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Commandant of Midshipmen Reflects on Naval Academy Tour

Posted on: May 01, 2013 08:00 EDT by Jessica Clark

At the Naval Academy the end of the academic year is a time of celebration. Plebes will be plebes no more. Firsties look forward to graduation and the culmination of four intense years of training as everyone looks forward to summer.

For Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. Robert E. Clark II, Class of 1984, it’s a bittersweet moment this year as he finishes his tenure as the Academy’s 84th and longest serving Commandant.

“It’s been great to be back home,” said Clark, reflecting on what he’s seen the Academy and the Midshipmen accomplish during his tour.

Which happens to be quite a lot.

The Naval Academy has consistently ranked among the top undergraduate schools in the country. Forbes rated the Academy as the 5th Best Public College in the nation out of more than 600 institutions. U.S. News & World Report placed the Naval Academy at the top of all public liberal arts schools. It also recognized the Academy as one of the top engineering programs in the nation and first choice among high school guidance counselors.

This year, nine Midshipmen were awarded prestigious postgraduate scholarships, including two Rhodes Scholars, two Marshall Scholars, two Fulbright Scholars, one Mitchell Scholar, one Gates Scholar and one Truman Scholar.

The Naval Academy added the Cyber Operations Major this year and still stands as the only school in the U.S. with a mandatory comprehensive cyber curriculum for all students. The Academy also ranks 4th among Division 1A schools for its 96 percent student-athlete graduation rate.

Under Clark’s leadership, the Brigade of Midshipmen cut the number of alcohol and major conduct offenses in half; the number of honor offenses has been drastically reduced; the number of physical fitness deficiencies was reduced by about 60 percent; and the grade point average of the Brigade is the highest it has been in the school’s history.

“When goals are set and standards are understood by all, it’s amazing what an organization can achieve when it’s process driven and personality independent,” said Clark. “Success will breed success, and I think that is what we are seeing in the performance of the Brigade.”

For Clark, it was important not to “dictate policy,” but instead provide the Midshipman leadership the ability to see how what he calls “detractors from excellence” affected the brigade. He encouraged the midshipmen to take ownership and embody the term Shipmate; to be each other’s keeper so to speak.

“It’s about being able to educate, helping empower, and inspiring with a sense of accountability those who will come after us,” said Clark.

He likened the Naval Academy to a sports team like the Baltimore Ravens and other organizations that realize sustained success by empowering and inspiring in order to achieve well defined goals while maintaining and enforcing high standards.  Last year, the Ravens visited Annapolis to practice at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, and Clark took the opportunity to speak to the future Super Bowl Champions. Clark and Ravens Coach John Harbaugh were teammates at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“He was a big, physical football player then, and even at an early age, it was clear he had a natural ability to lead,” said Harbaugh, who described Clark as “one of the Naval Academy’s more influential and accomplished leaders.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that our team was absolutely made better through Captain Clark’s talk,” he said.

The reason a team like the Ravens is so successful and enduring is because of the community that supports it, said Clark.

“It not just because of the people who wear the uniform – football or military. They’ve both got great coaches, great doctors, great concessioners, field men, and a community of fans who support them,” said Clark.

In the same way, the Naval Academy is not defined by the brick and mortar or the walls that surround the campus.

“Our Naval Academy family and our outreach is extensive, across the nation, across the world. We’re all here for the same reason - the mentorship of our future,” he said.

The term “family” is appropriate in more ways than one. Clark’s two sons are currently attending the academy.

Midshipman 1st Class Andy Clark said the experience taught him a lot.

“Having my father as Commandant gave me a better understanding of professionalism and knowing where the boundaries are when a personal relationship exists with somebody in the work space,” he said.

Andy Clark said his favorite memories of having his father as Commandant were also some of the hardest. Watching some of his friends be separated from the academy for failing grades or conduct offenses was difficult.

“He knew that these people were my friends and it would hurt me to see them leave, just as it hurt him to let them go,” said Andy Clark. “In his position though he had to be sure that everyone was treated fairly and had to do the right - and not always easy - thing. I admired him very much for making those hard decisions.”

“ I admire him a lot for doing what is right and not necessarily the popular thing,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Wes Clark. “I learned a lot from watching him lead, and it was nice having him around.”

Clark said he is very proud of both his boys. Andy Clark is a Systems Engineering Major. He will graduate this May and serve in Navy Special Forces as an  Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD)  officer. Wes Clark is an Economics Major.

Whether talking about his sons or his other 4,500 sons and daughters within the Brigade training to be the next generation of military leaders, Clark’s message is the same.

“If anyone questions our future or national soul, I tell them to come spend a day at the United States Naval Academy and get to know our Midshipmen,” said Clark. “They will quickly see that our future is in great hands our national soul burns bright.” 
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