A #WARFIGHTING Heritage at the U.S. Naval Academy

U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen lead their company past Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the guest of honor and reviewing officer, during a pass and review midshipmen parade at the academy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

By Commander William Marks, USNA Class of ‘96

With the Naval Academy’s birthday on October 10th celebrated each year just three days earlier than the U.S. Navy’s, now is the perfect time to reflect upon the parallels of the two institutions through the years.

Founded in 1845, the Naval Academy and its graduates are immersed in the history of our nation. Our heritage and our warfighting are inseparable, for in our history of daring and courage is a foundation of warfighting and readiness.

If you’re a student of Naval history you may already heard about the leadership and courage of legendary Naval Academy graduates such as George Dewey, Arleigh Burke and Chester Nimitz, or perhaps the more recent examples of fortitude and strength such as James Stockdale, John Ripley and our many Navy SEAL graduates. These Naval Academy graduates forged their reputations on warfighting and have etched their names as legends in our national soul. These officers exemplify the pinnacle of leadership in warfighting, and have laid the foundation for our illustrious Naval heritage.

Our history also includes others just as significant yet perhaps not as well-known. From Alan Shepard and Wally Schirra to Sunita Williams (who just last week completed a triathlon in space), USNA has produced more astronauts than any other institution in the nation. USNA has also produced 46 Rhodes scholars and even two Nobel Prize winners. They all started their careers as warfighters.
Naval Academy graduates also have deep roots in government service beyond their years in the Navy and Marine Corps. In graduating leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have the potential to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government, we count amongst our alumni President Jimmy Carter, 16 ambassadors, business and civic leaders such as Ross Perot and General Motors CEO Dan Akerson. These are but a few in a long line of public servants who started their careers as Midshipmen.

Naval Academy graduates are entrenched in the history of our nation because our goal is to graduate leaders with the potential for future development in mind and character. The journey only starts at the Naval Academy. Midshipmen graduating today must, and do, have the thirst to continue to develop themselves mind, body, and soul to be always ready to face the challenges of the future.

We are helped in this process by our customers, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, who charter us to commission roughly 750 Ensigns and 250 Second Lieutenants each year. Our national security depends on these young men and women must succeed in the challenges they will face as junior officers. Our graduates will be challenged with questions of ethics that would have sounded like science fiction a decade ago. Drone warfare, unmanned vehicles, cyber warfare and other technological advances have changed our risk/reward calculations and must be balanced against issues of national sovereignty and human rights.

The Class of 2002 has documented their lives in the shadow of greatness, and more recent graduates like Brad Snyder and Ian Cameron are writing our modern day history as you read this. As a result, much of our focus at the Naval Academy is on providing them with the tools to face the conflicts of today and tomorrow while also planting the seeds that will bear the fruits of victory three decades hence. This is the face of warfighting in the 21st century. Whether the year is 1812, 1912 or 2012, the U.S. Navy and Naval Academy exemplify the next generation of warfighters to serve our nation.