KINGS POINT, N.Y. - Several senior leaders from the Army Reserve offered career information and opportunities to hundreds of midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
Maj. Gen. William D. Razz Waff, commanding general, 99th Regional Support Command, was among the Soldiers who travelled to the academy to inform the midshipmen of the benefits of serving as a commissioned officer or warrant officer in the Army Reserve upon graduation.
“This is a great opportunity for the Army to reach out to the midshipmen who are looking at what their career opportunities are for both active duty and Army Reserve,” Waff said.
“We’re just excited to be partnered with [the USMMA] to try to glean off some of these great graduates to help the Army succeed in its mission,” added Chief Warrant Officer Five Jim Thompson, command chief warrant officer, Army Reserve and U.S. Army Reserve Command.
Academy graduates are not only qualified for civilian careers on ships, but they also have to fulfill an eight-year commitment to the military, according to Capt. Luis Burgos, Army Reserve liaison at the USMMA.
“They are required to satisfy a Department of Defense service obligation, which can be met by serving in an active or reserve status for any branch of the military, U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or Merchant Marine Reserve,” explained Burgos, whose job it is to facilitate graduates’ transition into the Army Reserve.
Serving this eight-year military tour in the Army Reserve offers USMMA graduates the unique opportunity to fulfill their service obligation while still being able to hold full-time civilian jobs, and also allows them to take the mariner skills they learned at the academy and put them to use in the military.
“A lot of times, when you become a commissioned officer – whether you’re flying an aircraft or you’re a boat pilot – you reach a certain rank and you don’t do that any longer,” explained Col. Gary Bullard, commander, Army Reserve Careers Division. “If these guys elect to become warrant officers, they can pilot a boat for the rest of their careers if they choose to do so. That’s a benefit that we offer.”
The Army Reserve stands to benefit from recruiting USMMA graduates into its ranks, according to many of the senior leaders in attendance.
“This is one of the five federal academies, so they’re getting officer leadership right off the bat,” explained Waff. “Secondly, what they have here – unlike the other federal academies – is they do 300 days at sea, so they’re used to having cadet-type responsibility on vessels.
“The young men and women who come out of here have some great prep training as officers, based on what they’ve done on their sea year plus the regimental system here, which is very similar to Annapolis, the Coast Guard Academy, West Point or the Air Force Academy,” he continued.
Like the other academies, a congressional recommendation is required for appointment to the USMMA, and its midshipmen live a strict, regimented four years of training and academics.
“Midshipmen pack five years of education into three years,” explained Burgos, subtracting their year spent away from the academy for sea duty. “They make great officers in the Army Reserve because they already have the leadership, they have the experience.”
The USMMA academic year is divided into three 13-week trimesters that last 11 months. Graduates earn bachelor of science degrees, as well as either a U.S. Coast Guard third mate or third assistant engineer license.
“They’re extremely intelligent, they’re well qualified, and they have some great leadership experience that lends itself well to the skill sets we need to succeed in the Army Reserve,” said Thompson.
The relationship between the USMMA and the Army Reserve began in 2005, when Waff was trying to find a way to increase the amount of warrant officer mariners in the Army Reserve.
“I did some homework, and found out there was the Merchant Marine Academy in Long Island,” explained Waff, who served as the 99th RSC deputy commanding general at that time.
An Army Reserve liaison team was installed at the USMMA in September 2006, and the relationship has grown stronger every year since.
“We’ve gone from the summer of 2005, when there were two midshipmen who branched Army, to this past summer when we had 20 – three of those as warrant officers in the Army Reserve and 17 lieutenants in the active component, National Guard and Army Reserve,” Waff said.
This relationship was formalized in 2008 when leaders from the USMMA and Army Reserve signed a memorandum of understanding to implement a program of information and access for midshipmen interested in serving in the Army Reserve.
“It’s been a real success story,” Thompson said.
The USMMA’s story began in 1936 when Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act. The U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps was established two years later, and construction was begun on the academy at its current location in Kings Point in 1942. Fifteen months later, the USMMA was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The academy and its graduates have also played a role in the nation’s armed conflicts from World War II to the present, ranging from convoy escorting to sealifting military and humanitarian supplies to countries in need.
“It’s important to remember that what these kids are doing here [at the academy] is a great service to the nation,” Thompson concluded.