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The Baltimore Sun

ISSUE:

The Naval Academy has acknowledged that up to 10 of its midshipmen had exhibited "misguided/immature" behavior last month while on a spring break trip to the Caribbean on a commercial cruise ship. Academy officials began investigating the incident after a female passenger e-mailed a complaint to them, saying she had witnessed groping, excessive drinking and efforts to encourage underage passengers to drink alcohol. The behavior took place while the Mids were in uniform and civilian clothing.

"I was 'felt up' by one of the very drunk men and I was given the misfortune of watching them grab and disrespect every woman they could get close to as well as seeing them offer the underage (15 and 17 year old) girls at our table alcohol," the woman wrote in her e-mail. "I cannot tell you strongly enough how EMBARRASSED these 'gentlemen' made me feel to be an American. I can only imagine what the foreigners on our ship and in port thought of us."

The academy says a preliminary inquiry found no criminal activity. However, it warned in a written statement, "Any midshipmen who acted inappropriately will be held accountable, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."

YOUR VIEW:

What punishment, if any, do you think the academy should impose on midshipmen who are found to have engaged in this behavior?

Need to blow off steam isn't unusual

First of all, I would like to know if the woman who wrote the letter to the school is in the military, or has family in the military, or has any other kind of authority to decide how those in the military should act aside from being from "Pat Tillman country."

I can only imagine that between the rigorous physical and academic requirements put on these Mids 90 percent of the time, the need to blow off a bit of steam over spring break isn't unusual.

If all of these allegations were true, I would understand the concerns but I truly believe that most of them are the creation of an extremely uptight woman who made a strange decision to take a cruise on Carnival - well known for its party atmosphere - during spring break.

Furthermore, she and her husband both admit that the only thing offensive about them was the fact that they were Mids. I find it strange that she would be perfectly fine with this behavior had all of her allegations been committed by a group of students who hadn't signed up to fight for the country she claims to so dearly love.

The academy has dealt with serious problems in recent years surrounding issues such as rape - which are legitimate concerns and should be dealt with accordingly, severely punishing all who are found guilty.

However, an attempt to dance with an older woman in an obviously joking manner is not even close to falling in the same category. For either the paper or the woman to associate the two is simply disrespectful to actual rape victims.

I'm also confused as to how these mids were acting inappropriately while in uniform throughout the duration of the cruise but at the same time continuously wore nothing but Speedos, cowboy boots and cowboy hats. The last time I checked, that outfit is not considered a standard regulation uniform.

Eleni Himaras Boston

Article an attempt to smear academy

Your newspaper's standards have reached a new low. Bradley Olson has taken unsubstantiated rumors confirmed by anonymous Web site forum sources and, with no facts, has attempted to smear the academy. What is an even more ludicrous attempt at your paper to reach an even greater low, you have asked your readers, who have not been presented any facts at all, to determine "punishment" for these offenders. Just because you can write stories without facts does not give you the right to ask your readers to reach conclusions based on the same lack of facts.

You owe journalism, which I am not sure you even know anything about, an apology.

Owen McLean Taylorsville, N.C.

Media agenda weakens discipline

"Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."

The liberal movement and major media agenda of creating a more egalitarian environment at the service academies has done just that: provided complete freedom of expression, weakened disciplinary action and eliminated peer pressure and punishment.

When they have brought the academies into line with other institutions, they can reasonably argue for their elimination on the basis that they no longer perform their original mandate.

Barry R. Relinger Georgetown, S.C.

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1964.

Many questions must be answered

The initial questions that must be answered are ones such as:

Did the midshipmen in question actually do the things they have been accused of by a single witness on a cruise ship filled with thousands of people of all ages - including many students on spring break - or is this another case of someone arbitrarily deciding the level of fun others are permitted?

Next, one must ask if they did do some of the things of which they are accused, why is that woman the only person to complain directly to the Naval Academy or the cruise line?

I understand two people posted negative comments about midshipmen on a cruise message board, the one that Sun reporter Brad Olson tried to use to generate additional sources of dirt to use in his story.

However none of the issues raised on that board were apparently noteworthy enough to be brought to the attention of the ship's officers or the cruise line's management during or immediately after the trip. Why might that be so?

Additionally, numerous comments posted on the same site were in direct conflict with the two negative posts on that site, most stating the Mids were acting like the rest of the college aged students on that ship in general.

Why should those midshipmen be held to a higher standard than any student from the University of Maryland on spring break would be held - especially if no apparent laws were broken?

I question if the woman who sent the e-mail was one of those who were supposedly groped by the Mids, or just one that happened to be dumb enough to try to get in a nice, quiet cruise during spring break season and had to have someone to blame for her lack of planning.

Mark Gibson Severna Park

More information on incident needed

There is insufficient information provided to determine punishment. Were these plebes or first-class midshipmen? Is the behavior based on one person's report? What else is known?

College is a broad learning experience and midshipmen have to learn that they are not viewed as just college students and their lives and actions will always be on display.

The current situation should be used as a learning experience throughout the Brigade.

More details are needed to ensure that the punishment really matches the incident.

Ken Malley Edgewater

Academy must uphold standards

Permit me to preamble this opinion by stating that everyone is presumed innocent and the proffered statements must be proven before any punishment is effected.

The ancillary statement encompasses the basic tenet that the Naval Academy is NOT a "normal" college or university.

Midshipmen represent the academy, alumni, and our country everywhere they go. If it is proven that the individuals involved did act in a manner that besmirched the Naval Academy, it is my strong opinion that they should face the consequences of their actions, up to and including dismissal.

The mission of the academy is "to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to provide graduates who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government."

Enough said.

Jim Savard Littleton, Colo.

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1965.

Fine line between fun and misbehavior

Reports of such behavior should be investigated, and the findings, as well as any action taken, should be provided to all parties involved as well as to the accuser.

Such behavior as that alleged is not in keeping with good order and discipline for any military organization, much less aspiring military officers.

Be that as it may, there is a fine line between having fun during a recreational period, and inappropriate behavior. Maintaining control over one's emotions while imbibing intoxicants is paramount to good behavior as it is to on-scene observation and interpretation of crossing over that line to inappropriateness.

In my opinion, as a former commanding officer, if the investigation of the reported incident finds that the midshipmen exhibited inappropriate behavior other than just impropriety, then as so warranted by the findings of said investigation the parties at fault should be "called before the mast" for an Article 15 hearing and awarded non-judicial punishment by the commandant of midshipmen, accordingly.

Retired Capt. Raymond Burke Wellborn Sr. Dickinson, Texas

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1959.

More Speedos could bring peace

Traditional ways have proven to just re-create mannerisms of the past, thus military bearing results in militarily executed options.

As the world becomes more populated, these military based "flare ups" could endanger many "innocent" civilians whose only wish is to perform locally destructive bombings on their immediate opposite numbers.

Therefore these innovative Midshipmen may have dramatically shown the way to the world for its diverse populations to avoid running afoul weapons of any level of destruction.

To test this theory I'd propose that all national leaders, including those who aspire to high office but who only made it to congressional or papal level, and ALL people in uniform; police, firefighters, McDonald's serving staff, switch to cowboy boots and hats and Speedo thongs - leather chaps and vests optional - and then let's see just how frightening they are in their bluster, pomp and bombast.

We may actually see peace in our time as the more florid folk are laughed into total seclusion.

As least there would be more cracks apparent in the armor.

John R. Haddick Vienna, Va.

Beware of applying subjective standard

We walk a slippery slope holding off duty midshipmen to an observer's politically correct behavior. The standard is subjective and in the context of the situation, in this case, spring break.

Decades ago many of today's admirals learned better discretion when demerits and restriction followed bad behavior.

The academy will exercise the wisdom of an old mentor and thank the media for saying so.

Eric L. Anderson Bremerton, Wash.

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1972.

Let the academy deal with infractions

First, our opinions are not important to the Naval Academy. It has a code of conduct and will deal with any infractions in an appropriate manner.

Second, I am so happy that someone in your literary masterpiece finally woke up and called it the "Naval Academy" instead of the Annapolis military school.

Emil Di Motta Lakeland, Fla.

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1962.

Nothing but a case of sour grapes

It sounds like sour grapes on the part of the undisclosed female.

To me it sounds like a good time was had by almost all. I see no complaints from participants.

Bob Nerup Olympia, Wash.

The writer is a member of the academy's Class of 1962.

Sun's coverage irresponsible

I find your coverage shallow and irresponsible. ... The whole premise of the issue as you conveyed it in asking for opinion is wrong, as your first sentence which drives the premise is false.

The Naval Academy did not acknowledge that the midshipmen misbehaved, as it doesn't know if any midshipmen misbehaved. It is responding to an e-mail which alleges misbehavior. The academy is investigating to determine if any misbehavior occurred.

It is the moral responsibility of a free press to craft words carefully and precisely to accurately convey any story it decides to publish and does not intentionally mislead. The sources of the story must be carefully scrubbed. If you don't convey the truth as neutrally as possible, you can fracture a free society that depends upon truth to properly govern itself as our Republic does.

The rights of a free press are guaranteed by the people through the Constitution, not by the journalist, editors or owners. It is the responsibility of a free press to uphold its rights by committing, like the military, to the highest possible standards and purge itself in a public manner when those standards aren't met.

The military, in this case the Naval Academy, is living up to its responsibility by investigating, no matter how frivolous the source. When will The Sun live up to its responsibility? This has been happening too frequently - at our peril.

Richard Thayer Alexandria, Va.

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