Vice Adm. Walter "Ted" Carter, Naval Academy superintendent, wasn't a vice admiral, or a superintendent, or really anyone of standing when he arrived at the Naval Academy for the first time.
He was Midshipman Carter. A plebe. Legend has it, a skinny kid with big ears. He would leave the academy and graduate TOPGUN before Tom Cruise made graduating TOPGUN part of the cultural lexicon. He would set a record for jet landings on an aircraft, command a strike fighter squadron and start the Navy's 21st Century Sailor program, focused on mental health and resiliency among enlisted sailors.
He would return to the place where his Navy career started 33 years later and see the Naval Academy through the growth of a cyber operations major and an honor code revamp.
He would also be at the helm through budget sequestration, a rise in rates of sexual harassment and assault and a controversial business policy that sought a cut of the money vendors earned for services on the yard.
He would see it through three Navy football defeats to Army. He would be quick to point out Navy sports have outpaced Army sports overall in 21 of the last 23 years.
Five years after he became superintendent, Carter will step down this summer. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson nominated Rear Adm. Sean S. Buck to take Carter's place. Should the Senate confirm him, Buck will take over this summer, and leave Carter without a Navy job for the first time in 42 years.
He's going to take a vacation, somewhere out of the country, then the West Coast. But in a wide-ranging conversation, Carter looked back on his time helming the place he started his career.
Spheres of influence
Being superintendent of a service academy is really three jobs in one. Superintendents are the president of the college, in charge of academics; the military commander of the brigade, developing warfighting men and women for their post-grad mission; and the installation commander, in charge of infrastructure on the yard.
Then there are the "spheres of influence," as Carter calls them. The people and places and institutions superintendents liaise to wrangle a better future for the academy. The brigade, of course. But also the City of Annapolis. Big Navy. The alumni association. The governor, the mayor, the politicians and political appointees on the Board of Visitors.
It's a lot to figure out in not a lot of time. At five years, Carter's tenure is on the longer side. But he says he didn't waste time.
"I set my priorities on three things within weeks of being here," he said.
Carter wanted to update the academy Honor Program, expand the international program and strengthen the nascent cybersecurity program.
He convened a group of experts and commissioned a study of the Honor Concept. It guides midshipmen to never lie, cheat or steal. An early form of the program, honor duels and fights resulted in a fistfight to the death broke out when one mid called the other a "damned lowdown sneak and coward."
The policy has modernized significantly since then -- most notably after a cheating scandal in 1992 -- but when Carter arrived, it hadn't been widely reviewed since 2010. The students he oversees are millennials and Gen Z'ers. The honor concept had become "a little bit outdated," Carter thought, for students bombarded with technology.
The major review in 2015 didn't change the wording of the concept itself, but recommended improved communication and education, highlighting the positive aspects of being an honorable person rather than the negative of getting in trouble. It called for a crackdown of informal counseling, where one mid who witnesses another violating the code might confront the person but not report it, and cautioned overuse of remediation, whereby a violator gets a second chance.
Honor violations spiked the following year, but only because of a statistically low number of reports in 2015. Still, guilty cases have continued a downward trend, with an uptick from 60 to 69 between academic years 2018 and 2019.
Carter also turned his attention toward academics, particularly the academy's fledgling cybersecurity program. The cyber operations major began in 2013, before Carter became superintendent, with a handful of students taking classes in buildings scattered across campus. Within his first year at the academy, said Paul Tortora, director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies, Carter gave the major its own department.
"By giving it its own home, he was able to jumpstart the major," Tortora said. "I was able to hire people directly into that department."
The major has grown every year. Three percent of the Class of 2016 were cyber operations majors. Nearly 10% of the Class of 2022, this year's freshman, are enrolled in the program. The new home of the department Hopper Hall, named after computer science pioneer Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, is slated to open next year.
The Naval Academy won three of the last five cyber defense competitions hosted annually by the National Security Agency after a five-year drought. Tortora credits Carter's willingness to create a "war room" where student competitors could safely research and test attacks, including one on an Amazon Alexa. Yes, they hacked it.
Carter was able to convince the Navy midshipmen should be commissioned directly into cybersecurity fields upon graduation, Tortora said. The Class of 2015 was the first, sending five midshipmen. The number is now up to about 30.
'They could do better'
Despite the successes Carter claims, the last five years have been marked by challenges: budget constraints, infrastructure failures, threats from sea-level rise and an increase in rates of sexual assault and harassment.
The 2013 budget sequester hit the Naval Academy, cutting money for infrastructure projects on the yard as well as the international exchange and study abroad programs.
A Naval Audit Service review found the school's infrastructure had degraded to the point of threatening the Naval Academy mission. Carter said the Naval Academy called for the review to bring attention to the problem. The Navy responded with a plan to give the Naval Academy $15 million every other year for infrastructure upgrades, starting in 2020. But full renovations will take hundreds of millions.
"They could do better," Carter said.
There are $205 million in projects ongoing, he said. The academy began an $8.9 million project to repair the Chapel dome in November but determined the whole thing must be replaced. Repairs to the dome are in addition to a backlog of 108 maintenance projects, estimated to cost $736 million to complete.
Sea level rise and the threats it poses exacerbate the problem.
An oceanography professor with the academy determined the Severn River will rise anywhere from .6 to 3.6 feet by 2050. To cope, the academy will add another 2.62 feet to the 5.4 foot Farragut Field seawall, with features to allow another 1.68 feet of height. Carter announced in December it will likely cost $15 million to repair and replace the seawall.
Budget constraints also hit the International Program Office, which has run study abroad, language emersion and exchange programs since 2005. Carter endeavored to grow the number of students participating in the programs to 500 every year. In 2015, the academy sent 450 students abroad, a record. But the sequester cut off funding, limiting the number of students the academy can afford to send. The overall number dipped to a five-year low in 2018, when just 230 students studied abroad. This year 310 enrolled in international programs.
Carter, however, was still able to expand semester exchange, which allows the Naval Academy to send a midshipman to another country's naval college and vice versa. Since 2014, the academy was able to add Singapore, South Korea, Italy, Portugal and Israel to the cadre of partners.
Tim Disher, director of the program, said Carter has been an effective leader abroad.
"It's developing those key relationships that help us at the highest level," Disher said.
The Midshipman Welfare fund took a hit, too -- but not from the sequester. The pot of money provided recreation opportunities for the Brigade and drew heavily from the Midshipman Store. But as store sales declined, the fund lost money, Carter said. The Naval Academy Business Services Division sought to make up the money by requiring vendors doing business on the yard to pay 20 percent of their fee to the academy. The policy has since been reversed, following a backlash.
U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who serves on the Naval Academy Board of Visitors, said he's been impressed by Carter's handling of the challenges facing the academy, especially rising rates of sexual harassment.
"I know what the Naval Academy has done, especially under Carter, is try to deal with the issues and stay on top of those issues and have an openness of communication," he said.
The academy hosted a conference on sexual harassment and assault prevention in April. Instances of unwanted sexual contact are on the rise at service academies nationwide. At the Naval Academy, 56% of female midshipmen experienced sexual harassment, up from 51% in 2016. Seventeen percent of male midshipmen experienced sexual harassment, up from 12% in 2016.
Midshipmen filed 32 reports of sexual assault 2017-2018 school year, a 10-year high.
During Carter's tenure, the school implemented an anonymous reporting system and adjusted alcohol education and sexual assault prevention programs to better focus on active intervention and preventative measures.
Not retired, retired
The Naval Academy will graduate about 5,300 midshipman during Carter's tenure, including those being awarded their commissions Friday.
Reserve Officer Training Corps and Officer Candidate School programs provide alternatives to candidates seeking to become an officer in the Navy, often with more freedom than the Naval Academy offers.
Ruppersberger believes the academy still has its place. "Without any doubt," he said, "it's one of the reasons we are the most powerful countries in the world."
Others aren't so sure.
David Tuma, a 1964 Naval Academy graduate and watchdog, has filed numerous Freedom of Information Requests with the academy. In 2015, he filed a request for documents outlining how effective the academy has been in producing officers dedicated to Navy careers. A response from the time indicated the academy doesn't use a career of service as a metric. Tuma thinks that's a problem.
"We have outstanding grads from the Naval Academy," Tuma said. "The question is are they as good as they should be based on the input? And no one answers that question.'
Carter pushed back on any idea that Naval Academy graduates aren't an asset to the fleet.
"It's a fairly even mix between OCS, ROTC and the Naval Academy, up to about the command selection," Carter said. About 40 percent of those in command positions today are Naval Academy graduates, he said, and 29 of the 31 Chiefs of Naval Operations, the highest-ranking officer in the Navy, have been graduates.
For now, Carter is onto other things.
He's got the Bruins for the Stanley Cup. He thinks Navy will be just fine against Army next year. He's retiring out of the Navy, but not out of the workforce.
"I'm not retired-retired," he said.
This article is written by Danielle Ohl from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.