Capt. Bruce Grooms, the highest-ranking African-American leader in Naval Academy history, will leave the school to serve as deputy director in the Navy's policy office for submarine forces, officials announced yesterday.
The details of the assignment, such as when Grooms will leave the academy, have yet to be determined, although Navy officials said it could take from three to nine months.
Since June 2005, Grooms, a 1980 graduate of the Annapolis military college, has filled the role of commandant, the No. 2 position at the school and the equivalent of a dean of students at a civilian institution.
"I am extremely excited to be going to help the submarine force in our submarine warfare division," Grooms said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Rear Adm. Mark Kenny, commander of Submarine Group 2 and Grooms' former commanding officer, said his new assignment was "an influential, sought-after" job among flag officers. For Grooms, who is set for a promotion to rear admiral, or flag rank, it is "a tremendous assignment" Kenny said.
"That job is an influential job. It has to do with the future of the Navy and its direction. It has to do with the all-important budget process for the Navy and the submarine force."
Kenny said the appointment also reflects the Navy's commitment to diversity.
"The message there for minorities is that if you join the submarine forces as a young officer, the sky's the limit," Kenny said.
Grooms, 48, is known in Navy circles as a member of the Centennial Seven, a group of seven African-American officers who commanded submarines during the first 100 years of U.S. submarine forces. He often demurs when asked to discuss his race, but in an interview last year with The Sun, he said: "Sometimes there was a sense that 'I don't know this person' or that 'He's different,'" Grooms said. "And for me, the challenge was just showing that I was no different and that I was just trying to do the best I could."
Grooms grew up in suburban Cleveland and served as captain of Navy's basketball team. After graduating, he completed nuclear power training and served in a variety of roles in the submarine forces. He returned to the academy as a company officer, attended Stanford University and the Naval War College, and served as a top aide to former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith.
But Grooms' rise has largely come as a submarine commander, first at the helm of the USS Asheville in 1997 and then leading a squadron of attack submarines based in Norfolk, Va., immediately before reporting to the academy.
Grooms served on nuclear-powered attack submarines, often called the "sports cars of the sea" by sailors. In 1999, he won the prestigious Vice Adm. Stockdale Inspirational Leadership Award, named after James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate in the 1992 presidential election.
The world of submarines is largely unknown outside the military. They perform missions that include intelligence gathering on solo deployments, mine-hunting, guarding carrier groups at sea and launching land-attack Tomahawk missiles.
Grooms' official title in the new post will be deputy director of the submarine warfare division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, where he will help coordinate overall policy for planning and programming in the submarine forces.
Commandants usually serve two to three years, so Grooms said his stay at the academy will likely bring him close to the two-year mark. While in previous years commandants served closer to three years, Grooms' recent predecessors have filled the post for about 18 months.
Grooms said that he wasn't completely familiar with the particularities of his new assignment, but looked forward to returning to submarines.
"I'm looking forward to serving whoever and however I can," he said. "Frankly, that's the story of my career. Wherever I'm needed, I'm happy to go serve there."