Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Tradition of Service: Giving Through the Herndon Shoe Drive

By Lt. Jennifer Grijalva

Tradition is more than a word you hear at the United States Naval Academy.  It is a theme that is woven into every fiber of the institution’s existence, a belief that is bred into every midshipmen.

Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones

One of the academy’s many traditions – the annual Herndon Monument Climb for the plebe class – occurred May 23, with fellow midshipmen, faculty and guests looking on. But a newer and perhaps humbler untold tradition of the day was an act of service and selflessness.

The plebes traditionally scale Herndon without shoes, and at the conclusion of the climb, many of them walk back to their rooms in Bancroft Hall barefoot. But where do all these shoes go?

The plebes remove their shoes while waiting in front of Bancroft Hall for the Herndon Monument climb to begin. Once the cannon sounds and the plebe class takes off running, a group of upperclass midshipmen, this year from 15th Company and members of the Midshipman Action Group, begin collecting and sorting the shoes for donation.

For more than ten years the midshipmen have taken it upon themselves to donate hundreds of pairs of shoes to charities and shelters in need.  This year, 515 pairs of shoes will go to Catholic Charities, based in Washington, D.C.  The donation will be split between the Martin Luther King and New York Avenue Catholic Charity locations.

“Receiving this many pairs of shoes is such a blessing,” said a Catholic Charities driver and employee. “Being able to give these people in need something as simple as a pair of shoes can be the first step to getting them back on their feet.”

The midshipmen see this as a way to give back and serve the local community. Working within the fabric of the community is a tradition that runs strong within the Naval Academy, and it is apparent the midshipmen truly enjoy giving back and supporting."This shoe drive and everything done by the Midshipman Action Group all relates back to the idea of service,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Preston Cusher. “As military members, we are here to serve the nation. This shoe drive is a way for us to do just that by helping those in need in our local communities.”

This concept of service is one that attracts many midshipmen to this institution, and it is both touching and inspiring to see these young men and women embody this pillar of service.

Video Highlights from Herndon 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Midshipmen Teach Technical Entrepreneurial Workshop in Uganda

As the Class of 2016 lined up in Alumni Hall for their graduation ceremony walkthrough, two seats in the front row were noticeably empty. Less than a week until their commissioning, MIDN Zachary Dannelly and MIDN Richard Kuzma found themselves a world away—in Kampala, Uganda.

Dannelly and Kuzma are two of the Naval Academy’s first Stamps Leadership Scholars. The Stamps Scholarship provides funds for international travel, research, and professional enrichment. This funding, and the support of the Naval Academy International Programs Office, offered MIDN Dannelly and Kuzma invaluable experiences and global context as part of their officer training at USNA.

Dannelly, a cyber operations major, used his funding to present research in Estonia and Switzerland, intern at the NSA’s sister agency, GCHQ, and visit his future graduate school, the University of Cambridge. Kuzma, a quantitative economics major, used his scholarship to conduct research in Indonesia, study in London and Brazil, and intern in the American Embassy in Rwanda. Both midshipmen focused much of their research in the field of education, and jumped at the opportunity for a capstone service project.

The average Ugandan in only 15 years old, which makes Uganda the youngest country in the world. Unfortunately, many school-aged children can be found in the streets rather than the classroom. Expensive school fees and a slowing economy force parents to send one or two children to school while their other children work to support the family. The financial limitations of these families keep many talented students from reaching their full potential.

MIDN Dannelly and Kuzma worked with an organization dedicated to nurturing high-achieving students by providing scholarships to pay for school fees and offering advanced learning opportunities.

One such opportunity comes from exposure to information communication technology (ICTs). The ICT sector is growing rapidly across the African continent as the use of cellular devices expands from the cities to the most rural areas. Pioneering entrepreneurs are using these technologies to improve quality of life, accelerate economic growth, and create jobs.

Seeking to inspire the next generation of business leaders within this emerging marketspace, Dannelly and Kuzma taught a three-part workshop, entitled “Ethical and Technical Entrepreneurship,” to a group of 35 university and upper secondary students.

A typical day started with a morning session on cybersecurity components, techniques, and defense. MIDN Dannelly taught principles from the Naval Academy freshman core course SI110: Cybersecurity Fundamentals. Lessons focused on the fastest growing ICT domains, such as wearable technologies, autonomous vehicles, and new modes of encryption.

Additionally, students learned basic programming skills through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hour of Code (

To help students understand ICT within a business context, MIDN Kuzma taught lessons on supply and demand, market interactions, consumer tastes, and economic development. Kuzma drew from his previous USNA international program experiences: academic study at the London School of Economics and the Brazilian Institute of Capital Markets (IBMEC), ICT education program development for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and work with a technology startup company in Kigali, Rwanda.

The Naval Academy seeks to build leaders of character. For their workshop in Uganda, the Midshipmen sought to build entrepreneurs of character. To accomplish this goal, Kuzma and Dannelly – the Brigade Character Advisor and Midshipman Action Group President respectively – drew on the ethical leadership lessons they learned in Luce Hall. In this portion of the workshop, Ugandan students discussed leadership vs. management, Aristotle’s “golden mean,” Kant’s “categorical imperative,” and case studies ranging from President Lincoln to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The students not only absorbed the information presented, but applied it in a culminating project. MIDN Dannelly and Kuzma challenged students to build the framework for a technology startup company. University students acted as the CEOs of the companies, building a team and defining the roles of the secondary students. Teams followed Simon Sinek’s framework for business development, Start with Why. Students first identified a problem within Kampala, found a technical solution, and developed a business strategy to sell their solution to potential investors.

The resulting products are described here:


  • An unmanned drone designed for search and rescue efforts after natural disasters.
  • Poor infrastructure increases the response time of first responders. 
  • SaveBot will provide an understanding of the crisis by sending encrypted communications to First Responders before they arrive on scene.


  • A biometric-validated authentication mechanism used to access confidential materials.
  • Corruption and lack of accountability among government and business leaders robs Uganda of millions of dollars each year.
  • Leaders with access to secure systems would be required to wear SecureWatch to identify their transactions on these networks thereby maintaining nonrepudiation (transparency).

Phone Safe 

  • An application designed to protect data and discourage theft of phones.
  • Phones are typically stolen for the information they contain or their resale value.
  • Phone Safe activates audio and visual alarms on the stolen phone, and allows the user to remotely erase their data.

Digital Health 

  • A network for accessing doctor consultation without meeting face to face.
  • Doctors from around the world sign in to a virtual call center to answer questions about symptoms and treatments via SMS, calls, or smartphone application. 
  • Users are given recommendations for close medical facilities and best medications.
  • Use of the service is free to users, revenues come from advertisements paid for by local medical facilities and pharmaceutical companies.
  • Data about recurring symptoms will be shared with multilateral organizations like the United Nations and World Health Organization, enabling faster reaction time to combat disease outbreaks.

The most incredible aspect of these innovative products was the backgrounds of their developers. Many students came from Uganda’s most impoverished areas, had never used a smartphone, and were the first in their family on track to attend university. MIDN Dannelly and Kuzma visited the students’ homes to meet their families and understand the adversity each student faced. Parents poured appreciation and gratitude upon the midshipmen for their work, but it was the midshipmen who were humbled by the sacrifice of these parents.

Whether these students bring their companies to fruition, or develop into the doctors, lawyers, and engineers they aspire to be, their future success is well worth the small sacrifice of two empty seats in the front row of graduation practice.

Monday, May 23, 2016

USNA Class of 2019 Conquers Herndon Monument

The plebes of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2019 met and conquered the final challenge of their freshman year during the annual Herndon Monument Climb May 23.

Working together to replace the plebe cover at the top with a midshipman cover, the plebes-no-more formed a human pyramid around the 21-foot-tall monument, ultimately capped by Midshipman 4th Class Chris Bianchi in 1:12:34.

The USNA Class of 2019 Herndon Climb

 According to legend, the plebe who replaces the plebe cover will become the first member of the class to make the rank of admiral. In the history of the Herndon Climb, this has yet to happen.

But in this case, it would be especially appropriate. Bianchi comes from a family legacy of naval service, and a tragic one. His father, Cmdr. Kevin Bianchi graduated from the academy in 1985 and served as a helicopter pilot. In 2003, he was killed in an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter crash near Naval Air Station Sigonella.

His uncle, also a helicopter pilot and 1983 academy graduate, was killed in an HH-46 helicopter crash in the Philippines in 1987, before Bianchi was born.

Rita Bianchi and her son, Class of 2019 Herndon capper MIDN 4/C Chris Bianchi

His mother, Rita Bianchi was in the crowd, watching as Bianchi made his way to the top of the Herndon Monument.

“I was praying to his dad up in heaven to just help him get to the top,” she said.

Bianchi made multiple attempts to get to the top and kept getting knocked down.

“People just kept pushing me back up. It’s good to be a little guy,” he said. “It felt amazing to be the one who actually capped it, but it’s really the people at the base that I owe it all to.”

It's the fastest a class has capped a greased monument since the Class of 1991 did it in less than an hour in 1988. It also beat the graduating Class of 2016's time – which had been the fastest in the last five years – by more than 20 minutes.

Midshipman 1st Class Patrick Lien capped the monument for the Class of 2016 three years ago.

“He was pretty fast today,” said Lien. “In the moment it’s surreal. Once you get done and the crowd dies down a bit you start to understand how much it means to everyone.”

Herndon capper from the graduating Class of 2016, MIDN
1/C Patrick Lien and this year's capper MIDN 4/C Chris Bianchi
(Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones)
Every year, the approximately 1,000 members of the academy's plebe class scale the granite obelisk in a traditional rite of passage that has been recorded since 1959. The official date of origin was never documented.

The monument is dedicated to Cmdr. William Lewis Herndon, who died in an attempt to save the crew of his steamer ship Central America during a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1857.

Find more photos from this year's Herndon Monument at the USNA Flickr site.

USNA Graduates First Cyber Operations Midshipmen

By MC2 Tyler Caswell

The first 27 of the U.S. Naval Academy’s cyber operations majors graduate May 27 with the Class of 2016.

The academy first announced its intention to offer a cyber operations major in spring 2013, and the midshipmen of the Class of 2016 were the first to be able to select it.

“It’s really a humbling experience to be one of those plankowners,” said Midshipman 1st Zac Dannelly. “It’s so unique because it’s not only the first time USNA has offered it, but really it’s the first program of this kind in the nation. It’s not just for our education and those coming behind us at USNA, but we’re kind of paving the way for how this can be taught uniquely around the nation.”

Midshipmen 1st Class Joe Dinkel, Zac Dannelly, Max Goldwasser and Bill Young
took second place in the Atlantic Council's European 9/12 Cyber Challenge

The major provides a basic foundation in computer architecture, programming, data structures, networks, the internet, database systems, information assurance, cryptography, and forensics. The technical aspects of the program are balanced with courses and electives in areas such as policy, law, ethics, and social engineering.

The cyber majors will leave USNA with a deeper understanding of the technical and broader cyber applications in the military and national services. These midshipmen are headed to the Marine Corps and a variety of Navy warfare communities.

“Cyber is all about people, technology and processes,” said Capt. David Bondura, deputy director of USNA’s Center for Cyber Security Studies. “Whether these students are going into the cryptologic warfare, air warfare, submarine warfare, surface warfare or special warfare communities, USNA is building a cadre of junior officers who are leaving here with an understanding of cyber operations – with capability, competence and confidence. This is the one warfighting domain that genuinely affects everyone across the entire warfighting spectrum.”

Rendering of the future Naval Academy Cyber Center

USNA’s location affords the capability to map the education directly towards what our nation and Navy needs, said Bondura. With resources such as Pentagon, NSA, Cyber Command and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in close proximity, it gives midshipmen the unique opportunity to provide operational relevance towards their education and research.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to do an in-semester internship program with the National Security Agency,” said Dannelly. I’m able to learn the ‘how-to’ here at USNA and then see the ‘why’ – the real-world applications and practices. Our location makes a drive to the NSA, State Department or the Pentagon very convenient, and the opposite is true for many of our guests who take their time to come speak with us.”

After completing USNA’s cyber operations program, future officers can enter advanced study or potentially choose assignments with the various military cyber-related forces in support of national security.

“These cyber operations majors have the technical understanding of what’s happening behind the screen, and additionally they understand the broader implications of what a cyber act’s effects can be,” Paul Tortora, director of USNA’s Center for Cyber Security Studies. “I think that USNA is on the leading edge of this at the undergraduate level.”

Almost doubling the graduating cyber majors, 51-plebes, or freshmen, declared cyber operations as their major earlier this year, said Tortora. For more information on USNA’s cyber operations program, visit

U.S. Naval Academy Announces Inaugural Bancroft Award Recipient

The U.S. Naval Academy will present the inaugural Bancroft Award for Exceptional Leadership Achievement to Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Superintendent of the Naval Academy will present the Bancroft Award to Ambassador Crocker during the fall semester, when he will also be invited to speak to the 4,500 member Brigade of Midshipmen.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker is escorted off the flight line by
Andrew Haviland, senior civilian representative for Regional Command (South),
on Kandahar Airfield. (Photo by Sgt. Amanda Hils)

The Academy initiated the Bancroft Award to recognize accomplished leaders who are not Naval Academy graduates and, through their personal sacrifice, unremitting determination, extraordinary vision and unwavering integrity, have made substantial contributions to the United States and who exemplify a lifelong commitment to excellence, as modeled by former Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft. Recipients will be lasting role models for current and future naval officers who are called to live lives of honor, courage and commitment.

Bancroft, a preeminent historian and statesman, established the U.S. Naval Academy in 1845.

Ambassador Crocker retired from Foreign Service in 2009 after a 37-year career but was recalled to active duty by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011. He had served as a U.S. Ambassador five times previously – to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.

Then U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan C. Crocker, center right, meets with
Rear Adm. Michael A. Lefever, center left, at the Pakistan Air Force base in Chaklala Pakistan,
to discuss the progress of earthquake relief efforts. (Photo by PH2 Timothy Smith)

Since joining the Foreign Service in 1971, he also has had assignments in Iran, Qatar, Iraq and Egypt, as well as Washington. He was assigned to the American Embassy in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the bombings of the embassy and the Marine barracks in 1983.

Ambassador Crocker is now Dean and Executive Professor at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where he holds the Edward and Howard Kruse Endowed Chair.

Ambassador Crocker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award in 2009. His other awards include the Veterans of Foreign Wars Dwight D. Eisenhower Award, the Presidential Distinguished and Meritorious Service Awards, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service and for Distinguished Public Service, the Award for Valor and the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin Award for creative dissent.

In 2004, President George W. Bush conferred on him the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the U.S. Foreign Service.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, right, receives his Honorary Marine certificate
 from U.S. Marine Sergeants Jeffery Gillit, left, and Joseph Rupp, center, at the International
Security Assistance Force Headquarters. (Photo by Sgt. April Campbell)

In 2012, he was named an Honorary Marine, the 75th civilian so honored since the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1775.

Ambassador Crocker’s lifetime achievements and sacrificial and selfless contributions to our nation eminently qualify him to be the first recipient of this prestigious award.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

U.S. Naval Academy Plebes Endure Rigorous 14-Hour Sea Trials

By MC2 Jonathan Correa

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) plebes, or freshman class, endured 14 hours of rigorous physical and mental challenges during the annual Sea Trials training exercise May 17.

Sea Trials is modeled after the Marine Corps' Crucible and the Navy's Battle Stations recruit programs. It serves as a capstone event for the plebes.

“Sea Trials is one of the culminating events to end plebe year,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Megan Rosenberger. “It is a time for them to put forth everything they have learned mentally and physically throughout the year and work together as a team. The plebes are put under pressure and stressful situations that they have to work through as a team and be able to adapt.”

Although the primary purpose of Sea Trials is to serve as a rite of passage to the plebe class, it also strengthens senior midshipmen’s roles as leaders.

“We have a phrase we say as upperclassman – ‘positive pressure with a purpose’ – and it’s to help us remember to be those leaders who are helping others, staying positive and guiding them and making sure we are building them up for success,” said Rosenberger.

The exercises took place at different locations throughout the Yard and Naval Support Activity Annapolis. Events included a variety of physical and mental challenges that simulated situations officers might encounter in the fleet and Marine Corps. Companies focused on teamwork to overcome each obstacle.

“This day is the most amazing day I have ever had,” said Midshipman 4th Class Morgan M. Jones. “I have bonded more with my company today then I have ever since arriving here back in July. This event has brought us together, and no one here has any negative energy. Everyone is helping each other out and keeping each other positive, so we can move forward and finish.”

During a ceremony at the completion of the exercise, 29th Company was named the Iron Company, recognizing them as the top performers in endurance and spirit throughout the event.

“The two lessons that were reinforced today and that is taught to you here is the importance of attitude and effort in everything you do, and the power of the human will,” said Marine Col. Stephen Liszewski, commandant of midshipmen. “These two things can shape your future in anything you do.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Naval Academy Opens Interactive Exhibit for Visitors

Visitors to the Naval Academy will now be welcomed by a new, high-tech exhibit as they enter Halsey Field House on the way to the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center.

Photo by MC2 Jonathan Correa
See more photos of the new Halsey Field House exhibit.

The exhibit features several interactive screens, including a 20’x 6’ touchscreen, interactive wall map to help visitors get an idea of locations and sites to see on the Yard. There is a station dedicated to featured graduates of USNA, interactive video screens featuring midshipmen and recent graduates who discuss admissions, academics, midshipman life, and career options, and an interactive screen that hosts the USNA Alumni Association directory and look-up.

Photo by MC2 Jonathan Correa
See more photos of the Halsey Field House exhibit.

Other features in the exhibit include nearly 700 photos and videos of life at the academy and larger-than-life photography of the academy’s most iconic moments.

Photo by MC2 Jonathan Correa
See more photos of the Halsey Field House exhibit.

The opening of this exhibit coincides with the launch of the Naval Academy on Google Street View. People now have the opportunity to explore parts of the Naval Academy before ever stepping foot on the grounds. Locations featured in Google Street View include Stribling Walk, the interior of Mahan Hall, the Chapel, and the Rotunda in Bancroft Hall, along with various outdoor walkways around the Yard.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Applying History to Shape Future Leaders

By MCSN Brianna Jones

The scene is set. It is September 1994 in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, tensions are running high between the Haitian people and the pseudo military thugs who are running the streets. Innocent civilians are being injured and killed each day by the Haitian attaches. The Marines assigned to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion are sent into the heart of the city to monitor the central police headquarters building that has been overrun by the Haitian attaches.

The block-long building has half-a-dozen Haitian militants outside the front entrance and lining the street. It is up to 1st Lt. Virg Palumbo, the leader of Second Platoon, Company E, to decide what course of action his team will take.

This scenario is the basis of an interactive lesson presented to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy by the team from the Case Method Project. The case method immerses students in a historical situation in which they must come up with their own, individual strategy to maneuver through the task at hand.

Midshipmen discuss the Case Method scenario
(Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones) 

How should Palumbo’s team approach the building? Should they come in with weapons drawn or with a more neutral approach? Where should the troops be placed around the building?

All of these questions must be carefully considered by the midshipmen as they each devise their own strategy.

The Case Method Project is a privately-funded organization that is educating the military’s future leaders. Each case is unique, and the facilitators stress the fact that there are no right or wrong solutions to the problems presented. This style of learning encourages students to come up with creative problem solving tactics and make them more comfortable with quick decision making.

“It’s applied history at its finest,” said Alexander Falbo, a historian with the Case Method Project. “These are the future leaders of our military and our nation, and here in the classroom we have the opportunity to develop their decision-making skills without their choices costing lives.”

As the facilitators begin to unfold more and more of the story, the students must continue to evolve their plans and strategies. The midshipmen each share their ideas with the group and are exposed to class critique. The students are encouraged to challenge one another’s ideas and raise new questions that the class, as a whole, may not have considered.

“A lot of times I would think my plan was pretty solid, or that there was no way it could be better, but then someone would bring up a point that hadn’t even crossed my mind and made me rethink everything,” said Midshipman 2nd  Class Louis Wohletz.

Midshipmen discuss their ideas with Alexander Falbo, historian with the
Case Method Project.
(Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones)

According to Damien O’Connell, senior fellow for the Case Method Project, the lesson facilitators should be invisible. Their job is to provide the facts of the case and keep the conversation flowing, but not to steer the student’s opinions or ideas.

“If the whole class comes to a quick consensus, we have failed,” said O’Connell. “We want to present them with situations where there are multiple variables and ways to handle the situation to really make them think.”

The three main objectives for The Case Method Project are to get the students thinking about effectively making critical decisions, to show the students a tool that they can use to train the Sailors and Marines under their command once they graduate, and to generate a deeper interest in military history.

“With a normal class where you’re just listening to a lecture, it can be hard to stay engaged,” said Wohletz. “In this class though, you had to stay alert and on your toes because you never knew when they were going to call on you to share your ideas.”

O’Connell and Falbo also want the students to walk away with a sense that their ideas are worthwhile regardless of their age or rank. Their hope is that exercises like these will give the midshipmen the confidence they need to make real world decisions once they leave the safety net of the academy.

“I think one important thing this exercise demonstrates is that great ideas are not limited to high-ranking individuals,” said Falbo. “There is value in a good strategy whether it comes from a plebe or a captain.”

The Haiti case presented to the midshipmen was unique because Virg Palumbo, a 1992 academy graduate, was present for the discussion. He stood quietly in the back of the room listening to the midshipmen brainstorm and try to maneuver the tedious situation he was dealing with so many years ago.

“It was interesting because there were a lot of points that they brought up that matched my thought process on that day,” said Palumbo.

Former Marine Virg Palumbo (USNA '97) observes a class of midshipmen discuss
a case study based on a situation in which he was involved in Haiti in 1994.
(Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones)

Once the facilitators wrapped up the story and the students decided on their final courses of action, Palumbo stood in front of the class to share the actual outcome of the day and his decision-making process through it all.

With his men placed on both corners of the building, Palumbo placed himself, his translator and radio operator directly across the street from its main entrance. After several hours of standing what seemed to be an uneventful post, an argument broke out between the Haitian militants in front of the building. In the blink of an eye, everything changed. One of the Haitian men at the doorway of the police building drew a pistol and aimed it directly at Palumbo.

Palumbo had only a split second to make a choice. He drew his weapon and fired the first shot at the Haitian men which erupted into a 30-second firefight between his men and the attaches who filled the building.

Due to Palumbo’s quick action and strategically placed team, the Marines were able to take back control of the police station with only one casualty. Miraculously, no civilians were injured in the firefight.

From studying cases like these, our future military leaders can learn from the choices of those who have come before them and develop quick decision-making skills that can greatly benefit them and the Sailors and Marines they will go on to lead upon graduation.

“This is fun, which seems to be a taboo word when talking about education,” said O’Connell. “But what we have found is that if you can get the students to have fun, they are more likely to stay engaged and be receptive to the lesson.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

War of 1812: Schoolhouse at Sea

As part of an elective history course titled "War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Schoolhouse at Sea," ten midshipmen spent the weekend on the replica tallship called the Lynx to learn hands-on the history of an important war in the development of the early U.S. Navy.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Senior Midshipmen Present Final Projects on Capstone Day

By ENS Caprice Kelty

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) held its annual Capstone Day Apr. 27. Capstone Day is an event that allows engineering students to present their work from their Capstone Senior Design course, a required course for all engineering majors.

USNA's 2016 Capstone Day (Photo by MC2 Jonathan Correa. Find more photos on
the USNA Flickr page.)

The capstone project is the culminating event in a student’s undergraduate educational experience. Midshipmen define the scope of an open-ended problem, use the tools they’ve learned in previous courses to analyze the problem and evaluate alternatives, and work as a team with their fellow students. The students are also exposed to more than 150 professionals from public, private, and sponsoring organizations such as NASA, Boeing, and Northup Grumman.

A group of five midshipmen – Midshipmen 1st Class Sean Cleary, Brock Cremean, Cody Cordero, Chris Miller, and Nathan Marshall – were among the first groups to present on Capstone Day.

The group of mechanical engineers was part of a design challenge presented by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Their task was to design a descending system that allows U.S. Air Force (USAF) Special Operations Force (SOF) personnel “to safely, rapidly, and effectively descend from medium and heavy lift helicopters and tilt rotor aircraft from altitudes in the range of 20 to 90 ft.”

USNA's 2016 Capstone Day presentations (Photo by MC2 Jonathan Correa. Find more
photos on the USNA Flickr site.)

The technique that the Air Force personnel currently use is called “fast-roping,” a very effective and practical application. But it comes with hazards such as friction burns. Using deductive reasoning, the mids went with a design that improved upon a product already on the market. Lining the inside of the gloves Air Force personnel use with Nomex, a flame resistant material commonly found in firefighter’s apparel, they were able to reduce the amount of heat the user felt.

At the challenge site, USAF SOF personnel tested the midshipman’s product and approved. During the presentation, Cleary said all but one of the SOF personnel said they didn’t feel any heat when fast-roping.

The group’s design now belongs to the AFRL for future use while the midshipmen look forward to beginning their careers as leaders in the U.S. Navy. Capstone Day is a final milestone for many senior midshipmen to complete before graduation May 27.

“We’re just a group of firsties trying to graduate,” said Cordero, a sentiment shared by many of the midshipmen presenting their projects.