An open letter from a female midshipman

I received the letter below a few minutes ago from a female midshipman who authorized me to post it.  Other than a slight edit I made for clarity (shown in brackets) , it is copied exactly as received. I met this midshipmen when I visited at homecoming. She would be an asset to any ship’s crew and is a credit to the Academy. Bravo zulu to her.

I believe that it’s time that some clarification was made about how the midshipmen currently at USMMA feel about what is happening on our campus and at sea.

First of all, I, and most of the Academy, am in favor of the idea of trying to fix the culture at sea. I do not believe anybody is opposed to the idea of lessening the sexual assaults and “locker room” culture that is apparent at sea, our words are just twisted by the Administration into making it look like we are. What we are opposed to is the idea that is being created that everyone you meet in the Industry is some salty-dog that is going to assault you, and that we are trained to become this when we return to the Academy. It’s humiliating to both the Industry and ourselves.

 I never faced a situation aboard my ship where I felt uncomfortable due to a crew member. I was welcomed onboard by a crew of 22 men, my male sea partner, and myself. My parents questioned my safety when I first told them I would be the only female on a ship for that period of time, but I knew I was in safe hands. Between my sea partner, my trust in the crew, as well as the trust in my ATRs back at school, I knew that if something did happen, proper procedures would be taken by all the previously mentioned.

When we would go into port, I knew that I had my sea partner and the crew that traveled with us watching over me. There was in instance in port where I was caught in an alarming situation by a local in the bar, and I felt threatened and trapped, but could not come up with the words to protect myself. Before I could even voice myself, an officer from my ship grabbed the man and brought me back to where our crew was sitting. No words were needed, he could feel that I felt uncomfortable. Not once did I ever feel that way when I was onboard. The ship is their home. As cadets, we are only guests for a period of time, but in that time, it becomes our home as well. The members of the crew referred to our ship as a family, and we protect our families whenever we can. This mentality is seen all throughout the Industry.

Sea time is made for learning. Professional relationships are to be kept, just like we are taught back on campus. My crew would bend over backwards to help my sea partner and I with projects, but only if we treated them with the same respect that they willingly gave us. Sexual assault is not tolerated aboard commercial ships. My Captain told me of a time where a cadet from a state school was assaulted a few years back while he was Captain, and he made sure that the officer who did so was removed from the vessel, fired from the company, and the [Union] Hall of his actions. He did this because it would not be tolerated on his ship, and he would not stand for it to be tolerated within his fleet.

Stories like these are when I am most confused on why our Academy cannot return to commercial shipping. Two instances where cadets were in an unsafe situation, and members of the vessels stepped in, stopped it, and ensured the safety and well-being of the cadet that was harassed. There are bad seeds, I can agree to that. But there are in every field of work, and always will be.

I understand that “there are in every field of work, and always will be” is not a good enough excuse to justify their actions. And that’s not what I’m alluding to. What I mean is that there have been problems with SASH for hundreds of years in every line of work you can get into, and stopping sea year all together is not going to make the problems going away. It’s only avoiding the problem from continuing. You don’t see businesses shutting down because one person was harassed, the company needs to continue working…and our school needs to continuing teaching. Time on ROS and RRF is not going to justly satisfy the knowledge our cadets need from their sea year. MSC is a good learning experience, as many graduates apply with MSC, but there are 100+ people aboard these vessels, and it’s hard to get the hands-on learning that you receive from a crew of 24, where your work is beneficial and needed to keep the ship intact.

By stopping sea-year, we are only hurting ourselves. When the stand-down first happened, I was not opposed to it. I figured that it would be a quick stand-down where the companies would implement a harsher SASH program aboard their vessels, have a few more meetings a quarter about SASH aboard the ship, and the cadet would be back on. But now, almost 5 months later, the stand-down has seen little progress of getting midshipmen back onto commercial vessels. It has become so long that the Industry, and midshipmen, are losing hope of EVER returning to the commercial fleet while at Kings Point. The State Schools, however, are now receiving our billets onto commercial ships, and are receiving the hands-on training that separated our Academy from every other Maritime school. Their sea-year coordinators, similar to our ATRs, do less than ours do in protecting their midshipmen while out on sea, and the cadets have no safety word while aboard these ships. If anything, I feel like the Academy is far more advanced on the safety of our time at sea over any other Maritime school.

As a midshipman directly involved in the sea year stand-down, I hope that this will be resolved soon. Class of 2018 has given up on the hope that we will return to commercial shipping during our sea time. But now it has come to that we hope it is re-implemented so that the classes behind us can see why the midshipmen love sea year so much. Finally putting all of those credits to use, getting to be part of something great. We do not attend USMMA for the times we experience on campus, it is for our sea year, and we will continue fighting for the re-implementation of sea year.


  1. Congratulations and thank you to this young woman. She represents in so many ways the high quality of the many mids, both men and women, that I have met. She does not deny the existence of SASH, but she doesn’t let it define or limit her own future at sea either. She is a real leader. The best thing that could happen for the academy and for the industry is that more and more women like her spend more time at sea, eventually graduate, take jobs at sea and thereafter become the leaders that the industry might need. Her presence as an officer, and the presence prior and future women grads like her, on a ship will do more to resolve SASH issues at sea than any stand down or cultural assessments could hope to accomplish.

    Again, I don’t blame any mid for not giving their name, as the mids I have spoken to, rightly or wrongly, are scared of retaliation in some form or another if they actively and vocally express opposition to the stand down.

  2. Well thought out and we’ll stated! Only further evidence that the true hope for continued well being and excellence in our Alma Mater lie with the excellence of the members of the regiment!

  3. Clear statement that is something many can get behind.
    This stand down needs to stop before our schools name gets tarnished anymore, we are already the laughing stock of not only the American fleet but also foreign vessels. The kingspoint name is dropping all the weight it used to carry now that a sea year can be composed of 100’s of days on a retired “Naval Academy yard patrol vessel” that can be run with 2 people , but is now crewed with 45 cadets on 2 hour trips up and down the long Island sound.

  4. I absolutely and wholeheartly could not agree more to this letter that this midshipmen wrote, firstly she should be commended to writing such a worth while statement representing no doubt all midshipmen who feel very strongly about whats is happening. She is definitely a leader and was right in the sense that nothing should have stopped these midshipmen from going to sea. These drastic measures of stand down is costing a lot of time, money, education and most importantly sending a message to all that this situation is the only situation that has ever happened. Its unfortunate that Kings Point has come under scruitny from all and this whole thing could have been handled in such a different way. These midshipmen are some of the finest midshipmen that go through this academy, gruelling training, mentally and emotionally and they are all suffering unnecessary. Like she stated, no one should tolerate SASH but Kings Point should realize that this has gone on too long and its creating more issues and long lasting problems that will effect Kings Pooints future. If this midshipmen can stand up and write this letter for all then why cannot the Academy and its leaders see this is desytroying everyone and everthing that the Academy represents and get this resolved NOW. This letter should go to all congressmen and let them hear the impact that its having. This person needs a medal of honor already!!!

  5. The female midshipman starts out “I believe that it’s time that some clarification was made about how the midshipmen currently at USMMA feel about what is happening on our campus and at sea.” and that’s the last we hear about the campus. Everything I’ve read so far implies the campus is as big a problem as the ships and will be targeted during the survey process but this report doesn’t mention the campus. Any reason?

    • Actually, the reports suggest that the problem is on campus and NOT on ships. (Not that there isn’t SA/SH on ships. SA/SH exists in every facet of society; but to the extent that it has arisen to the level of a problem, the problem is on campus and not at sea. That’s what the data shows, as demonstrated here.)

      The midshipman is making the point that all but three people seem to understand — that there is not a problem during sea year that justifies the administration’s poorly thought out and unplanned decision to cancel sea year and its continued refusal to restore sea year on commercial ships.

      My guess is that the midshipman doesn’t perceive there to be a significant problem on campus either. I’m told that the current Regimental Commander, also a woman, told parents at a meeting (either at homecoming or shortly before), that she feels perfectly comfortable walking in a bathrobe in the barracks during the evening. But, to the extent that there is a problem on campus, the sea year stand down cancellation actually misdirects vital resources and prevents an effective response to the problem.

  6. Class of 2018 A-split: do not give up hope. We will continue to fight not just for the future classes but to get you out on commercial ships too.

  7. A very unfortunate and ill-thought out set of circumstances. A double whammy against the reputation of the Academy and against the whole maritime industry. This young lady is rightfully infuriated at the double-speak of what constitutes a “short” stand-down, which I read as “it will not affect your licensing requirements”. Now it becomes apparent, that it will stretch interminably, with no target date announced, and this represents the largest blow to morale of the regiment, especially to those trying to accrue more sea time. Had the DOT and MARAD decided to have all maritime schools stand down, I might have seen some consistency in action, but as this was the wrong reaction from the beginning, it makes little difference to me. Lost opportunities, misplaced leadership and a knee-jerk reaction to a supposed crisis conspired to make this happen at the hands of administrators who do not care to know or learn about the maritime industry!

  8. How does the Maritime Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation justify allowing the cadets from the state schools to fill these berths and work “in such an unsafe atmosphere”. While they may not pay all the costs for the state schools Marad and Taypayer dollars do go there. Those cadets are the sons and daughters of someone – do they not count, are their lives of no value. This is another poorly thought out program from Marad with a solution that will be slow to come and most probably more of the same dysfunction we have seen over the last few years. Own up to it gentlemen you blew it AGAIN.
    Bravo to the young lady for a very well presented case from someone in the trenches.

  9. I thank this Kings Pointer for her very informative and well written account of her experience during sea year. I was Master of an El Paso LNG tanker in 1978 when the first Kings Pointer female graduates shipped out after graduation from the Academy. That great Kings Pointer, Warren Leback, was managing the company and he hired these Kings Pointers to serve aboard our ships as mates and engineers. I can tell you there were absolutely no problems and the officers and crew showed only the highest respect for these female officers who joined our ship as the first women serving at sea as licensed officers–and, those Kings Pointers would make you proud as they did a great job. It was obvious to all of us that this was the start of a new era in the merchant marine and our industry was going to benefit from having this pool of additional officers to operate our fleet.
    The LNG ships were new to our industry and these newly licensed officers could not have served that challenging operation better. LETS GET OUR ACADEMY BACK TO SEA FOR THE UNIQUE AND ALL IMPORTANT SEA YEAR. The Academy leadership should be ashamed of the amount of time it has taken to correct their error and end the sea year stand-down.

  10. As a member of the Class of 1963, I can only remember my Sea Year as the greatest event of my life. The officers I served with had nothing but the attitude of older brothers or teachers as far as my duties and were protective and informative as far as going ashore and what to be cautious about. I salute this cadet/midshipman for an honest and forthright discussion of her experience which debunks the current course that Helis is trying to take. I would more worry about retribution from the Administration and MARAD who seem to have some Agenda that they are pursuing to denigrate the Academy and the Cadets.

  11. As KP 65’er, I still remember the Sea Year experience as the greatest experience of my professional life — the participation in both life a had read longingly about and worked so hard to attain. And guess what, 54 years ago, there were two instances of SH during the year, one against a crew member on one ship and one against my fellow Cadet on another. In both cases, the officers aboard handled it quickly without reoccurrence. As this female midshipman stated, the officers were there to both teach us and protect us – it happened then and it happens now. As other have stated, it occurs in every part of society, but at sea the interdependence of crew members is stronger that in the shoreside workplace. If my daughter had followed our profession, I would probably feel more comfortable for her safety with her on ship than I do in today’s shoreside workplace. It is by far a the home and workplace of professionals.

  12. This midshipman has written an excellent review of the sea year experience.
    I would have been delighted to have sailed with her. When I was serving on a passenger ship in post WWII years, we had several nurses and more women serving in the Stewards Dept. They were all very much appreciated and well treated by all crew members as well as the passengers. Whether I was sailing trans-Pacific or later in Round-the-World service I never experienced crew member abuse of others whether onboard or ashore. It was just not one of the things we did, or even thought about.

    When I was back at the Academy as a Faculty member, some thirty-odd years ago,I had a female midshipman come to my office and tell me that some other midshipmen were disrespectful of her. I told her that the first thing she had to do was remain respectful and resist abuse. The way that she conducted herself is very important.

    The midshipman that has written this letter is my example of how all midshipmen should conduct themselves. She is a good example for our future maritime leadership. I wish that she could be the advisor to the MARAD administrator who has no maritime experience. Unfortunately, neither does the Superintendant. Being well educated is one thing, but having appropriate experience is even more important when one is called upon to make critical decisions.

  13. Sir: IThank you for you comments.I have a daughter ( not a mid) and I have tried to teach her and guide her as best I can, as a father, on these issues.

    First: there will be some men ( and women) who act inappropriately in any profession;

    Second: do not become one of them and do not tolerate them;

    Third; most men and women DO act appropriately. Be one them.

    Fourth: never let the low lives stop u or keep u from your dreams.

    The problem at the academy is that it is not the low lives preventing mids, both male and female , from following their dreams. I think these kids are brave enough to stand up to them and not tolerate them. It is the administration that is depriving them of the chance to do so.and thus depriving them of learning how to stand up to the low lives in the face of adversity.

    I say this constantly. The answer to any SASH issue is to double down, not backdown. Put more women at sea–not less. Your experience and the comments of the woman mid who wrote this lettet proves that point.


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