I posted this elsewhere, but I think it belongs on this thread:
First off, I have been a long-time observer of these forums. And to be honest have always abstained from posting due to how quickly these threads deteriorate into the same posters rallying together to kick a little more dirt on the USMMA. I have to agree with the sentiment that the constant bashing is detrimental to everyone’s best interest and only goes to decrease the support we need. I have had more than a few shoreside people reference some of the pure crap that is said in these forums and applied it as a wholesale verdict on the US Merchant Marine. Note, there is no Academy in that. I reference all of the recent Jones Act articles I have seen popping up on this site as proof that we are devaluing ourselves. So, on this note, I too agree, use a little discretion for everyone’s sake.
Secondly, while there as disagreement as to KP’s mission, usefulness, or viability I think we can all agree that at a time when this world was in crisis and fighting a second world war, the USMMA served a proud mission with midshipmen who did their duty with valor. These were kids, like the midshipmen today, going to sea during war directly assisting in winning the war by getting the bullets to the front lines. I have heard stories of guys standing on the bow in a convoy and seeing a torpedo go past their bow and into the side of the ship next to them. Stories of guys sleeping in life preservers, just in case. Some of these guys are those of whom were never heard from again. That legacy is something I think anyone addressing the academy should bear in mind.
Thirdly, as far as the academy goes today I hear sentiments of “De- fund MARAD, close KP”. Let kids go to a state school and work their way through college so they know what it is like to actually earn something. First of all, defunding MARAD will hurt the other maritime academies. That is where their training ships and fuel to do their summer cruises come from. Why are we killing the next generation of maritime officers? But, people read that without any education of the industry and take it as gospel because the guy who wrote it from the industry.
Close KP? Well, if Helis thinks the mission of the academy is just to send out “leaders” then we do have a problem. That is not the intent or mission of the academy, and the people making the most important decisions up there have strayed from the intended purpose of the school. If you believe that our country has a national security interest in getting away from foreign oil, or that it is an interest of national security to have ships at the ready to respond to a crisis, then I think you have cases for the purpose of the USMMA. We desperately need a steady flow of officers filling the void that the baby-boomer generation is leaving behind. That combined with the increased regulation and requirements for upgrading it is almost impossible for a “hawse-piper” to make it these days. The offshore industry is moving farther out, with bigger rigs, drill ships, bigger supply boats, and AHTS vessels that are small ships. The bayous don’t have enough guys to fill these jobs or the ability to pay for the courses to upgrade. Not to mention being able to afford to take the time off to take those courses. The companies just aren’t there to help.
“Just go to another academy.” Well, the insanely high and continually soaring tuition costs are not isolated to Harvard, Princeton, MIT and all the other traditional universities. And to imply that just because you worked your way through college scrubbing toilets and pumping gas while some kid got a “golden ticket” is how it works with everyone that goes through the USMMA is using a broad generalization. I came from less than humble beginnings and still had to work off campus to pay for the loans I needed to even afford to be at KP at it’s reduced cost. In case you didn’t know, it isn’t totally free. And I was definitely not the only one in that situation. Not to mention, that once you are at the academy you are still doing 20+ credit hours, regimental activities every day, and a sport. The attrition rate is incredibly high. So, I would say we earned it just as much.
Fourthly, I see this recurring theme that the Alumni association is some mafia or secret society that gives the graduate a golden ticket to excel into an upper-management position is ludicrous. Or even that the alumni are all products of drinking the kool-aid and being ego-maniacs once they come out. Again, broad strokes being painted here. Very broad generalizations. I have experienced no such thing and have been very successful up to this point based solely on the work ethic and determination I had to develop at KP. And of late, any success from somebody “looking out” for me that has helped climbing any ladder or getting a shot to move up has been from well-established alumni from SUNY. Are there tight knit groups of people from KP looking out for each other? Yes, and they were usually roommates, or class mates. Sometimes not. Just fellow alumni. But any school has that. That is the point of an alumni group. You look out for each other. Some associations are better than others. But, that is not singular to USMMA.
Lastly, in this sentiment that I keep seeing I read about the kids going to KP being rejects from the “real” service academies. Well, I would hate for any current midshipmen to read that. That is not doing them any favors putting them down like that with another broad generalization of the USMMA population. While there is a small population of midshipman every year that show up to KP because their first choice service academy (or even 2nd and 3rd choice) did not accept them, that is by far a small percentage. Many of my classmates were sons/daughters of chief engineers, captains, harbor pilots, maritime attorneys, cargo surveyors, etc. I for one was not. I just wanted to go to a maritime academy. And, since I couldn’t afford to go to any state academies (I would have to pay out of state tuition) USMMA was my choice. But, some kids do show up with KP as their last alternative for attending a service academy. Often they are ill informed as to what they are really getting into. But, that is not their fault. In my experience, the attrition rate is high enough as it is, and many of these individuals don’t hold out because going to sea wasn’t something they wanted to do. Some do make it. But, they also go on to do well and fulfill their obligations just like everyone else. Often, they see KP as a better choice in the end.
I would continue, but I have said my piece. And while I am sure there will be fervent responses from supposed hard-core individuals with way too much time on their hands to commit sooooo many responses and still be worth their salt running a ship or standing a watch, I hope that anyone trying to educate themselves on the industry and USMMA sift through all the other garbage and at least glance upon this. There are a few loud ruffians, but the silent professionals are still around and maintain a proud tradition with a sense of decorum. Fair winds, following seas gentlemen.