In recent years, the Naval Academy and the Coast Guard Academy have felt compelled to push additional specialization training earlier and earlier in a man’s career in order to allow him to maximize his ability and optimize his usefulness to the service. Thus, the academies provide the background training for all the specialization that follows graduation.
This specialization background serves two purposes: (1) it provides the cadet or midshipman with an overview of all the specialties in which he can become involved, thus allowing him a better opportunity to decide in what field he would like to specialize, and (2) by starting the specialization early, the officer will have less to "catch up” with when he enters postgraduate school or other post-commissioning training. While these are admirable and legitimate goals, one area of specialization that seems to lack sufficient background training availability is in the development of seagoing officers—ironically, the training area for which the academies were originally founded.
This "school of the sea” training must be gained before reporting on board, especially in the case of an officer who is determined to become a line officer. Seamanship and ship-handling must be learned, as much as possible, at the academies.
The Naval Academy’s catalog states that a midshipman, during his tenure, will obtain some 2,000 hours of training in professional areas—this constitutes only 25% of a midshipman’s total training. These 2,000 hours include drill, orientation, physical education, and seamanship, plus courses in professional studies. These professional studies include one introductory course to seamanship, nine courses from the Department of Seamanship and Tactics and the Department of Navigation, and one course from the Department of Weapons and Systems Engineering.
This number does not even compare favorably with the Department of Physics which has some two dozen physics courses available. Admittedly, many of the courses in physics, English, etc., are electives while most of the aforementioned courses and all additional military training are mandatory. But still, the fact is that the midshipman spends at least three times as much of his classroom time on academic pursuits as he does on the problems of going to sea.
The counter argument is that the summer programs compensate for any deficiencies in the seagoing training conducted during the school year. Plebe summer probably accomplishes next to nothing so far as seamanship is concerned. Second class summer is spent on the important orientation in the areas of flight, submarines, the Marine Corps, and, perhaps surprisingly, surface line operations. That leaves only two summers—four months—for fleet training.
But all this training is mandatory. What if the midshipman desires to take some electives in shiphandling or seamanship? Unfortunately, there are only three electives in professional studies!
Is the other national military academy for seagoing officers, the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut, doing any better?
The Professional Studies Department at the Coast Guard Academy has a total of ten courses. Six of these courses are in law, the others are required courses dealing with nautical science. These courses cover everything from rules of the road to celestial navigation and weapon systems. There are no optional courses dealing with seamanship. If the aspiring cadet has a penchant for Colonial America or numerical analysis, he can take courses in those subjects, but if he would like to learn more of the ways of a ship at sea, he’s out of luck.
Military training that takes place during the guardsman’s academic year is not unlike that of his Annapolis counterpart. The summer programs for the fourth and second class years are not greatly dissimilar save the summer spent on the Eagle.
The summer cruise program at the Coast Guard Academy, for third and first class cadets, involves sending as many as 100 cadets to a single cutter for summer training. Supposedly, this system allows the cadets to assume all the jobs on a ship and to become familiar with the overall operations of the vessel. Instead, an artificial environment is created and the applicability to true operational functions disappears. While some get assignments to regular Coast Guard units, most Coast Guard Academy cadets go on the "group plan" and labor under the misconception that a cadet cruise is typical of Coast Guard operations. The author can state from personal experience, both as a cadet and as an officer on board a ship used for cadet training, that the cadet cruise relates to normal operations only in that it involves a ship on water.
The problem then, apparently, is that the seagoing military academies do not conduct in-depth training and background for the seagoing line officer. Some would insist that the day of the "all-around" line officer is past, for he is being supplemented with, or substituted for, by specialists. And thus it is the duty of the academies to produce such specialists.
But if the specialists are needed, why not obtain them from schools which are themselves specialized?
If we are to retain the academies, it would seem that we should attempt to make them what they were originally; training institutions for seagoing officers.