- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The U.S. Naval Academy got nearly all the members of its past two graduating classes into training exercises with the Navy fleet, a significant increase from previous years, to prepare the future naval officers better to lead during wartime, academy officials said Monday.

For the first time, the academy has even given midshipmen training experience with the Navy SEALs — the elite special-operations unit — and explosive-ordnance disposal, Capt. Matthew Klunder, commandant of midshipmen, told the academy’s Board of Visitors.

“A nation at war: you’d better be ready to go,” Capt. Klunder said, describing the reason for getting midshipmen the practical experience before they are commissioned as officers.

About 95 percent of the class of 2008 took part in the summer program, up from about 67 percent of the class of 2007. The class of 2009 had nearly as many take part as the class before it.

Since he became superintendent two years ago, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler has put a greater emphasis on getting the students real-life experience working with the enlisted ranks they will be in charge of leading when they graduate.

“The superintendent and I, since the superintendent has been here, have been absolutely committed to getting our young people out to the fleet to get that specialized warrior training,” Capt. Klunder said.

The four-week summer “Warfare Cruise” can include training on submarines, in aviation and work with Marines, as well as the special warfare and explosive-ordnance disposal.

Meanwhile, Adm. Fowler said he is “reasonably confident” the academy will meet a directive to have 65 percent of graduates complete academic majors in science, technology, engineering or math in the class of 2013.

Adm. Fowler told the board, which acts like a board of trustees at a civilian college, that the class of 2012 initially had about 69 percent of its members declare technical majors, though some have been lost by attrition.

“Even with attrition, I think we’ll be there,” Adm. Fowler said.

Members of the class of 2013 have not yet formally declared their majors.

Defined benchmarks for the number of technical majors in the Navy have varied over the years. In the early 1980s, the academy was required to have 80 percent of its students graduate with technical majors. Later that decade, the number was changed to 70 percent.

In the 1990s, Navy leadership got away from demanding a particular number of graduates with those technical degrees.

The average number of midshipmen with technical majors dropped to 59 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to data released at a board meeting in December 2007, when the new directive was announced . Adm. Fowler told the board that about 61 percent of the academy’s graduates who go on to be Navy officers earn those technical degrees, not counting the academy’s Marine Corps commissions.

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