USMMA Midshipmen Respond to Congress Members Calling for Sea Year Suspension: Read Their Letter to Committee Leaders

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November 11, 2021

Last month, allegations by U.S. Merchant Marine Academy ‘Midshipman X’ of being sexually assaulted on a commercial ship during her Sea Year training were posted online and received national attention. In response, leaders of six Congressional committees penned a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling for the suspension of Sea Year training, which has since been initiated, and the resignation of USMMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Jack Buono (you can read the full letter to Secretary Buttigieg here). The letter also describes the culture at USMMA and the broader maritime industry as “toxic.”

In response, midshipmen at USMMA have written their own letter to the Congressmen, posted in full below, in support of USMMA, the Sea Year Training program and its importance, and Superintendent VADM Buono. A petition among midshipmen endorsing the response has already gained over 180 signatures and growing.

Here is the letter in full below:

Dear Representative DeFazio, Representative Smith, Representative Courtney, Representative Speier, Representative Carbajal, and Senator Cantwell,

We are midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). We are writing in response to your letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg regarding the Academy, its Sea Year training program, and its leadership.  It is unfortunate that we, as the students at USMMA, were not asked for our views on these topics, therefore we would like to express them here. We are in full support of the Academy, of its unequaled Sea Year training program, and of Superintendent Jack Buono, who is an inspirational and transformative leader.

Pejorative words like “toxic” were used in the letter to describe the culture of this institution. That could not be further from the truth. What we know to be true is that USMMA does not have a “toxic” culture, or we would not be here.  Our families and support systems would not allow us to be here.  

If asked, we would tell you that USMMA is an amazing institution and that Sea Year, though not perfect, is the best experience we have ever had. We would tell you that things are better today than when we arrived here and will be better tomorrow. We would tell you that we love USMMA, feel privileged to be here and that spending a year at sea training on commercial and military ships has made us fully prepared to serve the United States as officers in the merchant marine and military service.    

Furthermore, USMMA is fortunate to have the leadership of VADM Buono. He is a man who breathes maritime professionalism, military bearing, academic excellence, and positive culture change into this Academy. Our academy motto is Acta Non Verba, Deeds Not Words. We ask that you visit the Academy. Speak with us. Ask us what we think. Midshipmen circulated versions of this letter during finals week, when our only focus should have been our academics.

USMMA midshipmen strive every single day to become the best merchant marine and military officers that we can be. Nothing less is expected of us by you. We have trained on commercial and military vessels during our Sea Year as generations before us have and as generations following us should be able to do. Thousands of USMMA Midshipmen served our country at sea during the Second World War; 142 of these brave midshipmen sacrificed their lives for this great nation. There is nothing that Congress, DOT, USMMA, or any institution can do to ensure that all risk is eliminated in any situation. As you read this letter, hundreds of midshipmen stand by ready to serve the national security, marine transportation, and economic needs of the United States of America: both in peace and in war.

USMMA midshipmen are ready to fight and die for our country if needed. We have sworn an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States of America. USMMA provides the US Navy over 80% of its Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) force. Without our SSO force we will be unable to supply our forces in times of war and duress. Without the ability to supply our military, our national security cannot be guaranteed. 

The proposals contained in your letter will negatively impact our readiness. We urge Secretary Buttigieg to reinstate Sea Year immediately and return us to training on the very vessels we will join upon graduation. The actions that you all take in this matter will reinforce or diminish the national security of the United States. We trust that you will react with due diligence as the leaders we all know and trust you to be.

Respectfully,

Midshipmen of the US Merchant Marine Academy 

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