Academy's 1st female commandant vows fairness to all mids

Academy's 1st female commandant vows fairness to all mids

By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer

The Naval Academy's new commandant said yesterday that she plans to maintain high standards for men and women at the 161-year-old institution, and will not favor one sex over the other.

Navy Capt. Margaret Deluca Klein, who assumed office last week, is the first woman to hold the academy's No. 2 post.

She comes aboard at a time when some alumni say the school's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, is setting a double standard that punishes men severely in misconduct cases, while being lenient toward women.

"I don't feel much different toward the female mids than I do the Brigade of Midshipmen as a whole," said Capt. Klein, who graduated in 1981 as part of the academy's second class to contain women.

"My job is to show them good leadership; if the female midshipmen relate to that, then I think that is a good side-effect" of having a woman serve as commandant.

The Air Force Academy installed a woman as commandant last December.

The commandant, similar to a dean at a civilian college, oversees the day-to-day operations at the Naval Academy. Capt. Klein said she anticipates meeting at least twice each week with Adm. Rempt, who commands the installation.

While some academy graduates have said Capt. Klein's appointment marks the "feminization" of the academy, some of Adm. Rempt's strongest critics say Capt. Klein, a naval flight officer, deserves to be commandant.

"If she can run an air group on a carrier, I think she is certainly qualified to serve at the academy," said Peter S. Optekar of Hayden, Idaho, a member of the Class of 1963. Mr. Optekar, who was a starting football linebacker and guard while at the academy, is an outspoken critic of some of Adm. Rempt's command decisions.

"She may be the best commandant they have ever had," he said..

Mr. Optekar successfully led the drive recently to have Adm. Rempt remove himself from the case against Midshipman 1st Class Lamar S. Owens Jr., the 2005 Navy quarterback who was charged with raping a female midshipman in her dorm room.

In October, when announcing the selection of Capt. Klein from a list of about 10 candidates, Adm. Rempt said: "Capt. Klein is superbly qualified to lead the Brigade of Midshipmen and brings a substantial amount of operational, academic and leadership experience to the position."

Meet the press

Capt. Klein met with print reporters yesterday in the Commandant's Conference Room, where she was surrounded by portraits of the 81 men who held the post before her.

Though she said it was "the closest I have ever gotten to reporters," she seemed relaxed and joked about cameras being "automatic weapons."

Capt. Klein, who arrived at the academy on Nov. 28, said her mission is straightforward, though not easy: to produce junior officers who can perform well in the fleet and the Marine Corps, and who can go from graduation to fighting in the war on terrorism.

Midshipmen might not see much change in the way the academy operates, since Capt. Klein said she plans to retain many of the disciplinary requirements and procedures that were put in place under her predecessor, Capt, Bruce Grooms.

Capt. Grooms, the first African American to serve as commandant, has been selected for promotion to rear admiral.

"Absolutely," Capt. Klein said when asked if she plans to continue Shore Patrol, which was implemented a little more than a year ago to monitor midshipmen who are downtown Annapolis or at local malls.

"It seems to be effective," Capt. Klein said. "I think it is a great idea; it is what we do in the fleet."

There could be some changes coming, but they won't be immediate, Capt. Klein said.

"I imagine I will someday make some changes," she said. "We all like to leave an assignment better than we found it. But do I have a laundry list of changes? No, I do not."

Sought academy

Capt. Klein, 49, a native of Massachusetts, attended civilian colleges for two years before enrolling in the academy. She had always wanted to attend, but the military academies weren't open to women when she graduated from high school.

She was accepted at the U.S. Military Academy and at the Naval Academy.

Capt. Klein loved flying, but her poor eyesight kept her from being a pilot. As a naval flight officer, or "back-seater," she was responsible for navigation and weapons systems.

"I am Goose," she said of the famous flight officer in the 1986 movie "Top Gun." "Except I hope not to die in the middle of the movie."

Capt. Klein is married to retired Cmdr. Frank Klein, who graduated from the academy two years ahead of her. They were married at the Naval Academy Chapel in August 1982 and have a son, Brandan, 22, and a daughter, Carolyn, 16.

Capt. Klein most recently served as chief of staff for the commander of Carrier Strike Group Eight and was deployed aboard the carrier USS Eisenhower, which is based in Norfolk.

She served three tours in Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Three, nicknamed the "Ironmen," and commanded the squadron during her final tour with the unit. The squadron won the Battle E and Maintenance Excellence Award under her leadership.

Capt. Klein served in the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group staff during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She was wing commander of Joint Service Task Force 124 and Strategic Communications Wing One at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

She also has served in the White House Military Office and was a Brookings Legislative Fellow in 1997.

Capt. Klein has a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine.

She said her favorite assignment was when she was a wing commander in charge of 1,500 officers and sailors and 16 E-6 aircraft, which are huge communication and transport planes modeled after the civilian Boeing 707.

She said her greatest thrill was taking off from and landing on a carrier in a fighter.

For the next two years, Capt. Klein's job will be to prepare the 4,400-member Brigade of Midshipmen to serve as officers.

"I want them as prepared as they can be when they check in (for assignments) after graduation," she said. "I hope that when we query their commanding officers, they say: 'These kids contributed far beyond anyone's expectations.' "

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