by Mike Smith
Naval Academy Commandant of Midshipmen Molds Future Warriors
Capt. Bruce Grooms, the 81st Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, was commissioned in 1980 after graduating from the Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. Among his many assignments, Capt. Grooms has served as the Executive Officer of USS Pasadena (SSN-752), Commanding Officer of USS Asheville (SSN-758), and as Commander, Submarine Squadron SIX. The 1999 winner of the Vice Adm. Stockdale Award for Leadership, he holds a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategy Studies from the Naval War College and attended Stanford University as a National Security Affairs Fellow.
Capt. Grooms recently sat down with the editors of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine to discuss several wide-ranging topics.
Q: What are your priorities as Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy?
A: My priorities as Commandant are really very simple; they are to give Midshipmen as many leadership opportunities as possible to prepare them to be good combat leaders. This also means making sure they act honorably and that their character has a solid foundation. We spend a lot of time working on those kinds of things. We also work to help them understand what is required of a good leader. Frankly, if we don’t produce the best leaders, we won’t be successful in the Fleet.
Q: Are those the priorities you came onboard with, or have they been shaped by your time in office?
A: I think in general – and one thing I’ve found – is that this institution has been around for 160 years, and I don’t know that I’ve come up with any great new priorities. Our mission, our vision – what we are fundamentally here for – all of those things are really the same. And so I am really here in a caretaker status to make sure we support and continue to do those things. I would love to be able to say I came up with a brand new list of bigger, better, more important things. The reality is that this is a really solid institution, and those things which we stand for are the things which our predecessors stood for long ago, and are the things I believe in. I’m here to make sure we continue to do what we are chartered to do.
Q: While any command position is difficult, submarine commands have many unique challenges. What experiences from your submarine career will influence your leadership style at the Academy?
A: I think my experiences as a submarine officer mirror almost any other challenge that I have had. You have machines which are designed to do things; you have buildings in which important things happen – but after all is said and done, it’s really about the people who run those machines, the people in the buildings, and what you do with those folks and how you work together to get the most out of them. In my submarine experience, I’ve been to places where the submarine and its crew excelled, but it excelled because there was a small percentage of folks who did almost everything, and there were a lot of other folks whom we sometimes called spectators. I have been in other submarines where – however it happened – we managed to get a much larger group of folks who were energized and wanted to do the right things; and those submarine commands performed superbly. The good news is that we have a bunch of great folks. The challenging news is that we have to get those great people to work together towards common goals – and that is identical to the Naval Academy with one minor exception.
That exception is the Midshipmen – a group of folks with the brightest, most creative, and energetic minds and sometimes it takes a lot more work to corral that energy and those minds, because they are just waiting for chances to do things. So you can’t lead Midshipmen as you might lead people in the Fleet. You can’t just dictate and decree and say, “Thou shalt.” You actually have to figure out ways to make the Midshipmen a part of everything that goes on here, and then if you are fortunate enough to be able to mold, and corral, and get them going, you’ll have success. From my standpoint, having been on the job for four or five months, it is a work in progress. All these great minds are bubbling, kind of like popcorn, just kind of popping, waiting to break out of the bag. So I think that is my personal challenge – to help shape and mold them.
Adm. Mike Mullen, CNO