Last November, the Naval Academy offered “Transgender 101” classes to staff and Midshipmen. A few weeks later, after having lost to Army 17-14 (their first loss in 15 years), the Midshipman are provided puppies for stress relief during finals. While no one thinks ill of a Midshipman in uniform petting a puppy in downtown Annapolis, the image of needing man’s best friend for stress relief during finals at the Naval Academy isn’t sitting too well with many of their Facebook followers, most of whom are associated with the Navy – fans, old salts, and many USNA grads.
Puppies and other furry friends are of course a great salve for many things – hospital patients, lonely elders, the blind, and more recently, those who suffer from PTSD. So the specter of requiring a salve for something that Midshipman have been doing since 1845 doesn’t quite compute when compared to those who have really suffered in the face of a relentless enemy.
Negative comments ranged the gamut –
There were also plenty of light-hearted comments busting on the hard-liners, and who doesn’t love a puppy? But what is the mission of the Academy ? It’s to produce warriors who are not afraid of the enemy and are willing to lay their life on the line.
Is softness accepted at the Academy? Last September, LT David Nartker (USNA 2011) was issued a punitive letter of reprimand for his role in the capture of two USN boats by Iran in January 2016, for violating Article 92, “failing to obey an order or regulation”.
The entire event was attributed to “failure at every level”, to include the critical junior leadership level and to a “lax culture for US Navy sailors,” in a devastating report from military investigators”.
And while the Navy often gets chided in good fun for safe surroundings, the SEALS and sailors face grave danger daily all across the globe. Anyone stationed in or close to the Middle East is in harm’s way just for being an American, let alone one in uniform. The USS Cole was bombed in a terrorist attack in Oct 2000, with the loss of 17 sailors and 39 injured. And last January’s embarrassing capture of two Navy boats is testament that a Naval Academy graduate’s “moment of truth” is going to come without notice, and his or her training – in toughness – will make or break the engagement.
Don’t forget that Naval Academy graduates also serve in the Marines, the same Marines which have produced General James “Mad Dog” Mattis (Central Washington U, 1971), recently nominated by President Elect Trump for Secretary of Defense and General John Kelly, commissioned as a second lieutenant via Officer Candidate’s School in 1975, and recently nominated for Secretary of Homeland Security. ’62 USNA graduate John Ripley, Colonel USMC, is memorialized at the Academy for heroism in stopping he North Vietnamese Army’s advance into South Vietnam.
While all of these men embody toughness, no doubt they have compassion for their countrymen and especially their troops. But would they encourage furry friends as a means for building toughness to lead a strong military?
Compassion and diplomacy are critical characteristics for officers at all levels. So is toughness. The ability to handle stressful combat situations is based on training in handling stress, not on looking for the nearest puppy or kitten as soon as the stress level goes up. Let’s hope the Naval Academy doesn’t forget this.
Finally, one thing you should never do is give your enemy “talking points” about your weakness. One can only imagine the West Point cadets salivating at this gift of ridicule and humor, to be on national display in Philadelphia on December 9 this year.