Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter sat down with the San Diego Tribune’s Editorial Board while in town for the Poinsettia Bowl game to talk about the academy. These are some of the highlights from their conversation.
Carter: I wanted to give you a snapshot of what’s happening at the Naval Academy. What’s different with the generation of young men and women that are coming in now and why it’s so important for us to pay attention to this generation of young people who are going to do big things for us in the future. The Naval Academy started in 1845. It’s a service academy that’s really deep in tradition. But it’s evolved over the years. 1976 was the first year (women) entered as plebes. I showed up in ’77 so I was there for the first graduating class of ’80. We brought in 100 women in ’76 and 100 women in my class. Both graduated about 55 to 58 percent. And we’ve evolved.
Q: What was the role of women in the Navy at that point? A lot different from it is today?
A: Significantly different. We said we want to integrate women into the Navy, but when they graduated they were all put into noncombat roles, restricted line communities. Interestingly enough that first class, the class of ’80, had one of the highest retention figures of any women getting to the rank of captain. Just showed the resiliency of that one particular class who survived those four years. But we’ve come a long way. In the class of 2018, over 25 percent of the class is women. That’s about 300 out of about 1,191 freshman.
Today, at the Naval Academy, we have about 4,500 midshipmen there. We produce about 30 percent of the ensigns in the Navy every year. We graduate about 800 that go into the Navy. For the Marine Corps side, 250 to 270 second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. We are producing the leaders that are going to be of consequence and character.
The competition to get in is incredibly tough. The Naval Academy is listed at the top in terms of being the most selective of all schools across the country. Not just the service academies. Out of any school that produces more than 100 graduates, we have the number one graduation rate in the country. That’s pretty remarkable when you think these kids are signing up to serve in the Navy and the Marine Corps.
Our focus is to prepare these young men and women morally, mentally and physically so they can go on and serve a career in the naval service. But there’s a part of our mission statement that is a little different from everybody else. It talks about developing mind and character, to seek the highest levels of responsibilities in command, citizenship and government. We’re not just developing leaders for the Navy and Marine Corps; we’re talking about the future and beyond – CEOs of corporate America, congressmen and senators – and because we focus on a physical mission, we’re very much involved in our athletics. There are only two universities in the country that can say they had a president of the United States, a Heisman Trophy winner and a Naismith Trophy winner (kind of the Heisman for basketball ). The Naval Academy and Michigan. It shows the quality of not just the athletes but the great people that we have at the Naval Academy.
Q: What’s the typical trajectory for these people? Do they tend to stay in the Navy for a 20-year run?
A: It varies a little bit. Currently, the men are staying at a higher rate than women. When you look across the history of the Naval Academy, the numbers are pretty staggering. We’re the number one producer of astronauts for NASA over its history. We’ve had 53 astronauts come out of the Naval Academy. We’ve had 23 congressional leaders in the Senate and the House, 73 Medal of Honor winners. I don’t have numbers for how many corporate leaders we’ve had, but I would tell you that we’ve got to be in the top 10 in the country just based on what I see and the landscape today, who is leading corporate America.
Q: You placed a high emphasis in your remarks on character. It leads to a natural question in that one of the hottest topics, both in the military these days as well as nonmilitary colleges, is sexual assault and harassment. How are you dealing with that issue?
A: Last year, when I was at the War College, I wrote a paper for the secretary and the CNO called “The Ethics in the Navy.” We were struggling with what is it that causes seniors and others to make bad decisions. We made some recommendations that should change the way we’re teaching and educating everyone, from the most junior sailors up to the admirals, as to how to think about ethics.
It’s not just about what is legally right and wrong to do. It’s about understanding, about the decisions that you make often below some imaginary red line have consequences. And if the compass that is moral is not checked often enough, you’re likely to get out of calibration and stay there. The program at the Naval Academy when it comes to character development is not broken, but I think we can still do better. I have three priorities going forward into the future. Character development is number one, because if we can spend the right amount of time and get whatever biases these young people come in with corrected so they understand the consequences of their actions, all of the rest of this chain of bad behavior – some people call it the continuum of harm – that lead to these kind of destructive behaviors have a better chance of being corrected.
Q: How much is sports emphasized at the academy?
A: One in three midshipmen are competing at the Division One varsity level and 42 percent of the women at the Naval Academy are competing at the Division One level. We’re number three in the country for Division One sports programs, behind Stanford and Ohio State. Ohio State has 39 Division One sports programs, 20 women, 19 men. I’ve got 18 men’s sports programs and 15 women’s programs. Their student body of undergraduates is 53,500, mine is 4,500. And we’re not just playing at Division One. We have a 65% win percentage. The talent of athlete that we have there is tremendous.
Q: Let me ask you an uncomfortable question on this topic. There’s some thinking in aaval officer circles about why the service academies even compete at the Division One level. The job of the service academies is to prepare people to be ship drivers and why are you spending your time and energy on producing athletes who compete at that national level?
A: If it was up to me, I would have every midshipmen competing at the Division One level. What I want for the future is people that understand what it’s like to be on a friendly field, where competition matters.Wwhen they get into the toughest decision making they have to do – whether it be at sea, under the water, in the air – those that understand the concept of team sports that are played at the top level do incredibly well.
Q: The fact is not everybody who (can get) in the Naval Academy can compete at that level. That’s just a different level of athleticism. So that means you have to recruit people to be your football stars and your stars. When that position in the Academy could go to somebody who was a little more brainy, less brawny.
A: I have a cross section of all that now. That said, I have a physical mission that I have to sustain. I need people who have an understanding of physical fitness for life, so they can sustain themselves, and be leaders of consequence. Ninety percent of the freshman class had varsity letters on their record. This is the class of 2018. Sixty-seven percent of them were team captains. So they were leaders within their prep or high school programs.
I played ice hockey all four years at the Naval Academy. We weren’t Division One, we were a high-end club sport. I would tell you, in all seriousness, everything that I did that was successful in combat, I learned playing ice hockey. I’m a nuclear engineer. I’ve got degrees, I’ve taught at the War College. I still go back to what I’ve learned on the ice in terms of understanding the human spirit. Understanding what it takes to take care of your wingmen. To understand what it takes it win. And if you don’t have that in athletics, I don’t care how smart you are, that’s not going to get it done.
I could tell you story after story of having Navy football players who were linebackers in my squadron who had the best success rate in combat. So when people say why do you have athletes? I say, when I look at who is going to win and sustain our nation’s future I want a Naval Academy graduate. I want somebody that played a team sport. And I want somebody that’s academically smart, and thank God I’m able to get all three of those with the Naval Academy.