Students Learn About Coast Guard, Merchant Marine Academies

Recruiters Present at Barnegat Coast Guard Open House
By RICK MELLERUP | Aug 29, 2017
Photo by: Grant Kelly

The United States has five military academies.

Quick, name them.

West Point. The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. The Air Force Academy. Uh…

The Marine Academy? Wrong, Annapolis midshipmen can choose to be commissioned a Marine second lieutenant upon graduation but there is no U.S. Marine Corps Academy.

VMI? Wrong. The Virginia Military Institute, nicknamed the West Point of the South, has produced two Marine Corps commandants, a chief of staff of the Air Force and a five-star general of the Army (George C. Marshall). But it is a state-supported military college, not a federally funded academy.

Texas A&M? You must be a college football fan who has seen A&M’s large Corps of Cadets in the stands. But although A&M, like VMI, is a “Senior Military College” (more on them later), it is not a U.S. military academy.

Give up? The other two U.S. military academies are the United States Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn. and the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.

Don’t feel embarrassed. Both the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies had representatives and recruiters at the Coast Guard Station Barnegat open house in Barnegat Light Aug. 23, and they reported that most people who spoke with them had no idea of their existence.

“Eighty percent of the people had never heard of us,” said Waretown’s Charlene Delaney, a Coast Guard Academy admissions partner.

There’s a reason for that. The two academies are small. Whereas West Point (officially known as the United States Military Academy), Annapolis and the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs each have over 4,000 students a year, Kings Point has just over 1,000, while New London is the smallest of the federal military academies, with about 900 cadets a year. The three larger academies, especially West Point and Annapolis, receive considerable public attention, thanks to their football teams, competing at the Division I level. You’re not likely to see a Merchant Marine or Coast Guard Academy football game on television, considering they field Division III squads.

But in all other regards, as you shall see, the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies are very much akin to their larger cousins.

There was a lot going on at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light on Wednesday. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the station and its 47-foot motor lifeboats, and to chat with a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. There were rescue and flare demonstrations. A number of organizations had information booths, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Lanoka Harbor’s “Black Sheep” Ocean Air Support Squadron. But plenty of teenaged students and their parents were attracted to the academies’ booths.

“I’ve had about 20,” said Delaney at about 12:30 p.m., 2½ hours into the four-hour open house.

“I’ve seen quite a few,” said Commander Michael Bedryk, director of admissions for the Merchant Marine Academy.

Bedryk had been expecting a number of interested teens. After all, he said, this was Long Beach Island in summer, filled with boat-owning families. What better place to recruit?

The prospective students and their parents had much to consider after talking to Delaney (whose daughter is a Coast Guard Academy graduate) and Bedryk, and hauling away their literature.

Fed Supported,

Free Tuition

Both academies are federally supported, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Both offer tuition-free education in return for five years of service. Coast Guard Academy grads are commissioned as Coast Guard ensigns and must serve five years of active service. Merchant Marine Academy graduates have a wide variety of service options approved by the United States Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. They may serve as officers on US-flagged merchant vessels; as civilians in the maritime industry (ship brokers, marine engineers, specialists in maritime law or insurance, etc.); or as active duty officers in the uniformed services of the United States (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). All USMMA graduates must maintain their U.S. Coast Guard merchant marine officer’s license for at least six years and, if they don’t choose the military active service option, must maintain their Navy Reserve commission for at least eight years.

To repeat, both academies are tuition-free, plus offer free room and board. But there are differences.

Coast Guard Academy cadets receive approximately $12,000 a year in pay. But they must use some of that money for uniforms, military equipment, textbooks and other academic supplies. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen (the term is somewhat misleading – both academies are coed) must pay for “billed services” such as laundry, tailoring and hair care to the tune of $1,020 in their freshman and senior years and $680 in years two and three. Incoming freshmen must also pay $1,995 for a plebe laptop package and $647 for a “plebe kit and educational kit.” Toss in incidentals such as transportation, personal expenses, general supplies and health insurance (if required) and the total “cost of attendance” for a USMMA freshman could run as high as $11,340. Financial aid is available.

Don’t expect a long summer off if you attend either academy.

The Coast Guard Academy follows a traditional two-semester academic calendar but cadets are kept busy during the summer with military training. Before their freshman year they must endure Swab Summer, basically a seven-week boot camp. Cadets entering their senior year spend 10 weeks of the preceding summer serving as junior officers on active Coast Guard cutters. They’re kept busy in their other summers as well, with a choice of training on the classic tall-ship USCGC Eagle; on operational cutters; at small boat stations; receiving specialized training such as damage control or navigation rules; or in an aviation internship.

The Merchant Marine Academy has an 11-month academic schedule that runs from late July to late June, broken into 13-week trimesters. Incoming freshmen report in early July and undergo a 2½-week indoctrination period.

Considering both academies owe their being to the seas, it isn’t surprising that students at both are expected to undergo on-the-job training on the waves.

As already stated, Coast Guard cadets spend most of their second and fourth summers serving with the active fleet or on the Eagle, which is a rather unique experience. It is a 295-foot barque with a foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast, the only commissioned sailing vessel in active American military service. (The Navy’s historic USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides” from 1797, is commissioned but not active.) Interestingly, the Eagle was originally the German training ship Horst Wessel, built in the 1930s. It was taken as a war prize by the U.S. at the end of WWII.

The Merchant Marine Academy provides its on-the-job training with its Sea Year program. Split between their sophomore and junior years, midshipmen serve over 300 days at sea on Merchant Marine vessels, visiting, on average, 20 countries, making it an “overseas semester(s)” to remember.

Great Education;

Very Selective

Both academies are highly rated academically.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the Coast Guard Academy as the second-best regional college in the North in 2017. In 2016 Forbes listed it as the 46th best college in the entire U.S.

Forbes ranked the Merchant Marine Academy as the 51st best college in the country. It finished third in the U.S. News & World Report Regional Colleges North list. By the way, the only northern regional college to beat out the two academies in the U.S. News rankings was New York’s Cooper Union, which was tuition-free from 1859 through 2013 but now charges $43,250 for tuition and $12,270 to share a room – which gives readers a good idea of the monetary value of a Coast Guard or Merchant Marine Academy education.

Both academies are also quite selective.

U.S. News says the Coast Guard Academy’s acceptance rate is 18 percent, while the Merchant Marine Academy’s is 15 percent.

The USMMA requires, like West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, a Congressional nomination. The Coast Guard Academy does not – for now.

“There is a senator, who shall remain anonymous, who is pushing for Congressional appointments” for Coast Guard admission, Delaney told an interested parent.

But the Coast Guard Academy’s tradition of not requiring a Congressional nod is a long one. The academy traces its beginning to 1876, when Captain John A. Henriques was named the first superintendent of the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction. (The modern Coast Guard resulted from the 1915 merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service, later joined by the United States Lighthouse Service and the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.) He strongly objected to the Congressional nomination process because he had witnessed the poor quality of the Revenue Cutter Service’s bureaucracy due to political appointees.

Still, the admissions process to both academies is strenuous. High SAT/ACT scores are a must, as are high grades and class rank, recommendations and participation in extra-curricular activities, especially sports, because students at the academies require a high degree of physical fitness.

One recent high school grad who will attend Ocean County Community College this fall could be overheard talking with Delaney on Wednesday. She asked him about his test scores and he said he hadn’t taken the SAT or ACT tests, but had taken the PSAT.

“I scored, like, a thousand on my PSAT.”

“You’re going to have to bring that up to about 1,300,” said Delaney.

She asked him if he had played sports in high school. He responded that he had been a baseball pitcher but that ended when he broke his shoulder.

“That could be detrimental,” said Delaney.

He added that he was quite the skateboarder. Delaney didn’t respond, didn’t tell him that while the Coast Guard Academy offers 24 intercollegiate sports for its cadets, skateboarding isn’t one of them.

Both Delaney and Bedryk were happy that many of the interested teens they had talked to were young freshmen and sophomores.

“You have to tell them to focus on math and science, especially physics,” said Bedryk.

That’s because the two academies, like their bigger cousins, have academic programs that are heavy on math and engineering.

Prep Schools,

Other Options

A Google search will reveal the specifics of the two academies’ admissions process – age requirements, important dates, etc. But here are a couple of things readers may not notice when visiting the academies’ websites.

First of all, if you apply to any of the five U.S. Military Academies and aren’t successful, but are close – perhaps you needed improvement in one academic area such as math, or were physically unfit – you can get a second chance. All five have relationships with prep schools than can push a candidate over the top.

The Merchant Marine Academy’s prep school is the New Mexico Military Institute, located in Roswell, N.M. The Coast Guard Academy has the CGA Scholars Program that will send qualified applicants to either the Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Ga., or the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Ala.

Another interesting tidbit is a program at the Coast Guard Academy: AIM (Academy Introduction Mission). It allows high school students who are thinking about applying but aren’t sure it would be a good fit, to spend a week at the academy during the summer before their senior year. Students will meet faculty and coaches, learn about majors and career options, tour the campus and a Coast Guard ship and aircraft, learn to march in formation, compete for different awards and “Honor Platoon” honors, team up to design and built a robotic device, live in a barracks and experience reveille and room inspections, and have the opportunity to talk with current cadets.

“Last week was a defining moment for me,” wrote “Lee,” who attended the program in 2014. “I have attended this summer not only AIM, but also the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy’s summer seminars, and AIM was the most fun, fulfilling and meaningful. The Coast Guard is where I want to be.”

Sound interesting? Call 860-444-8503 for information about next summer’s sessions.

Finally, there is another college option for high school students who may be thinking about becoming an officer in the U.S. military but aren’t quite ready to commit – the aforementioned Senior Military Colleges. There are six: University of North Georgia in Dahlonega; Norwich University in Northfield, Vt.; Texas A&M in College Station; The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.; VMI in Lexington, Va.; and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All six offer Reserve Officer’s Training Corps programs. Now, many universities have ROTC but there are differences between their programs and those of the Senior Military Colleges. Taking a commission is optional at the Senior Military Colleges but at other universities, students wishing to participate in ROTC all four years must commit to taking a commission before their junior year. On the other hand, all cadets who graduate from Senior Military Colleges are guaranteed active duty commissions if they wish one, something other ROTC programs can’t guarantee. Senior Military Colleges must also establish a corps of cadets in which students must wear military uniforms and live in a military environment constantly, not just during the school day.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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