Rear Admiral James A. Helis, USMMA Superintendant

Rear Admiral James A. Helis, USMMA Superintendant

For anyone who witnessed last week’s ridiculous public back-and-forth between the US Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and the Superintendent’s Office, it was rather shocking, but par for the course when it comes to the drama which has unfolded at the battered federal academy in recent years.

Things really got ugly in 2011 when the DOT Secretary accepted former KP Superintendent, Admiral Phil Greene’s resignation.  It was clear from the beginning that this was not a voluntary resignation, but nobody at the DOT said anything substantial about it.  Really weird circumstances about what may have happened popped up on the gCaptain forum, along with extremely positive notes about what a great job Admiral Greene was doing.

Soon after, Kings Point lost their training ship in exchange for a super-sized Yard Patrol Craft and the GMATS training school was shut down.

A cold war quickly ensued between the Alumni Association and the US Maritime Administration.

Last week, the Kings Point Alumni Association sent out a rather one-sided call for action against the Superintendent’s decision to boot the Association off campus.  In reality, it was probably one step below a full-on mutiny.

A day later, the Superintendent responded which his side of the story, but both sides have egg dripping from their faces.

Not wanting to take sides in this (for obvious reasons), I figured I’d ask the Superintendent some direct questions to help explain a bit more about the extreme bitterness between his office and the Alumni.  Here’s what I asked him:

  1. With the rent discrepancy identified, why aren’t the parties at the table negotiating in good faith to resolve what is apparently an inadvertent error?
  2. If the space is really needed – why even present the offer or discussion of leasing it to the Alumni Foundation?  This reason of needing the space seems contrary to offering to lease it.
  3. What are the immediate plans for use of the space necessitating the eviction on April 30, 2013?
  4. Considering that pretty much everything the Alumni Association and Foundation collects in revenues goes straight to Kings Point anyway, why charge rent?
  5. There are allegations and rumors of this being in retaliation for positions the Alumni have taken and for questioned actions taken by the Administration without explanation – e.g. the firing of Adm Green and the rumors around that , getting rid of the training vessel, etc.. What can you say to help mitigate these rumors and allegations?
  6. Considering the declining state of the US Merchant Marine, the Administration’s granting of Jones Act waivers, the reduction in cargo preference for US Flag tonnage, MARAD’s strategic shift toward a brown water focus vs international blue water shipping… What is the compelling national interest in having a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy?
  7. There is a rift in the Alumni Association with a gentlemen by the name of Gary Hicks, who formed a splinter group of sorts that was threatened with legal action by the USMMAAA.  The group, called KPA was eventually disbanded.  My question is, does the US Merchant Marine Academy, in any way, support Gary Hicks?  If so, please explain.

We received a response today from the Superintendent’s office stating:

We’ve addressed most of your questions regarding the Foundation’s use of the Babson Center and other topics in a message posted on our website.  You can see it, along with the initial letter sent the Foundation, here:

Question six was not addressed and the answer is posted below:

What is the compelling national interest in having a U.S. Merchant Marine?

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy educates and graduates licensed merchant mariners and leaders of exemplary character who serve the nation’s marine transportation and defense needs in peace and war. All midshipmen have a service obligation to the country as well as filling essential roles as leaders across the marine transportation industry, which is vital to our economy and defense needs.

The Academy is one of largest sources of newly licensed mariners each year, and our service obligation requirements are unique and differentiate the federal academy.  U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduates are in high demand in the maritime industry with a near 100 percent placement rate following graduation.

Even well past their obligation period requiring military reservist duty and active sailing on their license, Academy graduates continue to play essential roles as leaders across the marine transportation industry.  In addition, every year at least 25% of the graduating class enlists in active service in one of federal armed services.

As anyone can see from his response above, this is not the sort of answer that anyone in Congress would accept as a justification to keep the US Merchant Marine Academy funded.  Most, if not all of my other questions were dodged, or flatly ignored.

As I type this, US Merchant Marine Academy Alumni are engaging with Capitol Hill in order to force the issue, and if I were to guess, they will likely get the support they are looking for to get the real answers.

It’s unfortunate that things have come to this, most especially for the cadets who must be viewing this unfolding drama with complete bewilderment.

It’s certainly not fair to them, or in the best interest of the US Merchant Marine.

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  • The Usual Suspect

    Called Senator Patty Murray’s office in DC last week; still haven’t heard back from her office on this issue.

  • A Mariner

    Perhaps the USMMA should be shifted to Military Sealift Command (MSC) and then graduates must sail with MSC to meet their obligation. Then the students can be under Navy authority while attending school instead of under the fake US Mystery Service.

  • Ricardo Moreno

    There has been a deplorable shift towards the military. We are MERCHANT officers, definitely NOT naval officers, even though many choose to join the Navy. We are, essentially, civilians. I hope Kings Point will not deteriorate further. Maybe that is why the U.S. merchant marine has gone to pieces. Remember, I’m looking at the situation from a distant shore, but my loyalty to K.P. will last as long as I live.

    Ricardo Moreno, Class of June 1951

  • A Mariner

    Ricardo, understand your perspective. However, besides Jones Act and subsidized where are the US Flagged ships? MSC meets the need for moving military cargo and it has been federalized. So KP’ers can meet their obligation as a Civilian Mariner with them. This would reduce the recruitment needs by the federal gov’t for a virtually debt free education to the students. Afterall, the other academies require gov’t service over commercial employment.

    • Cape Cod Charlie

      “A Mariner” – your suggestion is a most outstanding one. So utterly obvious that it is missed when looking at the big picture and trying to figure out a honest, equitable commitment needed to justify the free 4-year USMMA education (doing reserve duty is not a justifiable or ethical reason).

      KP Alumni, especially the mossback ones, understandably want to keep Kings Point as a source of officers for the “once upon a time” American merchant marine. But that ship sailed 50 years ago; sank beyond the horizon; and is never coming back. There is NO honest justification for spending tight tax payer money on the USMMA. But suggestion hits the nail’s head with a sledge hammer. Thank you!!

      • A Mariner

        3C, thanks for your reflection into my idea. I graduated in the late 1990’s and currently serve active duty. I am most thankful to the opportunity the USMMA provided.

        However, much of the issues here and surrounding lie solely with the federal government and are not the alumni to solve.

        I hated being at the school and dealing with all the fake bullsh*t of a regiment led by completely fake and unrecognized uniformed GS civilians.

        I actually contact the admission department to obtain the current contract. The contract contains nothing about subjecting themselves to the school regimental system.

  • Ricardo Moreno

    I think we have to look at the USMMA from a different perspective, if I may say so – from a civilian and pragmatic point of view. Surely there are enough KP graduates who can steer our Academy. Why bring in an Army Colonel? What on earth does the army have to do with the merchant marine? In essence, we transport people and goods by sea. The rest is a caricature of the navy. “East is East and West is West” and we meet only in time of war.

    Ricardo Moreno, Class of June 1951

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