U.S. Merchant Marine Academy alum and former Westbury resident Jack Buono was sworn in to lead the academy as its new superintendent Friday afternoon, promising both to “wage a war on complacency” and to showcase the academy’s importance.
Buono, a 1978 Kings Point alum, touted the academy’s status as a federal service academy whose graduates overcome incredible odds to supply the military, deliver energy and protect national security in peace and in war.
He then asked if each of those things should be considered “a best kept secret,” to which audience members shouted a resounding “No!”
“Many great people, including presidents, have said that among the five federal service academies, Kings Point is the best kept secret,” Buono told midshipmen. “I say to you on this, our 75th anniversary here, we will be the best kept secret no longer.”
Buono, most recently the president and CEO of SeaRiver Maritime Inc., succeeds Rear Adm. Susan Dunlap, who served as the acting superintendent between his and Rear Adm. James Helis’ tenure.
The appointment also follows Helis, who was superintendent for six years, accepting a position as special assistant to Mark Buzby, who heads the Maritime Administration, which oversees the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Buono touched on the academy going through “turbulent waters” in his speech.
“Our academy has navigated through turbulent waters over the last few years. Now hear this,” Buono said. “Whether in regimental formation or in our classrooms or in athletic competition, leadership is not standing taller than your shipmates. Leadership is about helping our shipmates taller than yourself.”
“Any act of disrespect towards a shipmate is an act of disrespect toward the regiment,” Buono continued. “Similarly, any act of support and encouragement is an act of support and encouragement towards us all.”
During Helis’ tenure, the academy had risked losing – but ultimately regained – its accreditation status from the Middle States Commission. The accrediting institution had issued a warning that the school needed to meet its standards on leadership and governance, administration, student support services, resources and institutional planning.
The academy had also temporarily suspended Sea Year, where midshipmen spend time aboard a merchant vessel, and hold student training for acceptable behavior following reports of bullying and sexual harassment.
The USMMA men’s soccer season also had to be cancelled due to a federal investigation into alleged sexual miscount by seven of its players on a team bus, prompting a $5 million claim against the academy, the athletes, and its leaders.
Under Helis’ supervision, the academy hired people to deal with sexual misconduct, expanded its response program, and added resources like a 24-hour hotline available to midship during Sea Year.
Asked about some of the issues the academy has faced in recent years, Buono said there are “exemplary” students coming into the academy, it’s his job to make sure they come out “in better form,” and that he has “many ideas” on how to improve academic life.
“Rest assured that coming into the job, I’m aware of the challenges I have ahead and am very excited about what we will be able to do together to improve on an already excellent institution,” Buono said.
Among the superintendent’s responsibilities are providing “executive leadership,” implementing “near-term and long range strategic planning,” and developing a program to communicate the academy’s mission.
“Jack Buono is the ideal candidate to take the Academy to the next level,” Buzby previously said. “He has impeccable credentials on the waterfront and, as an alumnus, full understands the Academy’s mission to provide its students with the highest caliber of training and education need to lead afloat and ashore.”