Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Faces of the U.S. Naval Academy

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, our next featured midshipman is MIDN 2/C Samantha Billy, granddaughter of a World War II Navajo Code Talker.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sponsor Families Provide a Home Away From Home

During the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, it is predicted that more than 20 percent of the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen will not make the journey back home. However, for these Mids, there is still a chance to celebrate with friends and family.

The United States Naval Academy’s (USNA) Sponsor Program provides more than 2,200 Midshipmen with a home away from home. The surrounding community of Annapolis knows the sacrifices of those attending USNA, and more than 750 families are enrolled in the USNA Sponsor program, to be there for Midshipman when they need them.

Midshipmen come to USNA from all over the world. From the day they arrive, they are immersed in a new environment.  The transformation and development into the USNA standard of a naval officer takes years of training, and is challenging.  Having a family support network nearby can prove to be helpful during difficult times.

“Families sponsor Midshipman when they enter USNA as plebes (freshmen),” said Rose Clark, USNA Sponsor Program Coordinator. “These families know the Midshipmen are away from home, some for the first time, and do what they can to help support and assist them here at USNA and in their personal lives.”

In many ways, sponsors take on a second-family-type role, encouraging the Midshipman in their private lives, supporting them in their activities and acting as a liaison between Midshipman and their families.

“These families selflessly open their homes to the Midshipman,” said Clark. “I see them on the bleachers at sporting events, I hear the appreciation of home cooked meals and on the opposite end, I hear the sincere gratitude from families knowing their children are being looked after by people who genuinely care.”

In years past, the radius of the Sponsorship Program was measured 22 miles from USNA’s Chapel dome. Due to the demand of families wanting to sponsor, it has been extended to 30 miles. The program’s popularity spread mostly through word of mouth.

“We had heard about the program in 1994 from someone who was a sponsor,” said Ken Ochs, a 20-year sponsor and retired Captain of the Baltimore County Fire Department. “Sponsoring has been very rewarding for my wife Kathi and me. We have sponsored two or more Midshipman every year and we keep life-long connections with them. When our only son was married, officers, who were like his older siblings, came in from all over for his wedding.”

Sponsors receive mandatory training from USNA to facilitate and encourage success of sponsors with their Midshipman.

“The training sponsors receive has a kind of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for aiding a Midshipman,” said Clark. “These families understand this is not a typical learning environment, there are rules for conduct outside the walls of USNA. That being said, these families do as much as they can to make sure that it feels as much like home as possible.”

“Most years we have had one or two stay with us over Thanksgiving, and that’s not even including their classmates and friends” said Ochs. “We want to be able to give them that feeling of the holiday. They are like family to us. Even after they spend holidays and the years at USNA, we keep in contact with them and we watch them progress in their lives and careers. The program is equally rewarding for us as it is for them.”

Plebes entering USNA are able to request a sponsor. Interested in sponsoring a midshipman?  Visit the Sponsor Program website or the Sponsor Program Facebook site for more information.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

MAG Helps Get Annapolis Students Excited About Physical Fitness

Members of the Midshipman Action Group have been working with the Mighty Milers program to help get young students excited about physical fitness.

The Mighty Milers is an after school running program sponsored by Annapolis Recreation and Parks. The 6-week program introduces elementary school students to physical fitness through after school training.

The program culminates in an annual track meet in November. The midshipmen from MAG helped train the students, and they – along with the USNA Marathon Team – helped cheer the students on during the Nov. 12 meet.

“We engaged the kids in running drills and games with the goal in mind of running a mile at the track meet,” said  MIDN 1/C Blake Hamilton. “All the kids completed their mile at the track meet.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Service Selection Wrap-up

At noon today, the midshipmen of the Class of 2015 found out their service assignments - which communities they will serve in after graduation in May. It's an important milestone for the mids that puts them one step closer to the fleet jobs they've been training for since I-Day, and arguably earlier than that.

Though some of the midshipmen already knew their assignments prior to today (specifically subs and other nuclear options), for the majority of the midshipmen this was a highly anticipated event, and within their company spaces they made quite a celebration of it.

As of today, this is the breakdown for the Class of 2015:

Surface Warfare:  251
Submarines:  137
SEAL:  30
Explosive Ordnance Disposal:  15
Navy Pilot:  243
Naval Flight Officer:  79
Medical:  12
Supply:  11
Civil Engineering Corps:  5
Intel:  10
Information Warfare:  7
Information Professional:  4
Oceanography: 1
Navy Total: 805

USMC Ground:  177
USMC Pilot:  89
USMC Flight Officer:  5
USMC Total: 271

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Dan Bohannon

MIDN 1/C Dan Bohannon was selected to be a naval flight officer.

"It wasn't until first class year that I seriously considered putting aviation community in my top preferences,” said Bohannon. “Specifically I found being a weapons systems officer on board an F/A-18F Super Hornet to be fascinating and really enticing. The advancement opportunities and bonuses in the community also looked great, and since I'm looking to make a career in the Navy, it was definitely a great fit for me."

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Annie-Norah Beveridge

MIDN 1/C Annie-Norah Beveridge was selected for the submarine community.

“I really look up to all of our predecessors and I am thankful that they have paved the way. The females that I met during my youngster submarine cruise were incredibly capable and found great meaning in their jobs. I don't doubt that we will face challenges, as any junior officer does, but we are ready to face them head on.”

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Jonathan Lucas

MIDN 1/C Jonathan Lucas, 1st Regiment executive officer, will be a submarine officer.

He was selected earlier this year, but still enjoyed watching his company mates find out their service selections today.

"I actually selected in early April, but it has been exciting to be here while everyone else found out what they were chosen for after working so hard. After this, it’s going to be a little hard to focus with being excited about what is ahead of us after graduation.”

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Shannon Cuthbert

MIDN 1/C Shannon Cuthbert, 12 Company honor advisor, was selected for Surface Warfare.

"I am really excited to get out into the fleet and be a naval officer. I am looking forward to doing what I have been training for. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had since coming to the Naval Academy. Being here has changed me so much and made me a better leader."

Both of Shannon's parents were grads of the Class of 1985. Her father flew SH-60 helicopters and her mother was an intelligence officer. Shannon is the first SWO in the family.

"My parents are really excited. Both of them are really excited I chose what was best for me. They both helped by giving me information about how their naval career was which helped define my decision, but in the end, I made the final decision.

I wanted SWO because I think the community has a great mission and because of the leadership opportunities and the many possibilities there are in the surface warfare community."

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Ian Sharbel

This is MIDN 1/C Ian Sharbel, who was selected to be a Marine pilot.

“I’m pretty excited right now. It’s been a long time dream. My father and grandfather were both Marines, and many other members of my family are Marines so it feels great to be carrying on the family tradition.”

Who are you going to call first?

“I’m going to call my dad first. I think he’ll be pretty proud and excited. He knows that I wanted to do this, and he has been a big supporter from the beginning, in coming here and all throughout the four years.”

What’s next?

“Now I am going to focus on preparing for the Basic School, enjoying time with some of these guys that I’m classmates with, and making the most of these last couple months of camaraderie that we have been building the last few years.”

Any advice for lower classmen about selecting a service?

“Talk to your mentors, and try to understand the different communities and opportunities that are available. Understanding what you are getting into and the overall community structure can go a long way in helping you find the right community for you.”

Class of 2015 Service Assignment: MIDN 1/C Zane Markel

The long wait has come to an end. The Class of 2015 found out their service assignments today. This is MIDN 1/C Zane Markel, who was chosen for the SWO-Information Warfare option. He will enter the fleet as a SWO but, once he earns his warfare pin, will transfer into the Information Warfare community.

"I didn’t even know what information warfare was before I came here," said Markel. "I had heard it mentioned during my plebe summer, and when I went to look it up, I couldn’t find any information about it at the time.

"Once I learned about it, I realized right away, wow … this is a brand new area of warfare. We need people who are going to decide how we are going to fight this type of warfare, and I wanted to be part of that. This has been the number one goal of mine for the past three years. Everything I have done has been to try to get into information warfare and to try to be a good information warfare officer.

"I feel fantastic. I don’t have any words for it.”

Mid Sailors Save The Day

By Gary Lambrecht

For skipper Brandt Clemons ’15, leading Navy’s victorious offshore sailing crew on 44-foot Gallant in last month’s Annapolis Yacht Club Fall Series made for a very satisfying weekend.

But Clemons will always remember a most unusual twist when he savors the Midshipmen’s achievements of October 4 on the Chesapeake Bay. That day, as Gallant was more than halfway to a comfortable win in the 26-mile race, the Midshipmen were forced to change course, and hours of seamanship training became quite useful.

One minute, Clemons was at his perch in the rear of Gallant eyeing The Fish – the only boat posing any hint of a threat to the Mids’ commanding position. The next minute, Clemons saw the lower lifeline of the B-32 snap at the port aft quarter. Then, he watched two crew members tumble into the bay.

Instantly, the Navy crew shifted gears and went into a different kind of action.

“As soon as the man-overboard call happened, I completely forgot about the race. We were shocked at first. I’ve never seen anyone go overboard like that,” Clemons said.

“My driver [helmsman Charlie Morris ‘16] said, ‘What do we do?’ I told him, ‘We’re going to get ’em. Tack the boat.’ At that point, it just became reaction and rote memorization for us. Everybody had a job to do. We’ve done so many man-overboard drills that it’s almost beat into you. The crew was like an orchestra.”

Instead of being laser-focused on crossing the finish line first, the Mids, who had practiced dozens of man-overboard exercises, were now faced with a rescue operation as their top priority. They quickly realized that neither Fish crew member treading water was wearing a flotation jacket. In addition, both wore full, foul-weather gear on what was a cold, wet, windy day, with waves of three to four feet on the bay.

Wasting no time, the Mids tacked, then backed the jib to perform a quick stop, then dropped the sails and coiled all the sheets to avoid fouling the prop when the engine was started.

From there, Gallant motored back to the sailors, who had separated and were floating on opposite sides of the boat. Clemons threw a line to one of them, and the Gallant crew pulled him aboard. A Navy crew member tossed a flotation device to the other sailor, who then was pulled back on board The Fish.

The whole rescue took approximately four minutes. The exercise happened to be timed by the alert crew of a sistership Naval Academy boat crewed by Clemons’s teammates that had been trailing Gallant.

That precious time initially cost the Mids, who, after interrupting their race to aid their competitors, ended up in fourth place. But the loss proved temporary. The AYC regatta committee granted Navy’s request for a redress hearing and awarded the victory to the Mids a week later.

The rest of the Navy crew included Trevor Voegele ’15 (executive officer), Tilghman McCabe ’15 (jib trimmer), Nick Satterlee ’17 (jib trimmer), Daniel Panchevre ’17 (pit), Matt Finley ’16 (mast) and Donal Hanlon ’16 (bow).

Efforts to contact the chief judge from the regatta committee and members of The Fish crew were unsuccessful.

Jahn Tihansky, head coach of the Naval Academy Varsity Offshore Sailing team, beamed with pride at the way the Mids’ diligent practice time had reaped such a meaningful benefit.

“These guys train their butts off. They do things like 500-mile training sails to Nantucket,” said Tihansky, who estimated the team has done about 40 man overboard drills. “The fact that they were able to do this as quickly as they did is a testament to how important this training is to them.

“I’ve sailed for 40 years. I’ve been involved in three man-overboard situations personally. I know of people who have been lost at sea and not recovered. The good thing is we have standard operating procedures. We are required to wear life jackets, which is a requirement in intercollegiate sailing, but not [offshore sailing] that involves the general public. You never know what kind of tiger is hiding behind the tree.”

Clemons said the incident provided a sharp reminder of the danger involved in his chosen sport. A native of Farmington, MO, Clemons had never sailed before arriving at the Academy.

“Half of my crew has been sailing for a year or less. We do these long summer sails. When I was a freshman, we sailed to Bermuda, and we sailed through Hurricane Irene. We were 300 miles off the coast of anything,” Clemons said.

“If somebody goes overboard there, he’s going to die if you don’t get to him in time. The Coast Guard can’t get there in time. The crews take this very seriously,” he added. “At first, we didn’t think [The FISH rescue] was a big deal. I mean, the Chesapeake Bay isn’t the Bering Strait. But when we got back [to the academy] after the race, the coaches told us, ‘No. This is what could have very easily been a huge tragedy.’

“Look, we really wanted to win that race, and we knew we had sailed well enough to win the regatta. But there wasn’t a single member of the crew who resented how [the rescue] caused us to finish fourth. We got to pull two guys out of the water. Whether we got the redress or not, there’s nothing better than that.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday Season at the Navy Lodge

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. For a season of family and fun, keep the Navy Lodge in mind for holiday guests.  

“Navy Lodges are the perfect place for guests of military members to stay during the holidays,” said Navy Lodge Annapolis general manager, Malerie Shipe-Meyers. “Navy Lodges offer a great value with our spacious rooms, kitchenettes, free Wi-Fi and many other amenities we offer. We also provide a complimentary breakfast in the morning, a manager’s reception, in-room coffee and premier guest service.”

Navy Lodge guests will experience a variety of room types to include family suites, with cable TV and DVD player, as well as kitchenettes with a microwave and full size refrigerator.  Navy Lodges are equipped with guest laundry facilities, vending areas and playgrounds for the little ones. As an added convenience, pets can stay at many Navy Lodges. Please contact the Navy Lodge regarding pet policies.  

To make a reservation for any of the 39 Navy Lodges worldwide, call toll free at 1-800-628-9466 (NAVY-INN) or log onto For other military lodging options, go to

Monday, November 17, 2014

USNA Chinese Culture Club Visits New York

By MIDN 2/C Wesley Yuan

USNA’s Chinese Culture Club visited New York during the weekend before Veterans Day. We visited the American Legion Post 1291 in Chinatown, where they have the country's greatest number of Chinese-American members.

The American Legion is an organization that helps provide homes for homeless veterans, helps veterans financially, and provides educational and career opportunities for veterans.

This is the second time the midshipmen of the Chinese Culture Club visited this post, but the first time we joined them in their annual parade in Chinatown.

They gave us a tour of their auditorium and recreational spaces in Chinatown and treated us very well. We marched with them in the parade and attended their ceremony to honor veterans at the Lt. Kimlau Memorial Square, named after a U.S. Air Force bomber pilot of Chinese descent who fought during World War II.

Afterward, we ate lunch with them and presented their post commander with a U.S. Naval Academy banner as a gift.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

U.S. Naval Academy Parachute Team

Midshipmen at the Naval Academy are pretty impressive. They catch bullets in their teeth. They leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Okay, they don't really do that. But they do do this:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Brigade Bowl 2014 Spirit Spots

6th Co Intramural Domination / Brigade Bowl

By MIDN 1/C Molly Hanna

If you have been reading the recent installments of “Intramural Scott Strasemeier” emails, then you know that 6th Company intramural warriors dominate on the athletic fields.

Whether it’s basketball, flag football, soccer, or racquetball, 6th Company has been making headlines for a solid year now with numerous Brigade Championships.  What’s the secret behind this company’s stellar athletic skills in not one, but three different sports?

6th Company intramural warrior coaches provide an inside scoop on some of their training tactics that have proved successful in leading the current and past intramural seasons to victory:

The Flag Football Coach, 1/C Chris Grigg’s attributes his team’s success to high school nostalgia, saying  "We're just a bunch of guys that peaked in high school and are trying to relive the glory days of those Friday nights out on Hospital Point. Combine a competitive nature with some incredibly average athletic ability and boom you get two, working on three, undefeated seasons. That's all there is to it. At the end of the day, there aren't any puppies out there on Hospital Point. Gotta get up and be the dog."

1/C Keaton Dille, 6th Company’s Intramural Basketball coach describes his team’s winning strategies, "6th company basketball lives by the three core values of winning, winning, and winning. We hold thrice weekly team lifts, we shoot every morning at 0530, and we offer daily sacrifices to the spirit of Larry Bird. We're not exceptionally athletic nor are we talented, we simply grind our way to championships."

This hard work does not go unnoticed among 6th Company and members of the Brigade.  This determination and competitive spirit has brought the Jackalopes’ intramural teams from average to a force to be reckoned with in the last few years.

Last, but not least, Racquetball.  6’s Coach 1/C Tom Sledge perfectly captures the essense of this unique sport and the necessities for victory, saying “"Racquetball success really comes down to a few main elements.  1. you must be oddly un-athletically athletic 2. You must embrace "approved wrap-around lenses" as your natural look, and 3. You can't wear two gloves.  Just one.  If you can master all three, then put your racquetballs where your mouth is and maybe you can try to stop 6th company racquetball from winning its 4th straight Brigade Championship."

With the first ever Brigade Bowl today, 6th Company will fight among 1st regiment’s most talented intramural warriors against some of the best of the Brigade.

The Bowl will take start at 1730 on Farragut Field, with 1st Regiment dressed in blue and 2nd Regiment in white. Sure to foster some healthy competition and fun among the Brigade’s most athletically gifted warriors, the first ever Brigade Bowl will hopefully become a tradition that will carry on many years into the future.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

USNA's Sprint Football Team Takes Down Army

By MIDN 1/C Annie-Norah Beveridge

On Friday, October 31st the Naval Academy Sprint Football team took down Army, 27-7, finishing their season atop the CSFL standings with a perfect 7-0 record.  I caught up with the senior quarterback and co-captain, Joe Hampton, to learn a little more about the sport, its history, and the 65 midshipmen along with the managers, trainers, and coaches that make up the team.

Sprint Football is regulation football with one unique rule.  Players cannot exceed the 172 lbs. weight limit. Originally called “lightweight football,” the weight limit was 150 lbs. when it became popular in the 1930s. 

Legend has it that large state schools such as the University of Michigan and University of Florida were the first institutions to field teams.  Over the years, however, the league settled with eight teams, comprised of Ivy League schools, Army, and Navy. The Naval Academy joined the league in 1946 and since joining, has a 349-66-9 record – including 41-31-1 record against Army – and 36 league championships.  There are 20 Sprint Football players in the Navy Athletic Hall of Fame.

The Sprint Football’s practice schedule is very similar to any other football team’s schedule.  At lunch, the team will watch films and lift weights and after school they spend between two and three hours on the field running through plays, installing new schemes, and conditioning particularly hard. 

The weight rules add a unique facet, and the team must weigh-in four days before game day and two days before game day.  In order to prepare for these weigh-ins, team members will spend extra time on a bike or on a treadmill with sweats on to lose weight.  They will also stick to a stringent diet that includes tuna salad, greens, and fruit as staples. 

If you consider all of the field time, lifting time, film, and classroom sessions and cutting time as lab hours, Sprint Football equates to roughly 18 credit hours.
Having lost to Army for two years in a row, the Navy team was hardly the favorite approaching the championship game.  While Army and Navy often dominate the league, this year saw extreme parity in the league as the Navy team trailed at some point in every game except Princeton and Army, which were both home games.

Going into the game, though, the team was confident because of an extremely stout defense, well-balanced offense, and a solid game plan from the coaching staff.  The team worked extremely hard as scout players pushed starters every day and the coaches were always prepared.

It would be impossible to pinpoint a single player from the last game as everyone contributed to the team effort.  The offensive line, with four seniors, played an incredible game against a strong front 7 for Army.  Not only did they play a pivotal role in Eric “Cheese” Wellmon’s record setting year, but they did an outstanding job protecting the quarterback, giving the receivers time to work and get open. 

At the same time, Alec Jarm at tight end not only blocked like an animal but had possibly the best catch of the night on a pivotal drive early in the game.  Dom Chumich dislocated his shoulder but continued to selflessly dominate his space with his body.  The defense played their best game of the year as the pass rush was phenomenal from seniors Ben Pope, Jack Moyle, and Chris Mershon.  Billy Eisenhauer had an incredible game as a run stopper and in pass coverage. 

In addition to that, the defensive back-field came up huge with key turnovers and keeping Army’s potent passing game contained for sixty minutes.  If you’ve ever seen Remember the Titans, it was a game reminiscent of Julius’s speech on the real meaning of perfection. The team played perfectly Friday night.

In the past, the defense and offense have not always had an amicable relationship.  This year however, the senior class has been extremely close as a whole which has helped the team become a more cohesive unit.  Beating Army was the culmination of consistent effort and enduring spirit. Hampton notes that Beating Army was a “surreal, euphoric, redeeming, and unreal” experience that made him and other, “proud to be a midshipman and proud to be a Sprint Football player.” 

Going forward, the team hopes to build off the success that they have had this year which starts with the idea of all team members that they are winner; in Bancroft Hall, in the classroom, and on the field.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

USNA Faculty and Staff: It's On Us

Faculty and staff across the Naval Academy Yard pledge to stop sexual assault and foster an environment where everyone on the Yard feels safe. It's on all of us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

U.S. Naval Academy Museum Makes Top Ten

The U.S. Naval Academy Museum, housed in Preble Hall, is listed among the top ten "military museums that bring battles to life," according to a recent article in USA Today.

The museum was cited for its multimedia exhibits that cover U.S. naval history from the American Revolution to modern conflicts as well as its impressive display of more than 70 historic ship models, the largest collection in North America.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What is Movember? Q&A With MIDN 2/C Bray Wilcock

It's Midshipman Mustache Month at the U.S. Naval Academy. While typically midshipmen are required to be clean shaven, they're given the opportunity during November (or "Movember") to grow facial hair in an effort to bring attention to men's health issues.

This is the second year the midshipmen have participated in Movember. MIDN 2/C Bray Wilcock, the driving force behind USNA's campaign, talks about how it all came about.

Q. What is the history of Movember?

BW: I believe it originated in Australia in the '03-'04 time frame with a group of dudes who wanted to bring back the 'stache and do some good with it, at the same time raising awareness for men's health and prostate cancer.

Q. What inspired you to bring "No Shave November" to USNA?

BW: My high school participated in Movember, and after trying to grow a mustache over youngster summer through my cruise and NOLS, I had a bunch of talks with my friends about somehow trying to get Movember started at the Academy. Most, if not all, thought it couldn't happen which pushed me even harder to try to get it approved. More importantly, one of my uncles passed away from cancer during November of my plebe year and I wanted to honor him and his memory by trying to raise awareness for men's health. His name was Brad Gano, and he grew up in Baltimore.

Q. Can you explain the approval process? How did you market this to the chain of command?

BW: It was definitely a battle trying to bring something that had never been done before to the chain of command for approval. But, with my proposal and the unwavering support of the sergeant major chain of command and the brigade's midshipman chain of command, I think we presented something to our superiors that was pretty hard to say no to. This year was a bit easier because it was approved last year; only some minor tweaking had to be done to submit a pretty convincing package to our superiors.

Q. Who in the Brigade has grown the most impressive mustache that you have seen so far?

BW: It's hard to say since we just over a week into Midshipmen Mustache Month. But I've seen a lot of potential. It's gonna be a good 'stache season.

Midshipmen, remember to put pictures of your mustache on social media with #midstache and links to men's health websites to raise awareness on some really important issues.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

USNA's Native American Heritage Club

While USNA's Native American Heritage Club is quite new on the scene, they have already had an impact on the Brigade.  

MIDN 1/C Stefanie Cotner, the NAHC Public Affairs Officer has done a great job spreading the word about events, from the famous “Fourth Meal Indian Tacos” to meetings that have been hosted to discuss the struggles that Native Americans in the Armed Forces face.  

The club hosted a screening of the documentary “Reel Injun,” about the portrayal of Native Americans in film, and it prides itself on being a community-based club looking to become more involved with the local Native American community through  attending local events, such as pow wows.  

The club also hosted Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers Nov. 8 in Smoke Hall. The Native Pride Dancers are an internationally-known, high-energy performance group who feature an innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles. 

The group hopes to team up with other universities and service academies who sponsor similar clubs.

The Native American Heritage Club will host the 2nd Annual Native American Indian Heritage Month Banquet at 7 p.m., Tuesday, November 25th at the Naval Academy Club. The event is open to the public. For more information or to RSVP, contact MIDN 1/C Cotner by email at RSVPs must be received by Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Letter to My Former Self: LTJG Dave Galluch

In the "Letter to My Former Self" series, USNA graduates lay out the advice they would give themselves as midshipmen based on their experiences as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. This week's letter was written by LTJG Dave Galluch, an explosive ordnance disposal officer who and 2012 graduate. 

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope this letter finds all of you well and that this semester is shaping up to be a successful one.  Congratulations Firsties!  You have just a few months left.  Congratulations Plebes!  You are almost done with your very first semester.  Time will fly by, so value this opportunity. All, this is not your normal Officer-to-Midshipman edification on what the Fleet is like or why honor, courage, and commitment are virtues you must possess as a leader.  This is meant to be a bit deeper.  My intent is to open your eyes to some issues and philosophical topics that are essential to an officer but are rarely emphasized as openly as they should be at the Academy.

First off, a bit about me.  I graduated in 2012 as a member of 18th Company.  I was an Honors Economics major and service selected Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).  Before beginning my training pipeline, however, I worked at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in Washington, D.C., where I was a research associate on a team that analyzed the Joint IED Defeat Organization's impact on the counter-IED fight in Iraq.  After completing my time there, I went overseas to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom where I completed an MPhil in Development Economics.  I began Dive School in August 2013 and moved on to EOD school after that.  I recently received my warfare pin on September 19, 2014, and have since completed Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.  I will report to EOD Mobile Unit Two in Little Creek, Virginia this winter where I will begin my tour as OIC of an EOD Platoon.  The last two and a half years have brought me a lot of change and have taught me some valuable lessons.  I'd like to focus on the ones that apply across service selections and have a direct bearing on the most important task you will all have upon graduating: LEADING.

1. A Naval Officer's first job is to lead and manage the application of violence.  This is something the Naval Academy does not focus on enough.  It is easy to forget, amidst the Versailles-like landscape of the Yard, of how violent the places you will be deployed to truly are.  It is easy to lose track of how uncomfortable you may be in cold water, an engine room, or flying 30,000 feet above the ground when you're cozy in your SDB's at a NAFAC or Leadership Conference dinner party.  Make no mistake that no matter your service selection, you are a leader whose task it may be to take human lives.  Realize that the Naval Academy does not typify the world around you; prepare yourself accordingly.  I encourage everyone to participate in the SEAL and EOD screeners, as well as other physically challenging events that will tax you to the extreme.  Speak with the officers and SELs on the Yard that have seen combat.  Pick their brains and truly understand what you are getting yourself into.  As Aristotle suggests, virtue and character are built through habit.  You cannot flip a switch after graduation that will make you an effective combat leader.  Only you can do this, and it is done through repeated reflection, challenge, and moral growth.

2. Do not base your service selection decision off the social pressures of the Academy or superficial conceptions of what a job requires.  Let's be honest.  Everyone has seen Lone Survivor, Hurt Locker, Act of Valor, and the HBO series The Pacific.  Being a "doorkicker" is glamorous and it gets you major "street cred" in Bancroft Hall (even though you haven't even begun a training pipeline or graduated college).  Choose your service selection only after deep moral introspection and a full investigation of what each community offers.  Ensure that you are ethically able to carry out the tasks that you may be given, e.g. shooting a child that picks up a rifle or launching an ICBM that will obliterate cities.  If your main reason for selecting SEAL or EOD is that you're in shape and are good at swimming, think again.  Your motivation must be deeper than that to connect with your people and to be an effective leader.  Look past the stereotypes of the warfare communities that abound at USNA.  Take advantage of your summer cruises and truly explore whatever unit you are sent to.  Most importantly, get to know the Sailors there closely.  Spend time doing their job with them to get a feel of the quality of individual you might be leading.  This will provide invaluable insight into what service selection is right for you.

3.  Drink the Kool-Aid, but only a little bit.  You're in the military and you're going to have to conform.  This is easy to forget at the Academy.  Good news: in the Fleet you cannot get "fried."  Bad news: you can get a lot worse.  That said, maintain your independence and don't be afraid to ask why.  Do not blindly follow every rule and regulation simply because they exist.  Good officers know the rules and know them well; that way, when they have to break them, they can justify why and protect those under them.  I'm not telling you to destroy good order and discipline.  What I am saying is that leaders that make positive change oftentimes buck tradition, orthodoxy, or the system and adapt to circumstances that policy or regulation is ill-suited to deal with.  The military does not need automatons that look, act, and think the same.  Find a way to remain unique and maintain a healthy separation between work and who you are.  What helps me do this?  Honestly, it's keeping my hair just on the right side of regulations.  It sounds silly, but this allows me to preserve just enough independence from the majority and helps me retain the ability to think critically and question things that don't make sense.

4. You must be willing to sacrifice yourself for those under you.  Do not hide behind the authority you have.  Be an active officer that works alongside your subordinates.  Take an active interest in their personal lives and show them you are more than just "Sir" or "Ma'am."  Be willing to make decisions that may get you in trouble but that will improve the quality of life of those under you.  For example, don't make people stay later than they have to until you don't have a choice.  If a task is completed by 1400, let your team or division go early if that's all that needs to be done for the day.  If you get in trouble for letting everyone go prior to the official end of the workday at 1600, so be it.  What is important is that your subordinates will realize that you care about them and are willing to endure a bit of hardship on their behalf.  They will repay you tenfold.  Conversely, however, taking care of those under you may also require you to be a disciplinarian.  Be clear and consistent from your first day on what your expectations are.  Work closely with your Chief or SEL on delineating your left and right limits and trust him or her to effectively enforce them.  Realize that any punishment should be designed to remediate and rebuild a Sailor that has gone astray.  Do not abuse your power.  Remain level-headed, especially when you're most upset.  Do not allow emotion, bias, or outside influence to interfere with making the decision that is in the best interest of your subordinate.

5. Live life slowly.  Achievement is not everything.  Since graduating, it has become apparent to me that life is about the journey, not the destination. This is easy to forget at the Academy, where there is relentless pressure to achieve at a high level in a multitude of activities.  Take time to enjoy your friends and company mates.  Trust me, you will never be closer to another group of people.  Value those friends and family members that provide the love and support you oftentimes never recognize. Chill out from time to time. Sometimes work can wait. Set goals but temper them with introspection and a healthy appreciation for the role others play in aiding you to get where you're going.  Feel only your own pressure.  Your own is sufficient.  Take on various opportunities calmly and collectedly.  Don't get so caught up in where you are going that you miss all of the fun along the way.

In closing, I want to emphasize how enjoyable life at the Academy is and what a chance it provides for moral, academic, and professional growth.  Remember, take each day as it comes and always reflect each night on what the day brought and how it relates to your ultimate goal: graduating and becoming a leader of Sailors or Marines.  At the end of the day, you, with support from your friends and loved ones, determine the type and quality of leader you will be after leaving Annapolis.  Take this responsibility seriously, but not so seriously that your responsibility becomes the sole end for which you wake up in the morning.  Take a walk around the Yard from time to time.  Appreciate its beauty, those individuals you are there with, and the tranquility of life that will be replaced with the hustle and bustle of Fleet life upon graduation.

Go Navy! Beat Army!