By Dave and Sue Collins
This month, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy will celebrate its 75th year of service to our national security. Sometimes called the “forgotten fifth” service academy because the “name brand” schools – i.e., West Point and the Naval Academy – attract headlines, in our family, the USMMA stands as proud and tall as its sister academies.
Our son, David Collins, is a first classman and an engineering major from North Kingstown.
As with other service academies, David required a Congressional nomination to attend USMMA. He was nominated by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and we are eternally grateful to him.
Being a parent of a USMMA midshipman makes me very proud, but David’s phenomenal education has also opened our eyes to the academy’s rich history, its role in global commerce, and the realization that the United States simply cannot win a major war without the Merchant Marine.
The Merchant Marine is a fleet of government and commercial vessels that serve the nation in peace and war. In peacetime, these vessels transport goods globally. In wartime, the fleet becomes an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy, transporting troops, supplies and weapons to war zones. The U.S. Navy Strategic Sealift Officer, or SSO, force is an elite corps that can be deployed rapidly to transport and sustain U.S. forces worldwide. The mariners commanding these vessels need an extensive set of sophisticated maritime skills not offered in traditional military trainings.
It is for this purpose that, 75 years ago, the USMMA was founded. Situated in Kings Point, New York, it is one of five federal service academies that train our nation’s best, brightest officers to protect the nation. In exchange for an education at these elite institutions, outstanding young men and women agree to an eight-year military service obligation.
USMMA midshipmen must complete a demanding curriculum of 164 credits, including 12 months of unique, experiential training at sea on commercial ships. USMMA is also unique in that all students are licensed merchant marine officers by the time they graduate.
USMMA is also the only maritime school in which 100 percent of its graduates incur a five-year federal service obligation and an eight-year armed forces reserve obligation. Graduates meet their five-year obligation by serving as an officer in the merchant marine or, upon approval, entering active military duty immediately upon graduation. Many meet their reserve commitment by serving in the USN’s Strategic Sealift Officers force for eight years.
Upon graduation, David plans to work in the maritime industry, sailing on his third assistant engineer’s license with MSC, or Military Sealift Command.
Some 200 USMMA midshipmen graduate annually – each with the requisite merchant marine officers’ license and a statutory military service obligation. In fact, over 80 percent of the SSO force are USMMA graduates.
David sailed on a container, an oil tanker and a hospital ship as a cadet, as well as spending a month in a shipyard in China. We’re incredibly proud of his achievements thus far, and look forward to watching him navigate the course ahead.
During a commencement speech to USMMA graduates this past June, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told USMMA graduates: “You’re going to sustain our allies and fuel our ships and ferry our warriors. It’s as simple as that and we’re going to need you as we see the storm clouds gather.”
As parents, we pray these storm clouds never come, but, if they do, we know our son will be prepared because of his four years at the USMMA.
The authors are residents of North Kingstown.