Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 30, 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy declaring, “The Academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis serves the Navy.” The President knew the Merchant Marine was critical to turning the tide and America’s eventual victory.
I am proud to represent the Academy’s home at Kings Point, and serve on the Board of Visitors. In honor of the Academy’s 75th anniversary, I have introduced a bipartisan Congressional resolution acknowledging the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s role in protecting our nation.
The Merchant Marine is a fleet of government and commercial vessels that can be tapped in times of war. In fact, it has played a decisive role in every major U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War. We simply cannot win a major war without the Merchant Marine moving troops and countless tons of supplies to war zones.
The USMMA is a unique institution. While less known than its sister academies, it is equal in terms of academic rigor. Midshipmen are required to complete a demanding four-year program during their three years at the Academy and twelve months of hands-on training at sea.
During Sea Year, the Academy’s signature training program, midshipmen are assigned to commercial vessels as deck and engineering officers in training. In place since the Academy’s founding, this immersive partnership between the Academy and commercial shipping companies has been one of the most successful and enduring public-private partnerships in U.S. history. Nothing comparable is offered at any other college, university, or federal service academy.
Another fact that distinguishes the Academy from its peers: in 1974 and 1978, respectively, the USMMA became the first federal service academy to admit and graduate women. Today, these pioneers and the women that followed are today’s leaders in the armed services and on the very commercial vessels that can be called into service. I am committed to ensuring the USMMA is inclusive and safe for all students, progressive on women’s rights as it has been historically.
Recently, I helped pass legislation to help provide a safer environment for all cadets. The Academy continues to make progress and I support efforts all efforts to help return the USMMA to the premier institution for maritime education in the country.
Tragically, the USMMA is also the only academy whose students have engaged in combat. Of the Merchant Mariners killed in WWII, 142 were Academy cadets undergoing their Sear Year training. As a result, the USMMA is the only federal academy to have lost students in combat, and the only one to have been awarded a Battle Standard, recognizing those sacrifices.
Seventeen years ago, USMMA midshipmen demonstrated heroism once again, this time on the New York home front. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, staff and midshipmen evacuated civilians from lower Manhattan and transported first responders and supplies to Ground Zero.
Like other federal service academy graduates, USMMA graduates commit to eight years of service to the nation, including a minimum of five years on U.S. Flag Fleet merchant ships and a minimum of eight years in an Armed Forces reserve unit, or five years of active duty in the armed forces. You cannot put a price tag on the service obligation. Policymakers in the Pentagon sleep better knowing they can tap such expertise in times of conflict.
During wartime, the majority of the licensed merchant mariners who assist in military efforts are USMMA graduates. The U.S. depends on these committed mariners to move weapons, ammunition, troops, equipment, fuel and supplies. Without this guaranteed pipeline of expert merchant marine officers, the U.S. military would be unable to execute wartime operations around the globe.
During peacetime, USMMA graduates serve as licensed officers on commercial vessels, transporting goods around the world in service of U.S. economic growth. USMMA graduates make up over 80 percent of the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officer program and are readily available to support critical sealift maritime operations in times of national defense and emergency, as they have done time and time again.
USMMA midshipmen and alumni exemplify the Academy’s motto Acta Non Verba, “deeds not words,” by faithfully serving in times of both war and peace, continuously demonstrating their deep commitment to the people of the United States and the safety of our nation.
Congressional resolutions express the gratitude of the American people. To all of the current midshipmen, alumni, faculty and staff, I thank you for your service to the nation.
Happy anniversary, USMMA!
Congressman Tom Suozzi