Naval Academy

Published and Unpublished Letters

 

The April 6, 2008 story that started this thread was in the Washington Post titled
Shifting Winds Affect the Mids' Sailing Program

 

Scuttlebutt 2572

* From Sue Shaughnessy: (re, story in #2571) As a Midshipman parent, I am deeply saddened by the new administration's views on sailing. My son is about to graduate so he has not been significantly impacted as he participated in Command, Seamanship and Navigation Training Squadron (CSNTS) Program and was first Mid to skipper for CSNTS as a rising Youngster (summer after sophomore year)--a very nice honor which counted as his leadership summer block. He has had the chance to use his learned skills of navigation, boat handling, and teamwork to sail to Bermuda twice and many other events.

 

I have spoken to many Mids who had not sailed before the Academy who claimed CSNTS was one of their most beneficial experiences of all of their summer training programs. I sincerely hope that the Naval Academy administration will rethink their planned elimination of programs some of which truly are superb training tools for preparing Naval Officers to serve their country.

 

 

* From Butch Ulmer, USNA '61: I spent five years on the Fales (oversight) Committee a few years back and it was an honor and a pleasure to serve with so many distinguished sailors and be part of Navy Sailing again. My sources tell me that Vice Admiral Fowler is committed to getting the Midshipmen back on gray ships for their summer training. This is a tall order given the fleet's oversea's commitments and reduced size but it's great training. In pursuit of this goal, the Superintendent is 100% correct.

 

My sources also tell me that Admiral Fowler, a Submariner, sees little value in the time spent on a sailboat for training a naval officer. To the extent this statement is true, the Superintendent is dead wrong. A naval officer's training is not complete without a good dose of seamanshipand seamanship has no better classroom than a sailboat.

 

Perhaps Admiral Fowler just "took her down" when the weather got bad? The "Tin Can" I served on came close to being a submarine when it got rough but it always stayed on the surface and seamanship played a big part in minimizing danger and damage (it was never comfortable). What subject can we teach a young naval officer that's more important?

 

Scuttlebutt 2573

* From Herb Zoehrer, USNA '51, Capt USN [ret]: I've stayed current with the Naval Academy issue in SBUTT 2571. Unsaid in the article by Angus Phillips, but conveyed to him by Cmdr. Jay Cavalieri (Director, USNA Sailing Program), is the important point that no one in the Navy believes that big boat sailing should be a substitute for sending Midshipmen to sea on 'gray ships' during summer training. Rather, the Navy 44's are most useful assets to supplement / and complement summer training. The high tempo of Navy ship operations may not accord all the summer at-sea training opportunities required for Naval Academy and NROTC Midshipmen. The 44's are available and provide valuable small unit leadership training in a blue water environment. Not to use them would seem to be shortsighted.

 

 

* From Tom Hart, Annapolis, MD: Like Butch Ulmer, I am a former 'Tin Can Sailor' who hopes that Vice Admiral Fowler will reconsider his USNA sailing policies.

 

Unlike Butch Ulmer, I was an enlisted Second Class Radarman/Operations Specialist whose teenage sailboat racing background benefited the Navy in many ways: 1) by being able to 'visualize' relative motion, relative wind (for small ship helicopter operations), tactical task group and battle situations in my 'my mind's eye' by using skills developed on the race course; and 2) by completely understanding what it meant to be an integral part of a crew.

 

While I respect and totally agree with Admiral Fowler's goal of increasing Midshipman experience in fleet activities, I can attest to the frustration of having voluntarily gone into the USNR in 1971 after four years of USN blue water deployments, only to find myself aboard gray ships that were 'welded to their piers' when I reported aboard for annual training duties during the fleet cutbacks of the 1970's.

 

Scuttlebutt 2574

* From Richard du Moulin, Fales Committee (retired), US Naval Academy: Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy need sea-time aboard grey ships, and dinghy racing is a great sport fitting for the Academy, but sail training (ocean racing and passages) provides the basic skills and judgment that every commissioned officer needs. Aboard a sailboat with a small team, the Midshipman is given immediate responsibility and learns hands-on navigation, seamanship, leadership and boat handling, forming a basis for a successful naval career. Aboard the smaller vessel, the Midshipman usually gets more responsibility than on a bigger ship. About 35 years ago, the US Navy had a series of ship handling mishaps resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of damages and many lives lost (one was a collision of a carrier with a destroyer). I recall the Navy followed up with a fleet-wide seamanship test which had a surprising finding that officers with Academy sailing program experience did significantly better than other officers. That "discovery" served to re-invigorate funding for sail training. Today the daily cost of a ship, and the cost to train an officer, is higher than ever. Sail training is a very smart investment for the Navy.

 

Scuttlebutt 2575

* From Dulaney Collins: In response to your article, please encourage all Buttheads to write their Senators and Congressman regarding appropriating funding for training budding Naval officers.  It is outrageous what the Dept. of Defense spends - this is a legitimate military training activity and needs to be funded through the D o D.  Currently, my younger brother, a Lt. Commander with 23 years in the US Navy, is serving in Iraq in the green zone. Apparently the Army is all tapped out so D o D has started pulling Navy folks into deployment. All I know is he's spending a helluva lot of US taxpayer dollars purchasing phone lines, cell phone towers, and other logistical equipment to rebuild that country.  Meanwhile a dozen Iraqi citizens, who've been working in the green zone for the U.S. gov't, just got 10 year work visas to come to the U.S. Go Figure!

 

 

UNPUBLISHED

 

* From Henry H. (Harry) Anderson, Jr.: Click here for Harry's letter, who was an orignal member of the Fales Committee, and a co-founder of the Naval Academy Sailing Foundation.

 

 

* From Todd M. Hiller, Naval Architect, United States Coast Guard: I read Angus Phillips article regarding the shift in spending priorities of the Naval Academy Athletics and it troubles me the focus and direction they are leading their (our) future naval officers. Mr. Phillips is correct stating that the offshore sailing program is a right of passage instilling leadership, team building, all aspects of navigating the high seas and more importantly, a sense of accomplishment.

 

As many of us know, the naval academy sweats fitness. Diversity in athletics comes through the multitude of facilities that the academy possesses, but none can be as unpredictable as sailing in the open ocean. This training aside from all of the other training the midshipmen receive puts everything into perspective, both with life's experiences and what's going on around the world.

 

Dwarfing the Santee basin where the offshore sailing boats are kept is a new $45 million dollar 140,000 square-foot athletic facility, the Wesley Brown Field House. This is why the new superintendent probably doesn't share the same view as the last superintendent. As a result, the folks that run the sailing facility (Robert Crown) have to stare at this monstrosity of an architectural marvel and listen to a roaring crowd. At the expense of being "deemphasized", the sailing facility is faced scrambling to put together a sensible budget that now undermines the safety and integrity of a lifeline tradition of the US Naval Academy.  

 

* From Peter Davey, Viareggio, Italy: (Re Naval Training and Olympic hulls – Scuttlebutt 2572; edited to the 250-word limit) Butch Ulmer makes a good point.  Admiral Fowler will have been bought up believing in the professionalism and complete subordination of self to the benefit of the submarine.  This is normal in a submarine, probably the tightest standard administratively in the scale of naval discipline, because if one person screws up badly the whole boat can be lost.  However, the submarine of the last 30 years is not a beast where seamanship is a high priority.  If seamanship is in play on a submarine other than when docking, then “Houston, we have a problem”.  What Adm Fowler doesn’t truly comprehend is that Naval Officers in a position of leadership at sea cannot properly fulfill their purpose without an internalized deep understanding of real seamanship. 

 

There is no better place to understand the essential lessons of seamanship than aboard a small vessel bucketing about the oggin. And that too I think is the essence of Andrew Troup’s and Peter Harken’s points:  The “special physical and mental toughness” required to continue through adversity is born of perseverance in the face of hardship and discomfort, not whilst being mollycoddled with the fastest, lightest and most modern equipment available.

 

Taken together, these three gent’s contributions sum up some dilemmas facing us today.  To me, entrenched attitudes derived perhaps from years of overwhelming technical mastery have caused us to lose sight of the core values attached to the pursuit in question, of the “reasons for being”, be they in this case related to Olympic yachting or naval officer training.

  

 

* From David Fagen: As a USNA and NADS alumni, it is difficult to hear about the cuts to CSTS.  The program filled a gap in the training of a surface warfare officer that is difficult for many to comprehend without having experienced the open sea for themselves.  While it is important for Mids to get time on grey hulls and experience “the real Navy” prior to graduation and joining the fleet, there is never a true experience gained to respect the sea like that of sailing.  There is a reason why sailors are always the top ship handlers!  The lessons of navigation and the importance of taking care of your vessel is learned much more quickly in the throes of sailing than any ship.  Team work, relative motion, the effects of wind and waves and the need for attention to detail  are just a few of the skills Mids learn through sailing to help them  become better Naval Officers.  I do not envy the position VADM Fowler is in with respect to balancing budgets against quality training, but feel he may fall into the category of one who has not experienced the open ocean on a sailboat.  If so, he has truly missed out and I encourage the off shore sailing team to take him on a trip.  Go Navy!!

 

 

* From Hank Evans, Commander, United States Navy (Ret), Des Moines, IA: I seriously question Vice Adm. Fowler's cut backs of sail training for our Naval Academy Midshipmen. While the days of iron men and wooden ships have long past, the basic skills of seamanship and ship handling have not. Having served on Destroyers and Frigates and experienced the wrath King Neptune can bring down on those who go to sea, I would strongly agree with Butch Ulmer's comments about the value of sail training.  The skills I learned racing Star boats and many others, stood me in good stead in 40' seas in the North Atlantic as it came time to bring a Destroyer about. While the good Admiral may have been able to dive below the waves, most of our Naval Officers must ride them out on the surface and the skills they learn offshore on the 44's are tremendously valuable in fighting a ship.

 

 

* From Dave Sinclair, Darien, CT - I was sailing on DeCoursey Fales' NINA during the late 40's and early 50's when he was trying to convince the navy brass at the US Naval Academy of the value of offshore sailing in the training of naval cadets. Too many naval vessels had been lost or damaged during the war because of the crew's lack of seamanship training. Luckily Fales and other sailors were able to convince the naval authorities of the value to be gained from such training and an excellent program was started. In honor of his efforts the group overseeing this program was named the Fales Committee. What a great loss it would be now to weaken this program because of budget constraints or other reasons. What can be more important than the safe and seamanlike handling of our ships?

 

 

* From Bob Dunn: I am saddened to read about the Navel Academy cutting back on a long standing proven method of developing future Navy and Marine Officers. Besides the leadership skills learned from small boat environment offshore the young men and women are also fine examples of America’s best at the ports that they visit.          

 

 

* From Carolyn Swiggart, Darien, CT: As a USNA 'Blue and Gold Officer' (admissions department liaison to local candidates) and the mother of a former Mid who was on the USNA Offshore team, I was really surprised to see the absence of the Naval Academy 44's on the 2008 Bermuda Race roster.  The present Supe's stated mission is to make Midshipmen ready to take their places in the fleet and Marine Corps upon graduation, and many changes have been made at USNA in support of his ideas.  The last Supe, VADM Rodney Rempt, strongly believed each Midshipman could become a better officer through the close teamwork and leadership required on a NA44 offshore cruise to or from Newport or Bermuda each summer.  In addition, having the Navy Offshore teams participate in the Newport-Bermuda, Annapolis-Bermuda, Marblehead-Halifax, Around Long Island, Acura Key West, Storm Trysail, and other races was great in terms of attracting potential candidates for admission to USNA.  

 

The comments about budgets are worth noting.  Practically all available resources are being used for the war and very little money is 'left over' for 'non-essential' training at USNA and other programs.  The Navy Offshore team was always scrambling to find usable sails in the loft, and funding for new sails was apparently nonexistent during the four years my son was there.  Supporters of the Naval Academy Sailing Squadron (mostly parents and alumni) put the sailors up at their homes and do what they can to support the teams when the teams go on the road --at no cost to the Academy.  However, the NASS does not have the fundraising capability that the football team has, and it cannot privately fund the Offshore team nor the commissioning of the new offshore 44's. 

 

USNA has a proud tradition of offshore racing, and I hope one day soon the Academy will send Midshipmen back out to sea on the 44's.

 

 

* From Jake Doyle, New York Maritime Offshore Captain, Class of 2009: Strike another blow for collage offshore sailing.  Navy is a powerhouse in this area, not only do they have the largest college offshore team; they also host 3 intercollegiate regattas in the Navy 44’s in the fall.  These three events with along with the storm trysail sponsored event at Larchmont are the only time college sailors get to sail against each other in “big boats”.  I just hope the funding cuts don’t affect these events.  Unfortunately in the world of College Sailing small boats not only get the glory but also the funding.  I mean come on, Even Kennedy Cup the intercollegiate keelboat championship doesn’t affect rankings or place and when was the last time you heard of a college offshore sailor being made an all American.  Just my rant

 

 

* From Todd Hiller; Annapolis, MD: I read Angus Phillips article regarding the shift in spending priorities of the Naval Academy Athletics and it troubles me the focus and direction they are leading their (our) future naval officers. Mr. Phillips is correct stating that the offshore sailing program is a right of passage instilling leadership, team building, all aspects of navigating the high seas and more importantly, a sense of accomplishment. 

 

As many of us know, the naval academy sweats fitness. Diversity in athletics comes through the multitude of facilities that the academy possesses, but none can be as unpredictable as sailing in the open ocean. This training aside from all of the other training the midshipmen receive puts everything into perspective, both with life's experiences and what's going on around the world. 

 

Global War on Terrorism has been going on for over 10 years, why all of a sudden the need to change? Capt. Margaret Klein, who is now a one star Admiral, made a point that the sail training has been "deemphasized" to integrate third class midshipman into the active fleet. Why? They already do that before they graduate as commissioned officers.

 

Below is the Naval Academy Mission Statement: "The Naval Academy mission focuses on developing midshipmen morally, mentally and physically to become combat leaders for the Navy and Marine Corps. Athletics play a major role in how we accomplish our mission. We challenge midshipmen physically so that when they leave here they will be prepared to successfully lead in combat. We want our future officers to be team builders and learn how to motivate others to excel. We want them to compete on the athletic field and ultimately fight on the battle field, to win. Adequate athletic facility space is key to our future success in physically developing our midshipmen for their future challenges." 

 

Dwarfing the Santee basin where the offshore sailing boats are kept is a new $45 million dollar 140,000 square-foot athletic facility, the Wesley Brown Field House. This is why the new superintendent probably doesn't share the same view as the last superintendent. As a result, the folks that run the sailing facility (Robert Crown) have to stare at this monstrosity of an architectural marvel and listen to a roaring crowd. At the expense of being "deemphasized", the sailing facility is faced scrambling to put together a sensible budget that now undermines the safety and integrity of a lifeline tradition of the US Naval Academy.