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The Navy Is Looking To Boost Its Ranks With Young Wyomingites

Vice Admiral Sean Buck dressed in an official Navy uniform of black and gold, smiling at the camera, with the red, white, and blue U.S. Navy flag behind him
U.S. Navy
Vice Admiral Sean Buck

It's not often we get to talk about the Navy in Wyoming, but it was Navy week at Frontier Days and Vice Admiral Sean Buck was in town. He is the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. He joined Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck.

Sean Buck: It's a real pleasure to be here, Bob. This is our opportunity and when I say our, it's the United States Navy's opportunity to come to bring the Navy to the citizens of Wyoming, into the Great Plains and with a high visibility event like Frontier Days. Because we know that you can't get to the coasts and see our Navy as easily as we can come here, and encourage you to consider joining the Navy and serving.

Bob Beck: It might be interesting for our listeners to hear what it takes to get into the Naval Academy?

SB: Well, the Naval Academy student body, we call it the brigade, is composed of young men and women from every single state in the United States. And that's governed by law. So we want to be sure that kids who may be in more rural areas and not on the coasts, have a chance to not only understand what the Naval Academy is, what service to their country is. But to get to what you just said, how do you apply if you have an interest? How do you get there? And we all have stood prepared to answer those questions of anybody out in the area.

BB: So the advice to the parents, have your children study a lot and learn about STEM, is that right?

SB: Yes, sir, we have a strong academic focus, we have a strong physical fitness focus, you need to have a very strong moral foundation as you've been brought up. And then you really truly have to feel it burning in your heart. It's a job and it's a career path that you got to want to do. You can't just come surprised and realize that maybe military service is not for you.

BB: Are the students the same as when you were in the academy or have things changed over time?

SB: They come from all walks of life, the demographics in our academy are probably better and more representative of the demographics of our country than when I attended in the late 70s and early 80s. We're currently 28 percent female. Back when I attended my senior class, when I was a newly entered freshman, it was the first graduating class and they [females] may have represented maybe one or two percent of the student body, and now they represent 28 percent. And this year's entering class, the class of 2025, is the most diverse class we've ever had. Diversity is really important to the service academies, because those young men and women are going to go out and lead Marines and Navy sailors that come from all walks of life around this country. And it's better to be able to understand those men and women better and where they came from and lead them better.

BB: What are some of the challenges you face as you look to the future right now?

SB: Well, the Defense Department always faces the challenge of budgetary constraints. And we all know that it takes money to run an organization. So each year at my job, one of my key jobs as superintendent is to be sure that I can fight for and defend and justify the monies that I asked from Congress to run the Naval Academy. That's an ever-going challenge that we revisit each year. And probably recruiting. Here's a startling statistic for you. Only three out of 10 high school graduates qualify for military service. That's the entering argument and then we're in a competition for talent with other service academies. They're looking for fine young men and women, the government-industry is looking for those kids that are really, really capable. So that remains a big challenge. And when you start with just three out of 10 that are initially qualified it makes it real hard.

BB: Are there things you can do, working with people who are involved with education, to maybe pick that up a little bit?

SB: Yes, sir, we can. We have a very strong outreach program into high schools and junior high schools around the country. We try to get into the inner city, we try to get to rural America all over to try to start informing them at a younger age, if they have an interest in serving their country in uniform, what does it take to be there, and they can begin to then manage themselves their behavior, their academics, their credentials, to be able to qualify.

BB: I want to ask you how COVID-19 went at the Academy, you know, public universities had some challenges. I was curious how it worked out in your neck of the woods?

SB: I had a mantra and I would suggest my fellow superintendents at the other service academies had a mantra. You cannot produce leaders online. We can educate them. We all have seen that. We just witnessed people being able to receive and earn a degree online. But you can't develop leaders with grit and resilience and leadership opportunities to build out their leadership toolbox online. So all three... the Air Force Academy, West Point, the Naval Academy, we're very, very proud that we remained open. We did our best to have everyone present on the yard back in Annapolis to train the Midshipman. We had our ups and downs with COVID, we had a few outbreaks of it. And that took hard measures of locking people down and reducing the contact tracing. We needed to ensure that it wouldn't overwhelm our school and cause us to have to close down.

BB: The last thing is how are you doing with vaccinations? I imagine you can be a little more forceful than maybe some of the rest of us?

SB: We normally could Bob, but right now, the vaccinations are only authorized on an emergency use authorization for everyone in this country. And when we're in that situation, not even the Department of Defense cannot mandate it. So it's on a volunteer basis at the Naval Academy. But I am very proud to tell you that I think we have the best vaccination rate of any unit in the Department of Defense. We're at about 99.6 percent of all of us vaccinated in Annapolis.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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