Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The last fish from the stern tubes ...

In a rather bizarre move, outgoing Superintendent of the Naval Academy - VADM Fowler responded to Professor Bruce Flemings article, The Academies’ March Toward Mediocrity.

Fowler's response is titled,
Military Academies: A National Treasure. Read both then come back, then I'll add some of my observations.

An emotional write-up - but in places is a bit boilerplate with a lot of platitudes and parochialism - but not a lot of facts.
I have observed countless military academy graduates over my career and can say without the slightest hesitation that these graduates make significant contributions to the well-being of our forces and demonstrate their value to our national defense on a daily basis. As the superintendent of the Naval Academy for the past three years, I have been honored to guide the development process of thousands of midshipmen and can state with confidence that we provide the Navy and Marine Corps with superb young officers who prove their mettle every day in the mountains and villages of Afghanistan, and on, above and below the world’s sea lanes.
Substitute "military academy graduates" with NROTC or OCS and you will get the same answer. Slightly insulting and strange, all at the same time.

Then there is this disconnect,
Those who enter the military via ROTC or OCS bring their own unique perspectives and experiences, but have not had the same intense exposure to the daily routine of military life.
First of all - life at Annapolis is nothing like the Navy as it is lived 27/7/365. Never in my career did anyone state, "That Ensign is performing so well because he is obviously from Annapolis and understands the military." A Chief sure never said that.

I don't recall anyone being fired because NROTC or OCS left them unable to perform. I do know people who have been fired because they did not know how to deal with their new found freedom and the temptations of the civilian world. I do know officers who do not know how to engage with the community they serve; they and their families rarely venture outside base or the Navy social contacts - because they are socially awkward outside the lifelines.
The cost associated with educating a Naval Academy midshipman is also far less than stated in the May 21st op-ed. When a midshipman fails to complete the academy program and is charged for their four-year education, that bill comes to $170,000, a figure established by the Department of the Navy. The costs associated with educating an academy student are in fact comparable to or less than the total realized costs of educating an ROTC student at select private or other state-funded universities. At the Naval Academy we take seriously our obligation to the American taxpayers to achieve the maximum return on their investment.
This could use some REAL solid numbers to back up that statement. "Select private" is the key here I think. Cherry picking is not attractive in a Flag Officer. Weak argument. -1.
In response to the op-ed author’s concern about athletic excellence, I must stress that the academies graduate physically fit leaders, not merely scholars. All academy students are student-athletes who strive for physical development via daily fitness routines and either mandatory intramurals, club sports or varsity athletics. While it may be popular to diminish the value of athletic competition at the intercollegiate level, the military academies represent some of the best examples of student-athletes who compete at the highest levels. This commitment to excellence on the field complements the classroom, where the Naval Academy continually ranks number one or two in the nation for student-athlete graduation rates.
Athletics have nothing to do with physical fitness. Also, the issue isn't athletics. The issue is the compromises made with the Devil to play D1 football. That is the issue. Walk around NAPS and you will see it clear as day.
I must emphasize that we admit only highly motivated, well-rounded individuals based upon their combined excellence in academics, athletics, leadership potential and community service. Applicants compete in a single, fair, structured and highly selective process. Simply stated, the Naval Academy’s admissions processes are in accordance with applicable federal laws and based on an individual’s performance and potential for future success as a naval officer.
Depending on how you move those mushy definitions around, all that is true - but it has nothing to do with the price of tea in China and is contrary with the hard numbers in USNA's own briefs that we have covered here in the past. Click the USNA tab and you can find them too.
The ultimate measure of the academies’ value, however, is the performance of our graduates. Across the board, the feedback we receive is that recent academy graduates are performing superbly, and our Navy and Marine Corps are well served by these leaders. The senior enlisted and officer leaders of our Navy and Marine Corps are telling us that when our graduates report to their units, these young men and women are ready. And those units and our graduates in recent months have been called upon to provide disaster assistance in Haiti, conduct anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and engage in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no room for mediocrity in these operational theaters and our graduates are proving they are up for the challenge.
Again, fried air. Substitute NROTC and OCS and it is also true. In any event - it isn't the average USNA graduate that is the issue sir - those men and women that I meet are the solution, not the problem; the issue has to do with those things you hide most from; Diversity compromises like the Color Guard fiasco; last year a pregnant midshipman allowed to graduate, apparently from White House influence; this year's slot back pot smoking; and from what I hear from the yard - an inconsistent record of dealing with honor offenses and plagiarism that would not survive the light of day.

VADM Fowler's final paragraph,
The one point upon which I do agree with the op-ed author is that the academies must always remain vigilant to maintain the level of excellence demanded by our citizens and continually assess and monitor our progress. I believe we are maintaining the highest standards, preparing our young men and women for the complex and volatile world they will face and graduating extraordinary leaders to serve our Navy, Marine Corps and nation. As we march forward, we march only in one direction and that is the direction of selfless service and professional excellence.
No one doubts that at the core that is what you are trying to do. The job of a Superintendent is a very tough job. Sometimes there are only bad decisions to choose from. Everyone knows that. What breaks out the very good leaders though is self-reflection. VADM Fowler had a chance to reflect on where things did not go well, but instead we are given a "all is well, just move on, nothing to see here." Sad. There are a lot of people who care a lot for USNA and want to see things fixed. We won't get there without honest reflection.

Anyway, let me lob one hedgehog down the bubble trail.

Just to go back to his comments about athletics (
though not mentioned, it is a defense of the real issue, D1 football) and what it produces. Ideally I would like to see him talk about why football players take NAPS slots that fleet Sailors should have - but instead, perhaps a discussion on how we got here and here.
A lieutenant expelled from the Marine Corps’ The Basic School in May for cheating on a land navigation exercise is fighting back, saying his punishment was too harsh.

Former 2nd Lt.
Adam Ballard, a star fullback at the Naval Academy who now is pursuing a career in the National Football League, was administratively discharged from the Corps on May 20, but says his punishment is unfair because cheating on land navigation at TBS is a wide-spread problem.
That is sad in a variety of ways. I don't know what character flaw disturbs me the most. The open cheating - or his decision not to stand up like a man and take his punishment without making excuses or acting like some stool pigeon. Is that what he brought away from 4-years in Annapolis? A side issue is how someone can come out as a Marine Officer from the United States Naval Academy in four years and NEED to cheat on land navigation. I guess he/USNA had other priorities.

Football player Mario Washington has been dismissed from the Naval Academy, reportedly as the result of an honor offense.

Commander Joe Carpenter, a Naval Academy spokesman, confirmed that Washington was separated in late May. Carpenter is not allowed to disclose the reason for the separation due to privacy rules.

Several sources told The Capital that Washington was dismissed after being found guilty of a violation of the academy honor concept. Carpenter could only confirm that "a Midshipman was charged with an honor offense, had a hearing before the Naval Academy superintendent and was separated."

Washington played in all 26 of Navy's game over the past two seasons as both a wide receiver and a punt returner. The 6-foot, 193-pounder totaled 12 receptions for 221 yards during his career.

Washington, a product of Crest High in Boiling Springs, N.C., would have been a senior in 2010. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said the football program would miss the outgoing youngster who always seemed to have a smile on his face.

"Obviously we are disappointed because Mario was a big part of our team, a big part of our football family. He brought a lot of joy and energy to the locker room," Niumatalolo said. "Our biggest concern right now is that Mario finds a new school and graduate."
Coach - the fact you see that as your biggest concern speaks volumes. Pathetic.

I would bet a retirement check that a player by player review of this season's recruiting class would not leave anyone here impressed.


Byron said...

It is well that he is leaving. Fowler has a too-well defined ability to rationalize problems into assets. He is completely unable to view his tenure as a shipwreck. The good new is Fowler is leaving. The GREAT news is that his replacement is widely respected in the Naval Aviation community as a great leader and a helluva guy.

LT B said...

I have often thought that they should bring in a non academy grad as the supe.  I mean, after all, if the academy is supposed to pump out great officers, I'd argue that any 3-star would be able to indentify what makes a great officer and tailor the program to that end.  Why bring someone in that is wrapped in the rah rah of their alma mater? 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>based upon their combined excellence in academics, athletics, leadership potential and community service. Applicants compete in a single, fair, structured and highly selective process."</span>

If I am not mistaken, the above statement constitutes a LIE.  It is untrue, and Fowler knows it is untrue. 

Shame on him.  And shame on Roughead for encouraging that lie.

MR T's Haircut said...

I see a Bowl and I smell Rice....

Curtis said...

Strictly as a professional opinion, to toss a loser over the side for an HONOR offense without NAMING the OFFENSE is so typically Navy Academy.  If it was an honor violation, it deserves a name.  If it resulted in a discharge, it deserves a name.

Only the navy academy could lose sight of that.

pcssepa said...

I hear the same rumblings amongst the Midshipmen.  They recognize the problem; why can't Command?

Seawolf said...

Fowler was, at one time, widely respected in the Submarine Force as a great leader and a helluva guy, too.  He started his tour as supe with some good ideas.  Too bad he lost his way.   

Largebill said...


       Regarding this passage:  <span>"</span><span>That Ensign is performing so well because he is obviously from Annapolis and understands the military</span><span>." A Chief sure never said that.</span>"  let me state on behalf of chiefs that is the truth.  We don't care where he went to school.  We do care that officers (particularly new ones) listen and understand they don't need to prove to us how smart they are.  The best officers were the ones unafraid to admit they didn't know everything and willing to ask the questions that will fill in the blanks.  When you see a real sharp, CO, XO or DH you are seeing someone who asked a lot of questions as an ensign.  The opposite is also true.  Consider one cruiser CO relieved earlier this year.  A repeated comment about her was she didn't ask questions out of fear of betraying her own lack of knowledge on a subject.  That is one area where the difference is in source of commission.  Non-academy grads are less concerned with maintaining an all knowing facade. 

Talk  to a few chiefs and you'll get a hundred anecdotes on this subject.  I've seen exceptional officers from all paths to a commission.  Best XO I remember was anchor man from his academy class.  The most frustrating XO's/CO's were nuclear qualified because they needed to know every detail and tended to micromanage.

Andrewdb said...

<span>>Across the board, the feedback we receive is that recent academy graduates are performing superbly, and our Navy and Marine Corps are well served by these leaders. </span>

That is called "the race perpetuating itself."  The Foreign Service seems to have a similar problem.

QSPN said...

A junior officer I know met both Eckel and Ballard at USNA.  Eckel took a lot of heat (rightfully so), while Ballard was held up as a relative paragon of virtue.  However, in the Ensign's opinion, the primary difference between the two was that Eckel made no bones about his desire to play in the NFL above all else, so he didn't even pretend to care about the Navy.  Other than that, they were pretty much the same.  Just a data point.

Byron said...

Guess he never heard of, "Be true to thine ownself." Or the corrollary, "if you spend all your time kissing ass, you'll eventually smell like it."

Grandpa Bluewater said...


Subtract one beer from the total you intend to buy me. I think I no longer owe you a keyboard either.

Grandpa Bluewater said...


The Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Naval, Air Force, and "Military" (i.e. Hudson Prep) Academies should play in the same league, the same one as the U of Chicago.

Stealing Prep seats from good sailors is below baseline behavior.  The rest is unfortunate, and should be corrected.  THAT is grounds for termination, of the football program at least.

Sailing - fine; swimming or Scuba - Ok; fencing - sure; crew (rowing) - why not?; f-ball, round ball, b-ball, phooey.  Let some other school be a finishing school for pro ball players, save the seats for people who want to be Navy and Marine officers.

Why?  War isn't a ball game. Graduates with no interest in active service do nothing to put ordnance on target, programs that attract such folk are rubbish.

Take out the trash.

But I repeat myself.

LT B said...

Because command there perpetuates the self licking ice cream cone.  They are the 3 chimps, hear no, see no, speak no evil.  If they spent half the time and effort producing officers as they do patting themselves on the back and they would be ok.  Instead they worry about the wrong stuff, teach via ppt in many of the professional development courses and the mids are allowed and expected to pump and dump.  They try to practically reinforce the lessons, but truth be told, they are not really held to it.  Additionally, during the legal fiascos of 2005/2006, I remember a Marine Colonel saying he was unimpressed w/ the midshipmen in that his Marines were held to a higher standard than these perspective officers.  The large bulk of the student body just breezes through and the institution spends a great deal of time w/ the lower and upper portions of the population.  One to push and further their credentials in the hopes they bring notoriety to the academy and the lower portion are pushed to avoid failing them.  I am inclined to agree w/ the good Colonel.

Curtis said...

I watched this guy's product.

There was the drug doing football player he refused to expell and there was the drug smuggling felon out here in San Diego on summer break caught crossing the border with a carload of drugs.  There are the rapists and whores he had on his staff.

This guy cannot just leave and say he was providing quality to the fleet.

NAPS needs to be closed as part of the cost reduction demanded by Gates.  I think we'd do very well without USNA. Probably give the Navy a billion $ right there and then we sell all that waterfront property......

Salty Gator said...

I love the comment about Naval Academy pukes spending 24/7 living "military" lifestyle.  Whatever you say, Admiral.  Then, when they get to the fleet, they are "burned out" and sit in their staterooms all day for the first six months of their tours and have excuses made about how hard life was for them in the Academy.


anonymoose said...

and now the comments dissolve into Academy hate.

I agree with most of this post, but caution haters to consider their motivations.
I'd imagine most state-school lawyers spend a lot of time whining about Harvard Law grads.

Navy Suppo said...

<span>Loved and couldn't agree more with the comment..."I do know officers who do not know how to engage with the community they serve; they and their families rarely venture outside base or the Navy social contacts - because they are socially awkward outside the lifelines."</span>
<span>Reminds me of the ads in the MOAA magazine for retired military communities.  Just what I want (not)...living only among military members who could never let it go.  The last thing that I would want is to live in a community with my ex-rank on my lawn and cut-thriat competitions for lawn-of-the-month.</span>
<span>FYI...I'm very proud of my service, loved every duty station, but equally as proud of what I am doing post-AD.  I just don't and never did want to live it 365-24-7 from a social standpoint.  Support for the troups is different...that was a 365-24-7 honor!</span>

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you got denied from USNA, huh?

Anonymous said...

way to point out 2 events and deem the USNA worthless.. If I point out the Marshall Scholar in the Class of 2010 and the two Truman Scholars in 2011, does that bring the total to +1 for Navy and warrant that they keep the doors open? 

I agree NAPS should close the doors, but USNA remains arguably the nation's premier institution.

cdrsalamander said...

... and I am arguably the nation's premier blog.

Think - don't emote.  Blinkered devotion is not attractive in a free thinking culture.

DM05 said...

VADM & grads, get over it. Nice location with honest mil-wierdness 24x7xforever, doesn't produce incrementally better Navy leadership. 

Post anonymous, be real, whatever, but it doesn't change the equation. of D1 football+marginal leaders producing rancor, fleet confusion, and taxpayers giving USNA the 'ol hairy eyeball.

brian3321 said...

There's nothing new about the effects of 'politics & politicians' on the military. As long as the CIC is the determining factor in the advancement of the "upper ranks", most of the upper ranks will bend to his will. God Bless those of firm backbone - hopefully they will outnumber the 'boot lickers'!
GO NAVY!!!!!

Adam said...



UltimaRatioRegis said...

Dual track discriminatory admissions standards.  Dual track academic standards.  USNA "color" guard fiasco.  Eckel, Ballard, Curry, Washington, pregnant Middie graduating, Fowler's forked tongue. 

Specifics.  Gag.

Adam said...

So out of the 4-5 thousand midshipmen that were classmates of those you named Ultima, you determine that a poll of 5 mids is a good cross-section?  I didn't like Fowler's double-talk, nor did I enjoy Klien's tenure there.  Although in Klein's defense she did a good Soulja Boy impression... Not every midshipmen can be thrown into the same category because of the failings of the few, especially since they have no direct control over the policies that have allowed the few in question to give us a bad name in the first place.  If you are dead set on parroting the same old topics that have been discussed ad nauseum, just copy and paste, it's faster.  Anyone with the power of reason and a moral compass that points anywhere close to north see that Ballard is clearly in the wrong, that bending the rules for a pregnant midshipman to graduate, etc., etc. is complete horseshit.  I'm certainly not arguing against that, but I am opposed to the generalizations that are becoming more prevalent as to the competence and/or moral standards of current and former midshipmen. 

Byron said...

Perhaps you should browse back through the articles the good CDR has written under the USNA tag at the bottom of the article. There you could see replies from a goodly amount of mids who are disgusted with them. And this same educational system produced a group of Marine officers who were caught cheating their land nav course, MARINES for God's sake! Personally, I could give a rat's ass about the scholarly education they receive; I'm more interested in seeing the mids come out as Ensigns and 2cd Lt.s who deeply understand military history and the crushing responsibiliy of the honor bestowed on them to lead sailors and Marines whose lives will depend upon the decision making of these newly minted officers.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


If you think that dual-track (read: discriminatory) admissions and academic standards, and the "color" guard incident, and the subsequent lack of forthrightness out of the mouths of "leadership" affected four or five Mids, then you have been dragging off of the same blunts that Curry has. 

The above sh*t sandwich is a reflection of the "leadership" at USNA.  Precisely the point of the post and the comments.  I have to serve with the products of this crap, probably have since before you were born or learning to read.  I am also a taxpayer shelling out my part (or more than my part) for the hundreds of millions that Annapolis costs every year.

So save the lectures, and learn that, yes, when the few in question are in leadership positions, they are guaranteed to give that "bad name".

Adam said...


I'm not saying that CDR or commenters are posting purely negative things about the Academy.  I was only trying to get across that former midshipmen are serving to the best of their ability and I for one love my job and wouldn't give it up for the world.  My close friends, including my wife, are all graduates and I have not seen/heard of one of them not giving 100% in their training or their billets.  Sal has always been fair in his posts, and I was merely pointing out that gross generalizations of academy grads' competence are innacurate.


I completely agree with your first paragraph in that the "leadership" has affected many more than 5 mids.  I serve with plenty of sh*tbags daily, and guess what, most of them are ROTC or OCS.  Bad eggs come from everywhere, brother.  As a side note I suppose I should mention that I pay taxes as well, since that seemed to have some bearing on making generalizations.  I'm 23, so now you can tell if I was born or old enough to read during all your trying times serving with the products of this "crap."  Your posts message, aside from the rampant patronization, was correct in that it only takes a few deficient leaders or leadership decisions to give an institution a "bad name" or lower the standards for all.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


Never did I say that it was the fault of the Midshipmen that this nonsense went on.  The Middies specifically mentioned are symptoms of the disease, but not the disease itself. 

Yes, I have served with the products of this crap.  I have seen guys who were outstanding officers from USNA, good ones, mediocre ones, and poor ones.  What the system there gave us, however, was a number of men who would have been fine Marine Officers but for the attitude of elitism and privilege that set them out on the absolute wrong foot with their Marines and brother Officers. 

Some figured out the score in a hurry and did fine.  Others never recovered and saw promising careers shortened.  That is a product of a system that needs fixing.  The Fowler shenanigans made an already seriously flawed system many times worse.

Anonymous said...

<span>That was thinking and the application of specifics to make a point.  CDR Salamander, I love your free-thinking repertoire and your calling out of Fowler's dirty secrets, but I've noticed some very selective posts that cast a negative light on Annapolis.  Just a friendly observation.  My respect for you still remains.</span>