While many are scurrying this week to prepare for holiday travel or find holiday gifts for friends and family, I hope the young men and women of the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, are enjoying some well-deserved rest and recreation.
Like many college students, our cadets are on winter break. But, unlike many college students, they are not on vacation. They are on leave--absence not from classes or typical college life, but from the duties and responsibilities of service.
You see, these midshipmen have signed on to serve America by helping the US Merchant Marine meet the nation's economic and security needs.
Today, the US imports approximately 85 percent of some 77 strategic commodities critical to America's industry and defense. We purchase nearly a third of the world's raw materials, and 99 percent of these materials are transported by merchant vessels.
Now, a ship at sea does not operate in a vacuum. Sure, it relies on its deck officers and crew--but it also depends on a number of shoreside activities: ports and terminals where cargo is handled; yards for ship repair; services like marine insurance underwriters, ship chartering firms, admiralty lawyers, engineering and research companies; and systems of trucks and railroads to distribute goods around the country.
Success in all of these activities requires well-trained and dedicated people. And those are precisely the kind of young men and women the USMMA graduates every year.
Training for maritime service is not easy. Yes, it requires the high level of academic preparation one would expect of any college. But it also requires living within a regiment of cadets; it requires extensive leadership training; and it requires a degree of self-discipline typically found only in America's service academies.
In short, it is hard work. And the cadets of Kings Point attack their responsibilities and training vigorously. That is why I'm thinking of them this week.
So, to all the fine young men and women of the US Merchant Marine Academy, I thank you for your service and wish you a very restful two weeks. I know you deserve it.