KINGS POINT, N.Y., July 26, 2016 - Maritime Administrator, Paul N. Jaenichen Sr. joined Superintendent, Rear Admiral James A. Helis, Deputy Superintendent, Rear Admiral Susan Dunlap and Interim Academic Dean, David Palmer, PhD, at the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s (USMMA) annual Academic Convocation to celebrate the beginning the 2016-2017 Academic Year and to honor Captain Kenneth R. Force, the Academy’s Director of Music for over 45 years.
The ceremony began with RADM Dunlap calling the audience to attention for the arrival of the faculty, Superintendent, Academic Dean, Department Heads and senior administrative staff, who processed into Ackerman Auditorium led by the senior-ranking faculty member, Dr. Charles Weber, carrying the Academic Mace. Weber announced, "The 22nd Academic Convocation of the United States Merchant Marine Academy is now convened".
After an invocation by Command Chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Durham, Dr. Palmer welcomed the assembly and congratulated them for the many successes of the 2015-2016 Academic Year, highlighting the Class of 2016’s remarkable 100% pass rate on United States Coast Guard exams prior to graduation. He encouraged the entire Regiment of Midshipmen to challenge themselves academically, and challenged the Class of 2017 to aim for a 100% first-time pass rate.
The new Regimental Commander, Midshipman Captain Stacee Glass, addressed the regiment. She made special mention of her fellow First Classmen, who were together as a class for the first time in many months. She said, "this academic year, I encourage the Regiment of Midshipmen to constantly strive for personal growth and improvement, continue to work together, and focus on the truly important tasks at hand."
RADM Helis then addressed the packed auditorium. He congratulated, the midshipman leadership saying, "the year has gotten off to a good start with the Class of 2020 completing indoctrination (INDOC) under the primary leadership of the Class of 2017. To INDOC Regimental Commander, Midshipman Ben Wiese, well done. To the new Regimental Commander, Stacee Glass, you’ve been given a good boost to start things off."
The Superintendent went on to say, "we have so much to look forward to this year: Acceptance Day, Rings, Parents’ Weekend, Secretary’s Cup—BEAT COAST GUARD—the waterfront, athletics, band, clubs, learning, Recognition, assumption of command by 2018, licensing, June Ball, graduation. But let me also be blunt – this year, we must, we absolutely must begin to make fundamental changes at the Academy in how we operate, in how we think about education and leader development, in how we work together across the campus as one team, and in the basic ways we interact and treat each other and those around us. If we can generate the ambition to change—ourselves as individuals, together as an institution—and the willingness to not just celebrate our strengths and successes—and we have many of those—but also to recognize our shortcomings and embrace opportunities for change and growth—then we can rise to new heights. Make this a year of change."
RADM Helis introduced the Maritime Administrator, who began stating, "speaking of Academy institutions, I would like to take a moment to recognize one of the truly inspirational figures here for the past four and a half decades – CAPT Kenneth Force, who has served as Director of Music since 1971. CAPT Force is retiring, and if I were to attempt to list all of his accomplishments during his tenure we simply wouldn’t have time. Suffice it to say that his has been a "virtuoso" career of passionate leadership and creative mentorship to thousands of midshipmen, who have benefitted in ways we’ll never know from his deep love of music and the importance that music has on the Kings Point experience. I simply want to acknowledge and honor his many years of devoted service to the Academy." Then Jaenichen, as Commandant, United States Maritime Service (USMS) presented the rarely awarded "Maritime Service Superior Performance Medal to Captain Kenneth Force, USMS for exceptionally meritorious achievement and superior performance of duty."
Finally, CAPT Force took center stage – as he has done thousands of times before. He shared stories that would rival the best sea stories of any career mariner. He explained how the decision he made in Fourth Grade - to play a trumpet - led him to a lifetime of service and incredible memories. He recalled his time playing in 14 Broadway Shows, serving in the U.S. Army Band, and a brief stint playing for the Flying Wallendas during their circus act. He quoted many people who personally influenced him over the years, from his own grandmother to General Douglas McArthur. He passed along many of the lessons he learned and told the midshipmen to do the same. One of the most important messages he stressed was, "learn the history and the culture of the place you are part of - it will serve you well!" He then shared the history of the USMMA Regimental Band. One night, while on the ferry to Governors Island returning from a performance with The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, he said to himself, "I want to build that! I want to do that! That was my dream – that night, at twelve midnight. What you have had for 45 years is that night. I’ve been here because of that night. It changed me."
At one point RADM Helis said to Force, "Although the drums read, 'George M. Cohan’s Own,’ the Band as we know it is your legacy, and as long as I am here, we will have the Band, and you have an open invitation to return as a guest conductor. To which, Force replied – "I’ll be back!"