday they were pleased the problem has been resolved.

Academy officials again took responsibility for the problem, with Fowler saying that it was brought about by "isolated quantity shortfalls for select items," food distribution and work force inefficiencies and a complicated renovation of the academy dining hall.

Capt. Margaret Klein, the academy commandant, who serves in a position similar to a dean of students in a civilian college, noted that as soon as Fowler became aware of the problem, he ordered subordinates to double the rations. Several dozen students and parents told The Sun about breakfasts of biscuits and gravy without the biscuits, lunches of frozen hoagies and dinners of one slice of pizza per person.

Using much the same rhetoric as they have in about 20 separate presentations about the policy overhaul, Fowler and Klein stressed the importance of preparing students to lead in wartime.

Still, while most members of the board seemed to fall behind Fowler and Klein, some had questions about what led them to the changes.

"Were there widely perceived problems with the way the brigade was running things previously?" asked Rep. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.

Fowler said some statistics guided his senior leadership team, such as high numbers of missed classes, poor grades and the fact that some midshipmen were graduating without having had much interaction with sailors and Marines.

He also reiterated his commitment to raising the number of minorities at the academy, saying the present figure of 23 percent was "not satisfactory."

Asked by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings what would be satisfactory, Fowler said he wanted the number of minorities to reflect the composition of the enlisted ranks and the American population.

Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, asked several questions about the cutbacks on extracurricular activities, noting the important role that some groups, such as the gospel choir, play in recruiting minorities. He noted how influential it would be to have midshipmen visit African-American schools in his district, to wear their uniforms and find a way to relate to students there.

"I don't want people missing classes, either," he said, "but that's very, very important."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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