The United States Coast Guard Academy (CGA), as the smallest of the five U.S. service academies, populates the Coast Guard’s officer corps with highly qualified, skilled men and women who stand ready to meet the challenges before them. What differentiates the CGA, located in New London, Connecticut, from the other service academies is that applicants to all other service academies require a nomination from either a Senator, a Congressman, the President, or the Vice President. In New London, applicants to the CGA compete in a direct nationwide competitive process that has no by-state quotas.
This leaves the CGA in an enviable position to select the best candidates possible, thus ensuring that future Coast Guard leaders are intelligent, highly skilled and professional. Who could (or even would) complain about that and seek its undoing?
Yes, you guessed it: the United States Congress is seeking to fix problems where none exist!
Let’s get the back story, first:
Eight years after the Coast Guard and the NAACP signed a voluntary agreement to work together to boost the number of African-Americans at its 1,000-cadet service academy, the annual enrollment and graduation figures for blacks remain in single digits.
Seven blacks graduated from the academy based in New London, Conn., in the spring of 2001, the year the agreement was signed.
The same number graduated from the Class of 2006, the first class for which blacks were recruited under the agreement.
Subsequently, there were seven black graduates in 2007, five in 2008 and four in 2009.
That makes 23 graduates in four years under the agreement, including the academy’s first black female valedictorian. In the four previous years, the number was 33.
Leading lawmakers have grown increasingly upset with results even as they repeatedly are told the Guard is working hard to improve diversity in a service where only 311 of its 6,787 commissioned officers are black, with only one black admiral.
“The Coast Guard has just not paid attention to it. It is not antipathy or animosity toward it,” said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “I think we’re moving in the right direction and got the Coast Guard’s attention and we’re not going to let up.”
But, remember, the Corps of Cadets at the CGA get to New London only based on merit. There are no nominations, no quotas, just the best applicants from across the Republic. But that isn’t good enough for Oberstar or Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Coast Guard subcommittee chairman, who drafted legislation to introduce Congressional nominations into the application process for the CGA.
On a 385-11 vote last month, the House advanced the legislation to the Senate, meaning that (for the most part) the U.S. House of Representatives has reacted to a perceived “wrong” without realizing that the CGA is the model for how all other U.S. services academies should operate. The House also failed to understand that the real goal should be to bring the other service academies around to the kind of thinking in New London that focuses solely on performance and character.
But, some may say, the low numbers of black cadets is endemic of a deep-seeded hatred of minorities that simply must permeate every corner of the CGA grounds!
Nothing could be further from the truth.
At present, the academy reports it has 136 minorities, with 72 Hispanics, 39 Asians and 25 African-Americans.
More than four times as many African-American Cadets are Hispanic and Asian! Huh, who would have thought that all those racists at the CGA were stupid enough not to realize that they were letting in so many minorities! Of course, the truth of the matter is obvious: the merit based system only allows the best of the best applicants the opportunity to attend such an institution.
Make no mistake, though. This is not to suggest that applicants to other services academies are dumb. Far from it. But there is simply no indication that the merit based system at the CGA has done anything but produce quality officers for years. In fact, Cadet First Class Jacqueline Fitch, 21, Catonsville, Md., likes the current merit based system.
Did I mention that Cadet First Class Jacqueline Fitch is black?
Cadet First Class Jacqueline Fitch, 21, Catonsville, Md., who recently became the academy’s first black woman to be named a regimental commander, also wonders about making a change to congressional nominations.
“I know when I applied for the Coast Guard Academy one of the things that made me really proud is that I got into the academy off of my own merit,” she said, explaining she was initially rejected and first had to go prep school. “I had to work really hard to get to the academy.”
Note Fitch’s attitude, though: “I know when I applied for the Coast Guard Academy one of the things that made me really proud is that I got into the academy off of my own merit.” That’s the mark, I respectfully suggest, of an officer. She knows that her career rises and falls not on the color of her skin, but on the work she puts into the tasks before her. That’s the whole point here. We need quality Cadets from wherever they are, whoever they are.
When Fitch wanted to become a Coast Guard Officer, there were no nebulous, racist barriers in her way. The only person that would decide if she succeeded or failed was herself. Is that not what we pride this nation as promoting? Should we not look beyond the skin color of a person? Shouldn’t people be measured by their character and abilities rather than their race?
The Coast Guard Academy has made clear their answer: YES.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Congressman Oberstar and Cummings see things differently. And by God, they are going to fix it!
Cummings, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, expects black enrollment to grow with congressional involvement, at least in part because the House typically has about 40 black lawmakers who would be effective recruiters in largely black congressional districts.
Wonderful rhetoric, that is, except it just isn’t true as the Associated Press has found:
As the nation’s military academies try to recruit more minorities, they aren’t getting much help from members of Congress from urban districts with large numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.
From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, lawmakers from heavily minority areas rank at or near the bottom in the number of students they have nominated for appointment to West Point, the Naval Academy, or the Air Force Academy, according to an Associated Press review of records from the past five years.
Representative Nydia Velazquez of New York City, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, nominated only four students, the lowest among House members who served the entire five-year period. Democratic Representative Charles Rangel, whose New York City district includes Harlem, was second-lowest, with eight nominations. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is 29 percent Asian, was also near the bottom, with 19.
In fact, the bottom 20 House members were all from districts where whites make up less than a majority.
Emphasis mine, and rightly so. I will note, though, that the article does rightly applaud Congressman Cummings for his myriad nominations. But how can his proposed legislation achieve the “fix” he seeks when so many of his colleagues could care less?
Alas, this is the issue that the U.S. Congress feels must be addressed with the U.S. Coast Guard: quotas at the CGA. Meanwhile, the Eastern seaboard has no 378-foot high endurance Coast Guard cutters on patrol because they are maintained on a shoestring and inadequate funding is given to the service for fleet replacement on a necessary basis. Indeed, the cutters Dallas and Gallatin are in drydock after being found mission ineffective, even with 40 years of non-stop maintenance by dedicated Coast Guardsmen. And there is more:
Engine-room fires have become a grim routine for the three- and four-decade-old 378s, which have churned their power plants and endured battering seas much longer than their designers intended. There were 18 engine-room fires aboard 378s last year, according to Allen’s testimony, and there already have been seven this year.
Corrosion and fatigue also have plagued several cutters. Two — Dallas and Gallatin — had such severe structural problems that they were taken out of service for repairs in Charleston, S.C. And Allen showed lawmakers a photograph taken aboard the cutter Jarvis in which daylight shone clearly through rust holes in the ship’s hull.
Indeed, the Coast Guard’s aging fleet of high endurance cutters is in such bad shape that officials can’t choose which ships to retire first as their replacements enter service.
Think about that for a moment…and if Congress should be mucking about with regard to CGA admission policy while ignoring funding levels for a critical uniformed service of the Armed Forces.