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Navy grad: I hate to say it, but Prof. Fleming has a point

There were more than 1,000 graduates in the United States Naval Academy Class of 2017. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

I am a former student of Naval Academy Professor Bruce Fleming, and I am not proud of it. I am ashamed to say I spent most of my time in his class rolling my eyes at his grandiose, narcissistic comments describing his personal fashion, physical condition, or self-sacrificing Messiah-like role at the United States Naval Academy. A new suit for every day, his one-armed pushups as he prostrated himself before us on the table, and his willingness to sacrifice oh-so-much in order to provide us poor, destitute midshipmen with a perfect example of leadership — somehow it all lacked the one quality I came to value most in the officers appointed over me, humility. However, as much as it pains me to say so now, I agree with his most recent penning in the Baltimore Sun ("Naval Academy graduates no better than the civilians they defend," June 5).

Disregarding his typical opining about the massive waste of federal tax dollars on military academies and his disgust with the quality of officers they produce, we can finally collude in lamenting the lack of, surprisingly, humility in the assembly line of officership that the academies are.

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While no doctor (or, dare I say, college professor) commits to spending up to 15 months in a far-off land where the daily possibilities of seeing your best friend disappear into pink mist or shooting a six-year old child are very real, their professions do not preclude them from serving their country with distinction. Phil Klay recently wrote in his article to the Brookings Institution that "no civilian can assume the moral burdens felt at a gut level by participants in war, but all can show an equal commitment to their country" as both civilians and military members have, on paper, pledged to support and defend the Constitution. However, there is something laudable in an 18-year-old's decision to entrust the next 12 years of his or her life (four years of school, five years active, three years reserve) in the care of their government's wishes.

It is quite possible that a Midshipman in the early 1990s who decided to join after seeing the importance of physical force in ending the Rwandan genocide could have found himself in Fallujah in 2003 as a Marine called up from the Reserves. What a turn-around that would be, especially if that midshipman were Muslim.

Despite their long-term commitment, academy graduates do not deserve any more praise than Officer Candidate School graduates or ROTC graduates or enlisted members of the armed services. All of them are making an "act of faith in one's country … that the country will use [their] life well" as Mr. Klay would say. Taking that one step further, those who choose any profession of service such as a nurse, teacher, or parent have also similarly professed their commitment to service and the betterment of our nation and society.

With this in mind, I must highlight how ill-informed all of these decisions are. The 18-year-old who enlists in the Army has just about as vague an idea of what his future holds as the young couple who decide it's time to have a child or the 22-year-old college graduate who matriculates in medical school. I, for one, had no concept of what the difference between an officer and an enlisted person in the military when I showed up at th e Naval Academy for Induction Day in 2011, which is a laughable offense to most military members.

However, I, like thousands of young Americans every day, made a series of decisions between the ages of 18 and 22 (when the frontal-lobe of our brains, largely responsible for judgement, is still developing) that were based on partial information, possible career opportunities and personal desires, as well as a burning wish to do something inherently good through service. All those who are willing to step into the unknown future with only a vague concept of what is "good" to guide to them should be commended and considered the "do-ers" of society. I look forward to the future when the "insider 'us vs. them' clubbiness" consists of those hard-working doctors, teachers, parents, mail-men and assembly-line workers who take seriously their pledge to Constitution as the "us" and those who do not as the "them," which, it seems, would place Professor Fleming and me on the same team for once.

Joe Hampton

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