Navy Capt. Bill Byrne, who is the commandant of the U.S. Naval… (Courtesy USNA / Baltimore…)
Naval Academy midshipmen will get sexual assault prevention lessons as part of classroom education beginning this fall, the academy's new commandant said Wednesday.
Previously, efforts to educate midshipmen about sexual assault and sexual harassment have come in seminars and activities with their companies — overall, about 30 hours of instruction over four years.
But Navy Capt. Bill Byrne, the academy's new commandant — roughly equivalent to the dean of students at a civilian college — said the academy wants to start hitting the anti-assault messages from "Day One" when midshipmen arrive in Annapolis.
The change in the way the academy teaches midshipmen about sexual assault comes as not only the Naval Academy, but the military as a whole, struggles to reduce sexual violence.
Byrne, who took over as commandant at the start of summer, said he thinks the academy's program is as good as, if not better than, sexual assault prevention programs at civilian colleges. He said civilian programs start strong at freshmen orientation, but often are voluntary after that.
"We make it mandatory and for good reason," Byrne said during a meeting with reporters in Annapolis.
There have been rising reports of sexual assaults in the military, including a recent case involving three Navy football players accused of having sex with a female midshipman after she became incapacitated at an off-campus party in Annapolis. The three are expected to face an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a grand jury hearing in civilian court.
The Pentagon estimated that across the armed forces, 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2012, a 36 percent increase over the year before.
Byrne said sexual assault prevention training will be incorporated first into an introductory Navy leadership course, then into other courses. The classroom training should be fully in place for the spring semester, he said.
Byrne, who graduated from the academy with a political science degree in 1987, said he hopes to impart the philosophy of "be excellent" to the 4,500 midshipmen. He said that includes excellence to self, to one another and to the academy, and he hopes midshipmen will embrace rules that govern conduct on and off the campus.
Before returning to the academy, Byrne was a surface warfare officer. He commanded two ships and most recently was chief of staff for the commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet in San Diego, which includes naval forces in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
While attending the academy, Byrne was starting quarterback for the Navy football team; he holds several school passing records, including touchdown passes per game and career touchdown passes.
He met his wife at the academy. Of their five children, one is a 2013 graduate of the academy, one is in the Class of 2016 and one is applying to the academy.