Message from USNA Superintendent
14 July 2000

The Superintendent of the U. S. Naval Academy, Vice Admiral John Ryan, has asked that we forward this to you so that you can give it the widest dissemination.

George P. Watt, Jr.
President and CEO
U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association

July 14, 2000

Naval Academy Alumni/Parents/and Friends:

By now, media accounts of two midshipmen recently charged with sexual assault have been widely distributed and have understandably generated concern among a number of our supporters.  A few very frustrated individuals have even demanded that I summarily dismiss those involved.  The Maryland State's Attorney and local police have jurisdiction in this matter, and since this case is still under investigation with further legal proceedings pending, it would be inappropriate to comment on the substance of the charges.  The Constitution guarantees these midshipmen due process of the law and requires me to act responsibly and give deference to the on-going State proceedings.  As Superintendent, I understand clearly my responsibilities as a military commander and assure you that at the correct time, and based on the facts, I will take appropriate action.

It is important to understand the vast majority of the Brigade abides by our regulations and consistently displays exemplary conduct.  Observing them closely through personal contact, the Commandant and I could not be more proud of their performance.  They truly represent America and the Naval Academy in a manner each of you would expect.

I want to reassure you that we continue to improve our comprehensive programs of instruction for all midshipmen concerning expected standards of behavior.  Beginning with Plebe Summer and continuing throughout the four-year immersion program, all midshipmen are thoroughly instructed on our core values and the critical importance of their character development.  Midshipmen are frequently counseled to avoid alcohol abuse or underage drinking and given real life examples of how this behavior often leads to even more serious problems or criminal offenses.  Just as in your day or mine, a small number of midshipmen choose to learn the hard way, often with tragic circumstances.  This year, slightly more than 100 midshipmen have been separated for not meeting our high standards.

Our standards are widely communicated through a variety of means - through company, platoon and squad leadership, through basic leadership courses, by our medical staff, our chaplains, through lectures by renowned experts, and through regular Superintendent and Commandant Calls.  While we have taken positive steps to educate midshipmen on the importance of avoiding alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct problems, we are not immune from these issues and must appropriately address them when they occur.

This recent incident is both tragic and disappointing for the midshipmen involved and their families, but it is an isolated occurrence, and does not represent the overall high standard of behavior exhibited by the majority of midshipmen.  As supporters of this proud institution, you have my personal assurance that the Naval Academy remains completely committed to the highest standards of behavior and we will not be deterred by the occasional misconduct of a few.  As we have for the last 155 years, we intend to continue to produce outstanding young officers and future leaders for our country.


John Ryan

Letter from the Chairman of the Board, USNAAA
20 July 2000

Subject:    Letter from the Chairman of the Board, USNAAA
     Date:   Thu, 20 Jul 2000 21:04:48 -0400
     From:  "U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association" <>

Dear Fellow Alumni,

        By now you have had the opportunity to read Vice Admiral John Ryan's assessment of the alleged sexual assault that involved three Midshipmen - two men and one woman.  As expected, we have received many responses and/or comments to/on that letter.  A rough evaluation would suggest that John's actions enjoy alumni support at a ratio greater than 14-1. I would tell you that any decision-maker faced with a tough problem would welcome that level of full support.  That being said, we need to understand that John was advising us of his activities, not inviting us to provide guidance.  In that regard, we need to understand that he is the Superintendent.  He is in Command.  And, importantly, he is commanding.

        Since coming on board as the Superintendent, John Ryan has done what many senior officers in his position have done - he has sought advice and counsel on a number of hefty issues.  He understands, as we all must, that this advice and counsel is valuable and frequently provides insights that he and his staff might not have considered.  However, he also knows that when the talking is over, decisions are made by that one officer who is in command and who accepts the responsibility to be held accountable for his decisions.  You will all recall that one of the first things we were all taught at the Academy was the relationship between command, responsibility and accountability.  That has not changed.

        In fact, on the issue of seeking advice, John Ryan has gone well beyond what many might have done in his position.  Immediately following his assumption of command, John recognized that if he were going to build on the work of his predecessors he needed a Strategic Plan.  In preparing his plan he requested, received, and seriously considered literally thousands of inputs from alumni.  This was done through focus groups, letters, and interactions with chapters and individual alumni around the country.  Frankly, I am very proud that our Alumni Association staff, as well as many of you, was in effect, an integral part of the Superintendent's staff in this process.  I am particularly proud that the Alumni Association provided much of the communication infrastructure to support the Supe's efforts.  My point here is to underscore the importance that the Superintendent places on our advice.  But, again, I will also underscore the fact that we can only advise; it is he who must make the decisions.

        Many of you know that during my last tour of duty I was involved in some of the most complex operations that our military had experienced in some time.  Multinational coalitions doing "Peace Support" operations in the Balkans can mean a lot of different things to different people.  There, hate, fear, suspicions and God only knows what other emotions were at work.  And few of them seem to be in harmony with where the international community was trying to go, insofar as an "end state".  As I was turning over my Command to my relief, I told him that he would find two things to be very true in his new position.  One was that the farther away some people were from the problem, the more apt they were to have a solution to it.  Second, I suggested that those who shouted loudest for this or that action bore absolutely no responsibility for the consequences of the actions proposed.

My point in passing this to him was to convey that, in his position as the Commander he could expect to receive all sorts of guidance and advice from a variety of sources.  But, as the guy on scene he would know better how do address the many and difficult problems than anyone else.  That is sort of where we are with John Ryan at the Academy.  We all love the Academy and what it stands for.  We all want it to be all that we think it should be.  We all want to see "warrior graduates" who reflect the sense of honor, commitment and courage that we saw in our classmates and ourselves.  We occasionally see things that we do not like and, frankly, we react, in some cases, as if the man at the scene either can't or doesn't take the actions necessary to set things right the way we want them set right.  But what we really need to remember is that John Ryan is one of us.  He has the same love, the same commitment and the same sense of urgency to maintain the level of professionalism among those who attend and graduate as we all do.  The main difference between John Ryan and us is that he is in Command.  He is there every day.  He sees and knows things that we do not see and know.  And, while he is more than willing to listen to constructive comments and suggestions, he is the decision-maker who, at the end of the day, must stand accountable for actions taken.

Finally, on a very personal note, John worked with me during my last tour when he was the Commander, Fleet Air Mediterranean.  I can tell you first hand that he is a top-notch leader and operator.  This is John's sixth command tour.  He was specifically chosen to become the Superintendent by Navy leadership because he knows his stuff.  It seems to me then that our job as alumni is to understand that his higher authorities (the Congress, the Secretary and the CNO) have provided him guidelines (NOT day to day guidance) and, with a great deal of common sense and command perspective, he is carrying out that guidance.  While we may not always agree with the guidance under which he operates, or the actions taken on specific issues, we should remember that our support for him as he deals with the very tough and demanding issues of the day is extraordinarily important.

I am quite certain that John Ryan welcomes our constructive criticism and our advice on many issues so I am NOT suggesting that this activity be, in any way, curtailed. I am suggesting, however, that we all understand the context in which that advice is sought and taken.

Leighton W. Smith, Jr.
Admiral, U. S. Navy (Retired)
Chairman of the Board
U. S. Naval Academy Alumni Association

Follow-up from the President and CEO, USNAAA
22 July 2000

Subject:     Thank You
     Date:    Fri, 21 Jul 2000 16:04:25 -0400
     From:    "U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association" <>

Dear Alumni and Friends,

        I apologize for not personalizing this note, however, we have received nearly 200 emails in response to Vice Admiral John Ryan's letter, which we sent out last Friday and Saturday from the Alumni Association. I am very pleased that responses have been overwhelmingly supportive of the Superintendent.  I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with us, and I can assure you that all of the emails meant for the Superintendent have been forwarded to him for his review.  Thank you for your interest and support of the U. S. Naval Academy.

                                                George P. Watt, Jr.
                                                President and CEO
                                                USNA Alumni Association

VADM John Ryan is USNA '67;  Adm Leighton Smith is USNA '62.  For some reactions to the incident from a few members of the Class of 1963, please see "Never Bilge A Classmate."

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