When Margaret D. Klein became part of the second class to admit women to the Naval Academy, she recalls, the options for her and other female midshipman were limited. It would be more than a decade, for example, before the Navy opened up the first combat assignments to women.
"When I was here, there were a very small number of jobs that women could go into," said Klein, a 1981 graduate. "We were not mainstream. Today, we're mainstream."
Klein steps down tomorrow as commandant of the brigade of midshipmen, the first woman to hold the academy's No. 2 post. Serving in a role akin to an academic dean of students, Klein has spent the past 18 months preparing men and women to serve in war. Tomorrow, she will turn over command to Capt. Matthew L. Klunder, a naval aviator previously based at the Pentagon.
"My goal coming in here was to make midshipmen as successful as they could possibly be when they were commissioned," said Klein, a Navy captain who is awaiting Senate confirmation for promotion to rear admiral. In her new assignment, she will be operations officer at the Naval Network Warfare Command in Norfolk, Va.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Klein reflected on her tenure as commandant, during which she was responsible for the military and professional development of 4,300 students, and on the many changes, some unpopular, that she helped bring to the Annapolis military college.
She said that when she became commandant in December 2006 after being appointed by Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the superintendent at the time, she encountered no resistance from staff members or midshipmen. But she recalled hearing about an e-mail circulating among alumni criticizing the selection of a woman as commandant.
"My experience has been it's a much bigger shift for alumni than midshipmen," she said. "They all remember how it was when they were here" and women were less welcome.
Klein and the current superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, imposed a number of changes aimed at better preparing midshipmen for war. They included reducing leisure time, and requiring three hours of study nightly and attendance at 15 meals a week.
The latter change, she said, had the unintended consequence of causing a food shortage at King Hall that gained media attention. Klein said the academy worked quickly to resolve the shortage.
As she imposed tighter restrictions, her mission never wavered, she said.
Commandants usually serve two years before moving on. Klein was promoted early in part because of her work at the academy, a college spokeswoman said.
Klein said midshipmen should not expect big changes under Klunder.
"I think all the significant changes Admiral Fowler wanted to make, many of those changes are in their execution," she said. "I think you're not going to see Captain Klunder make any wide-sweeping changes."