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Senate panel votes to ease academy service requirement


In an attempt to bolster sagging applications to the country's military academies, a Senate committee yesterday approved a measure that would reduce the active duty requirement for graduates from six years to five.

The provision, supported by Naval Academy Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson and by the superintendents of the other service academies, is expected to be brought before Congress before the summer break next month. The other academies are the Military Academy at West Point and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Senate Armed Services Committee apparently agreed with the assessment of the Naval Academy's advisory Board of Visitors, which last year noted that applications to the academy had been dropping steadily. Board members say they suspected that the service requirement, raised to six years in 1992, was the culprit.

The Senate committee studied the matter and the modification of the service requirement was included in the fiscal 1996 Defense Authorization Bill.

"The admissions folks here feel that the requirements do impact our recruiting process," said Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman. "But once we get them here, we can motivate them to stay."

Applications for the class of 1999 were the lowest in four years -- 10,422 applied, compared with 12,268 for the Class of 1996, he said. Twenty-four percent of those accepted or who are in the process of applying to the class of 1999 withdrew, citing the service requirement.

A spokesman for Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, acknowledged the recruitment problem.

"Sixty percent of the graduates at the academy go to the [Naval Academy] prep school," said Christopher John Paul. "So after spending a year there, four at the academy and then six in the Navy, that's 11 years. And that's a lot to a 17-year-old."

The reduction is also expected to help increase the number of VTC minority candidates, said Richard Armitage, a former Board of Visitors member who supports the reduction.

"Minorities who are qualified are very highly sought after by other universities and Fortune 500 companies," he said. "It's a real trick to get them to come to the academy."

Sen. John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, pressed for the six-year service requirement three years ago. He argued that taxpayers should get more in return for the $250,000 it costs to educate each midshipman and cadet.

"The pool of academy applicants is going down the same as the pool of enlisted people is going down," said Jack Sparks, a spokesman for Senator Glenn. "It's across the board. We are just looking for the best return on the investment."

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