Naval Academy midshipmen could receive the vaccine as early as the end of March, according to a timeline laid out by Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck at a congressional hearing.
Buck appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday morning along with the superintendents from the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy.
Midshipmen fall under the second phase of vaccine distribution, but a select number of mids will participate in summer training, which starts May 15, Buck told committee members. Those midshipmen will need to be vaccinated, which means they will have to be vaccinated by the end of March in order to have both doses of the vaccine, as both the Pfizer and Moderna require two doses, spaced roughly a month apart.
The remaining midshipmen would then get vaccinated in the first weeks of April if there is ample vaccine supply, Buck said.
The committee heard testimony from each of the superintendents before spending time asking questions. Buck spoke about the lower morale and the effect of COVID-19 on the academy without going into much detail, which frustrated some midshipmen. Some sounded off on anonymous social media app Jodel and anonymous Instagram accounts.
Buck did not detail how many COVID-19 cases the academy has handled since bringing midshipmen back in June. He did mention that until recently the rates remained low.
“It’s our firm belief at the Naval Academy that you cannot develop leaders online,” Buck said.
Tuesday, the academy announced that 98 midshipmen, recovering from COVID-19, would be moving to an Annapolis hotel in order to open quarantine and isolation space in Bancroft Hall.
Buck did not receive any questions from members of congress, including Board of Visitors chair Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County., about the increased cases at the academy. Nor did they question Buck on the recent settlement of a lawsuit brought by Midshipman Chase Standage to block plans to dismiss him over a series of tweets deemed by the academy racist and inappropriate last summer.
Buck spoke about morale at the academy, saying he differentiated morale and mental health. While more mental health services were requested, appointments with specific therapists did not increase, he said.
Each member of Congress had five minutes to question the academies, which often meant every academy could not answer questions.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., asked about white supremacy, racism and extremism, but only Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent at West Point, was able to answer. The US Military Academy will stand down in two weeks, he said.
The Naval Academy has said it will comply with the stand down for extremism order issued by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, although it is unclear when that will happen. Buck was not given time to answer Crist’s question.
The events after police killed George Floyd affected the Naval Academy, Buck said, and prompted conversations about racism, diversity and inclusion.
“The Naval Academy must be a visible cornerstone of a value-based naval culture of dignity and mutual respect,” Buck testified.
Character of cadets and midshipmen was also brought up by congressional questions about the cheating scandal at West Point and the inconsistencies with a physics test at the academy.
Buck is finishing up the investigation into the inconsistencies, he said, and it mostly involved younger midshipmen.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, asked the superintendents about remediation efforts, and Buck said remediation was mostly focused on those who have not been at the academy as long.
“But as you spend more time in your 47-month journey at the Naval Academy immersed on a daily basis in a culture of character and a culture of honor that are expectations of you as you get closer to entering the fleet as a junior and a senior, that there may not be as much of a look for remediation and second chances,” Buck said. “But we do want to look at each case individually.”
Any honor code violations are adjudicated by midshipmen peers with the commissioned chain of command deciding whether to separate or remediate.
As the appropriations committee deals with funding, committee members asked infrastructure questions to all of the superintendents.
Buck spoke about sea-level rise concerns, as well as a utility bridge that is in need of repairs. Macdonough Hall, which holds the physical education department, is also slated for repairs, the superintendent said.
“What I want to leave you with, and the committee with, is we need to be sure that we have a consistent budget in each of the out years that would be really important to our planning effort, and our ability to know that we’re going to get after our highest-priority infrastructure projects,” Buck said.
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