I am routinely intrigued by the balance of tradition with ceaseless change at the Naval Academy.
On one hand, everything from formal parades to chow calls to the Herndon Climb harken back to bygone days and remind everyone involved of the legacy upon which USNA is built. Yet, much the tides roll in and out with a ceaseless rhythm, relentless change marks the passage of time. I Day comes and goes, Plebes become Youngsters and embark on their first summer training, majors are selected, and young officers depart Annapolis to all corners of the globe.
One of those regular changes is the appointment of a new superintendent. When my son arrived, Vice Admiral Ted Carter held the office. My strongest sentiment about Carter is that he looked like he knew he had one of the greatest jobs on the planet and enjoyed every minute of it. So when he left, there was understandable anxiety about who would be next.
Admiral Sean Buck was not Carter and that’s neither good nor bad, simply a statement of fact. While you had to be excited for Buck to ascend to such a prestigious position, you knew he would have a challenge following in the footsteps of someone as beloved as Carter. Turns out that challenge was the least of his worries.
Buck’s tenure will always be known as the COVID-19 era. He was in the office just more than seven months when then-President Trump announced a national lockdown due to the pandemic. I have to assume from the time he received this cherished appointment, he looked forward to that first commissioning ceremony, greeting those new officers as they crossed the stage at the stadium on a sun-drenched May afternoon. Instead, he and his staff would scramble to implement remote learning and engineer a graduation ceremony that maintained the dignity required while respecting necessary safety protocols.
Well, it’s time for another change. While this one is in line with the tradition of changing superintendents with regularity, it runs counter to tradition in a most dramatic fashion. That’s because for the first time, the superintendent will be a woman.
Pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Rear Adm. Yvette Davids will break that barrier this summer, leaving West Point as the only service academy to not have a female leader, according to the Military Times.
It’s an important and necessary barrier to be broken, a sign that the Navy is not just an integrated fighting force but presents command opportunities based on skill and competency. With a daughter at another military academy, it confirms my expectation that she will have every opportunity to reach whatever goals she sets.
That being said, some people aren’t going to like Davids. Look, some people didn’t like Buck, sometimes simply because he wasn’t Carter. Human nature is to resist change. But there are some who will cast a greater scrutiny on the new Supe because she is a woman. That’s just how some people are. There are still people who show disdain for female soldiers in forward deployed areas or female submariners.
I doubt Davids finds that aspect of her new appointment the least bit intimidating. She’s the first Hispanic woman to command a U.S. warship and one of the first Hispanic women to command a carrier strike group. And she graduated from the Naval Academy just nine years after the first group of women received their diplomas and commissions in 1980. However, much like Buck will always be known as the Supe who guided USNA through the pandemic, Davids will always be known as the first female Supe.
May she be accepted with open arms and open minds and may her tenure be marked by fair winds and following seas.