Naval Academy superintendent nominee has wide experience

N.D. native has worked in Libya, Persian Gulf and at White House

April 29, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

Rear Adm. Michael H. Miller, the president's nominee to be the U.S. Naval Academy's next superintendent, flew combat missions into Libya, led aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf and worked four years in the White House before taking his current job as the Navy's chief of legislative affairs.

If confirmed by the Senate, Miller will replace Superintendent Jeffrey Fowler, who has led the academy for three years. Fowler will retire, according to the Department of Defense, but he has not announced a date of departure.

Miller does not plan to give interviews until after his confirmation process but issued a brief statement Thursday: "I am honored to be nominated by the president for assignment as the next Naval Academy superintendent. If confirmed, I look forward to serving with the exceptional men and women at one of the finest academic institutions in this country."

Miller, 57, hails from Minot, N.D. and has credited his upbringing there with instilling "the values of honesty, integrity and faith as touchstones in my daily life."

Miller received his commission from the academy in 1974 and earned his gold wings as a Navy pilot two years later. He flew S-3 Vikings off carriers around the world, including combat missions against Libya and the Palestinian hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. He served as a squadron commander in the Persian Gulf during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

After his long tenure as a pilot, Miller commanded several ships, overseeing a technological overhaul of the Navy's command ship in the Eastern Pacific.

As director of the White House military office under President George W. Bush, Miller commanded 2,300 people who served the president directly on Air Force One and other units. He described the work as "the highest honor of my life" in a 2005 interview, given just after he had taken command of the Ronald Reagan carrier group, which he led on its first voyage to the Persian Gulf and the Pacific.

Bush gave Miller a Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime defense award, and one of numerous honors he has won, along with the Bronze Star for bravery or acts of merit.

After three years commanding the Reagan carrier group, Miller took over legislative affairs in 2008 and has served as the chief liaison between the Navy and Congress since then.

Miller is "a much-decorated naval officer who has command and administrative experience," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said a statement. "In his most recent role as chief of legislative affairs, he has had daily contact with members of Congress and their staffs and is well acquainted with the strategic and international challenges facing our nation."

Miller is married and has an adult son.

Despite serving in wartime, Fowler has led the academy to huge increases in overall applications, as well as applications from minorities.

"This is an effort that has been going on for years, but the results are really starting to pick up," Fowler said last year of the academy's minority recruitment efforts. "If the academy looks more like America, it's in all of our interests."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings praised the efforts of Fowler's academy to "tear down every wall."

Fowler also restructured the academy's schedule, requiring more meals and study time and limiting off-campus leave and extracurricular activities in an effort to emphasize combat readiness. The changes prompted grumbles among some midshipmen but drew praise from many alumni, who appreciated Fowler's hard line.

Legislative leaders praised his record Thursday.

"Vice Adm. Fowler has been a strong and steady hand on the tiller of the U.S. Naval Academy over the last three years," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a member of the academy's Board of Visitors, said in a statement. She added that "the academy is a stronger institution for all his efforts" and said she looks forward to a similarly productive relationship with Miller.

Bruce Fleming, a civilian English professor and longtime critic of the academy's admissions policies, said Fowler presented a facade of toughness while making it easier than ever to get into and remain at the academy despite academic and behavioral failings. He said midshipmen referred to the superintendent as " ‘the hologram' because they don't know if he's real. He never shows up at their stuff."

"Of course, he did all these things but at a huge price tag that no one ever talks about," Fleming said. "Our standards are now rubber."

Longtime history professor Richard Abels disagreed. "I'm a believer in affirmative action and the importance of having the officer corps somewhat resemble the Navy as a whole," he said. "And I really don't see that drop-off that Bruce talks about. I think over 28 years, I've been really impressed with the development of the academy as an academic institution."

An academy spokeswoman said Fowler would talk about his legacy at a later date but that such talk would be premature with Miller still at the nomination stage.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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