Exclusive: The Dant Interview, Part Two

Watching the Pitt game tonight will surely boost the spirit of the Brigade, but who is in charge of morale on the Yard? Turns out the Commandant of Midshipmen, in part two of an exclusive interview with GoMids.com, had a lot to say about this topic as well as several other subjects including mandatory study, alumni and parent feedback, Navy football, and even her experience with kissing a pig.

So, is there one morale officer at the Naval Academy, and is it the Commandant?


"I have 30 company officers who keep their finger on the pulse…I have 30 company commanders....I have lots of morale officers," said Klein.  "So when I want to know what the Brigade is thinking I go to the brigade commander…when the Supe wants to know…we go out on a weekly basis and sit down for a meal with a squad…we're all charged with understanding the morale…"


"One of the things the mids are trying to get their arms around is [they are] used to morale being how much liberty do I have, and I think we all know that's not the reality of what's out in the Fleet," continued Klein.  "We have Fleet units that are deployed for seven or eight months at a time, and they accomplish the mission and their morale is very high.  Now do they wish they were on liberty on the beach?  Do they wish they were back at home with their family?  Absolutely, but their morale during their deployment was very high."


"Morale doesn't sink because you're going on a deployment…morale sinks if you lose a shipmate.  Morale sinks if the leadership isn't connected.  Morale is not directly equated to liberty and that's where the Brigade was at the beginning of the semester and many of them are still there right now," said Klein.


Morale was definitely a hot topic for the Commandant of Midshipmen.


"[The Brigade] needs to switch their thought process from its all about me and my twenty-four hours each day to hey am I looking out for my squad, my platoon, my company…it's not just about them and their personal liberty," she continued.  "Their learning to accomplish the mission and they are decoupling morale from liberty. Whether you are at shore or at sea, your morale isn't hideous just because you are at work."   


But did Klein hear the Brigade chanting ‘overnight' after the Air Force game?  Wasn't the awesome display of spirit a perfect opportunity to reward the Brigade, and especially the football team, for their efforts?


"Well, actually towards the end of the fourth quarter they were chanting ‘weekend,' and ‘weekend' somehow went to ‘overnight,' and that's exactly the decoupling we are talking about," said Klein. "Morale is probably climbing as they decouple weeknight liberty being their morale litmus test to hey we are actually accomplishing the mission.  If you took a sample of morale, I would bet that 60 to 70 percent of them are in the process of decoupling."


The new requirement for mandatory study every night has also raised some good questions regarding empowering midshipmen and allowing them to manage their own time.  Several parents and alumni told GoMids.com that such a policy will not effectively prepare the mids for the realities of the Fleet.


However, according to Klein the new studying requirements aren't aimed at the individual. They are an attempt to get the senior midshipmen to think about those in their charge.


"[We want to] get those 360 squad leaders to get focused on not just them but what is going on around them…the structure is in place for them to be able to do that so they don't have to call around the Yard [during study hour] to find their squad."


But what about a stellar student who has no homework and, let's say, an expanding waistline…can he use the mandatory study hours to workout?


"If they are that concerned, they always, always have the option to go to their company officer and say I have extenuating circumstances…they can always go to their company officer…but the first thing their company officer is going to say is, ‘That's wonderful that you are a 4.0 student…but what about your squad?'"


Another concern raised about study hour is that because of the internet, the new polices are just leading kids to the cookie jar.  How does Klein keep the surfing to a minimum?


"It's absolutely on the first class [midshipmen].  Some of them might be conducting management by walking around.  [Saying to their squad], ‘ok, I'm here and I care.'"


Ok, this all sounds like a great way to instill some discipline in the Brigade, but don't they, like any normal college student, need to blow off some steam?  Even a good CO in the Fleet allows for a surprise swim call during a deployment…


"But [the swim call] still has to be organized," responded Klein.


She continued, "I want the upperclass to understand that while they may have it rough here studying five nights a week…and not having liberty, that there are lots of folks that will soon be working for them who have it much harder."


Does Klein see a silver lining anywhere down the road regarding these new policies for the mids?


"As the semester progresses, we hope to open some weeknight liberty options for the first class – weekends [though] probably not," said Klein.


There have also been rumors circulating about the future of extra-curricular activities (ECAs).  The topic even came up at a recent Board of Visitor's meeting prompting one member of the group to infer that extra curricular activities help to produce "well-rounded" officers.


Klein said plebes were the focus of the changes in the ECAs as many of the first-year midshipmen were signing up for an unlimited number of them.  The activities were also reorganized based on their function which meant mids are not allowed to join two similar activities – like the chorus and the drum and bugle corps – both music-related clubs.


Regarding the cuts to the drum and bugle corps, Klein remarked, "We just tried to bring it back in balance with other activities."


Surely all of these changes have not made the Commandant of Midshipmen the most popular person on the Yard, but that hasn't stopped her from showing the Brigade that she has a sense of humor.  During a recent pep rally, Klein decided to sit in a dunking booth. Apparently though, no members of the Navy baseball team took part in the opportunity to ‘Dunk the Dant.'


"The [midshipmen] missed and then some strange guy painted in orange just pushed the button and I was like "what's up with that?"


Trying to poke fun at herself to show that she is a good sport is nothing new to Klein. She even admitted to GoMids.com that one time during her Navy career a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation committee asked her to kiss a pig for laughs – and she consented. 


Klein, who also admitted that she "makes mistakes everyday," said "her biggest challenge is to strike the right balance of midshipmen leading midshipmen, and [deciding] when [to] say, ‘Here you go - here are the keys,' and when [to] say, ‘Here is the box to operate in.' [It's a] huge challenge…because when I give them the keys, they do crazy things…and they do unexpected things."


But doesn't she expect that from college students?

"Absolutely, [but] my primary concern is always safety, but right after that I want them to get something out of the learning experience," said Klein.


So what did Klein think of the feedback she has received from alumni and parents regarding the new polices?


"I am continually amazed at how involved parents are in the day-to-day activities of their midshipmen," said Klein.  "Alumni…are hugely supportive."


Really, alumni are embracing the changes?


"Maybe I need to clarify…what they read in the press - they are probably scratching their head over, but when they come here, and they hear the Supe tell what he is driving at…once we have a chance to tell them what we are doing, [they are] very supportive," said Klein.


Since this is a GoMids.com interview, Klein had to know there would be a football question or two coming her way.  So did the Commandant believe a winning football team is important to the Naval Academy?


"It's so important for the Naval Academy that before I got here I learned what the triple option was…football is so important to the Naval Academy and I clearly understood that when I came to interview last year…I saw us beat UMASS and I knew if I came here that I'd probably need to understand football.  So I had a staff member on the USS EISENHOWER (CVN 69) teach me about football…so I had a clue."


What about Navy's football coach?  Is he an integral part of the mission of the Naval Academy?

"Paul Johnson…first of all Paul Johnson sees those football players in a concentrated - you talk about a structured environment - I look like something way off the chart when you compare Bancroft Hall to the structure of a Paul Johnson football practice.  Those kids who come here to play football…you know I don't know [what] their perception is walking in the door but Paul Johnson has done the Navy a great service by training lots of Midshipmen…"


Klein said her first opportunity to meet Johnson and senior members of the football team came at last season's bowl game against Boston College in Charlotte.  She left extremely impressed.


"The influence that Paul Johnson had on those now ensigns and second lieutenants was incredible."


Klein is probably hoping that the new administration, combined with the new policies, will have a similar affect on all midshipmen.




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