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The Naval Academy midshipmen’s new brigade commander wants to address low morale, work with athletes, participate on the diversity team

1st Class Midshipman Ryan Chapman is one of the members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2021 to present former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis a “Don’t Give Up The Ship” flag. Chapman is the new commander of the brigade of midshipmen.
1st Class Midshipman Ryan Chapman is one of the members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2021 to present former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis a “Don’t Give Up The Ship” flag. Chapman is the new commander of the brigade of midshipmen. (Stacy Godfrey/USNA Staff Photographer Stacy Go)

Brigade Commander Ryan Chapman likely knew that his semester leading the midshipmen would be different than others.

The 1st class midshipman from Holmen, Wisconsin, interviewed for the position in April, during what was an unusual spring semester. Now he is leading the brigade of midshipmen in an even more challenging semester, one marked by problems with morale and a reform of the brigade that has taken several weeks instead of a weekend.

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Companies are struggling to connect, either due to missing members or the inability to be together in one place. Midshipmen are sticking to their rooms more. And on top of that, there has yet to be a typical brigade commander call or commandant call, Chapman said.

The extended reform hits close to home for Chapman. His sister is a 3rd class midshipman who is in the last wave of students returning to the academy.

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“There’s no how-to for this environment,” Chapman said.

1st Class Midshipman Ryan Chapman is the new commander of the brigade of midshipmen.
1st Class Midshipman Ryan Chapman is the new commander of the brigade of midshipmen. (Courtesy of USNA)

The quantitative economics major knew going in that the disjointedness would be a challenge.

Chapman decided to apply for the brigade commander position because he wanted to step up and help define the culture at the Naval Academy. He felt that he had a good ear to listen and could help provide the midshipmen with a voice, he said.

“But I saw it as a personal interaction piece, especially in the environment, in being able to connect the staff, like even using that digital tool, because we knew it was gonna be a crazy semester that no one had in store,” Chapman said. “And I thought that I could do the job.”

To be selected as the brigade commander, Chapman first interviewed digitally with the battalion. From there, he and about 30 remaining candidates went to the selection board, who ultimately picked Chapman.

He framed his interview with service, responsibility and desire, highlighting his desire to give back and helping shape the academy’s legacy. He also quoted President Harry S. Truman, saying that those who can do, should do.

As brigade commander, Chapman works closely with Commandant Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan, as well as a staff of midshipmen. He repeated several times how important his staff is to the work that he does.

Among his goals for his time as brigade commander are addressing the low morale and mental health, working with athletes and participating in the Midshipman Diversity Team.

He knows being transparent is a challenge that comes with the position. He and leadership try to get out information as quickly as possible, but it can be difficult when the information changes as often as it does.

While Chapman reports to higher-ups, he works for the midshipmen, he said. He knows he cannot talk to all midshipmen, so he relies on his team and the battalion leaders to help disseminate information.

But part of the job is being visible, he said, which means he cannot hide behind email. He strives to figure out what he and his team miss, whether through feedback forms or communication with different leaders.

Outside of the Naval Academy and his role as the brigade commander, Chapman likes to run ultra marathons. He’s qualified for the Boston Marathon twice.

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Chapman still has more time as the brigade commander, including tackling the recent decision to not send midshipmen home for Thanksgiving, but he has learned some lessons already.

Clear communication is important, he said. Think about how decisions will have second- and third-level effects, and come to the table with solutions.

“Always know more than your boss,” Chapman said.

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