On an unusually nice day in early October, not long before I was to interview Vice Admiral Joseph D. Stewart, I was in my room in 4th company, gazing out of the window towards the flagpole, Wiley Hall and the Long Island Sound, enjoying the beautiful weather. I was in the middle of compiling questions for my interview, and wondering what a lowly midshipman would say to a three-star admiral. As it turns out, I had little reason to be nervous. Admiral Stewart strolled out from under Truxton Arcade, having just finished running. To my surprise, he walked onto the grass beside the path and started picking up trash that had been strewn about. I realized simultaneously that Admiral Stewart, as he retrieved candy wrappers, was as down to earth as an admiral could be, and also that I had a good introduction for my interview. He is a true servant leader, a man of the people, and was not above picking up trash on the campus that meant so much to him. During his decade-long tenure at Kings Point, the man affectionately known within the regiment as “Joey D” grew to love KP, and the feeling was certainly mutual. As evidenced by the hugely successful commemorative “Admiral Stewart” t-shirts sold shortly before his retirement, he had many fans at the USMMA. He earned his respect, whether by doing pushups with plebes at football games, or by firing up the regiment before Coast Guard weekend. I probably heard every one of his Coast Guard jokes at least three times, and laughed just as hard every time. During our interview, he put me completely at ease, and was a pleasure to speak with. I almost forgot about the three stars on his collar. Ten years is an extraordinarily long assignment by military standards, and it stands to reason that Admiral Stewart would have retired before too much longer. Still, his longevity as superintendent is a testament to his passion and effectiveness. He was unceremoniously and prematurely forced to retire due to recent financial issues at the school, and it is a shame that such a good man would be treated in such a way. As they say, though, the captain of the ship, as he metaphorically was, is always responsible. He will be greatly missed by everyone in the Kings Point community. I wanted to interview him before he left, let him tell his side of the story, and allow members of the regiment to submit questions to be answered before the “Joey D” era officially came to a close. Hear This!: Good afternoon, sir. I know you’re busy – thank you for making time for me. I am like the majority of the regiment in that I have never had the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with you. You are highly respected throughout Kings Point, but few people have been fortunate enough to get to know you. Before you leave, I would like for the regiment to learn more about you, and to benefit from your knowledge and insights. Some of the following questions are mine, and some have been submitted by members of the regiment. Let’s get started. HT: There is still a considerable amount of confusion about the current state of the academy. I would like to get on the record the facts of the school’s financial crisis concerning “misappropriated” funds and the subsequent congressional investigation, and any related matters that you feel should be clarified. It seems as though the whole situation has been unfairly and unnecessarily blown out of proportion.
Admiral Stewart: The first thing I would like to say is that there has been no “misappropriation” of funds. We get a certain amount of money from congress, and it’s divided into three categories. The first is Pay & Benefits, which of course is used to pay salaries and other things of that nature. The second one is Operations, which is basically used to pay for all of the normal day-to-day operations of the school and everything that keeps it running. What we did, which was approved by MARAD, is we used some money from Operations to pay salaries. This happened at the end of the 2006 fiscal year, so it was quite some time ago. During the fiscal year, we had a similar situation, and the DOT went to Congress to authorize the rearrangement of money to cover academy expenses. The use of funds to pay the salaries was approved by MARAD and the DOT, but recently Congress got a new Chief Financial Officer, and as he was looking through his records, he noticed our situation, and decided to get involved. What turned out to be the case was in 2002, Congress passed a bill that says any decisions on how to use Congressappropriated money must go through Congress itself, so MARAD and the DOT don’t have the authority to grant that kind of use of funds, and Congress is saying it was illegal. We never spent more than we were given; we simply had to use excess money from one area to cover the cost of our staff. As a result, MARAD came to Kings Point to do an audit, and they especially didn’t like the funding of salaries with Non-Appropriated Funds, which is basically the money donated by the Alumni to the Alumni Foundation. For example, your crew coach is paid out of Non-Appropriated Funds, as are most of the expenses at the waterfront. They didn’t like paying people partly out of NonAppropriated Funds and partly from Appropriated Funds, either. MARAD felt we had misled Congress, since we were paying some people with Non-Appropriated Funds, they said they didn’t even know how many employees we had. An example of these types of funds is GMATS. They don’t receive any appropriated funding; what they do is offer courses to the DOD, the DOT, and the Merchant Marine, charge for the classes and in some cases lodging, and use what they charge to pay the people that work there. When I first got here, I made an arrangement where GMATS would give us a part of their profits, since GMATS relies on the Academy. They use our utilities, we pay their electrical bill, and they use our property, so it’s only fair that we get something in return. We’re not talking about big bucks here; maybe something like $250,000 a year, but it’s something. MARAD didn’t like this process. To oversimplify it, everyone should know that we do have money, so it’s not like we aren’t able to pay for everything. Our budget hasn’t been reduced. It’s just that our Non-Appropriated Funds that have been temporarily frozen for the time being, and it really frustrates me. It’s like having money in the bank, but you go to the ATM and your card won’t work. They don’t really seem to realize how this affects the midshipmen. What I like to say about Alumni contributions is that they give us a “margin of excellence.” It gives us the money we need to set ourselves apart, to truly make this place special. Now that we temporarily can’t use the Alumni foundation money, it’s frustrating, because that margin is gone for the time being. So there was nothing dishonorable or unethical done, and that’s what people should know. Everything we did was authorized or directed by MARAD, and we don’t feel that we did anything illegal or wrong. An example of how we’ve been treated is midshipman injuries. When someone gets hurt playing football, for example, and needs to get their knee fixed, it’s always been covered by Worker’s Compensation, so they go to the hospital, have the surgery, and it’s all paid for. What MARAD did recently is dump the entire Worker’s
Comp bill on us, which in my view is unprofessional. MARAD has always paid the Academy’s workers’ compensation bill – about $700,000 annually. Midway through FY2007, MARAD transferred that responsibility to the academy without giving us the opportunity to budget for the increase. Absolutely nobody here did anything dishonorable, though, and I would bet my life on the fact that the people in civil service and other people working here did nothing wrong, and are only working for the good of the academy. HT: What can Kings Point midshipmen do to help rectify the problem, such as writing their Congressmen? AS: I don’t think writing to your Congressmen is the best idea. I’ve actually been accused recently of telling midshipmen to write to their Congressmen, which is not the case. People certainly can write to their Congressmen, but I haven’t been telling anyone to do it. We have some people in Congress right now who are trying to help the academy and I think MARAD and OST are trying to move the academy forward, although it might take time. There are people in Congress trying to help, it will just take time. What I would tell the midshipmen is to be patient, and know that we do in fact have money. Contrary to popular belief, we do have money available and we’re not going to close or anything like that. Things should only get better from here on out, so I would say not to walk around with looks of doom and gloom, and know that things are going to be looking up soon. HT: Recently, many people in administrative and other positions such as Superintendent, Commandant, RO, CO and varsity coach have been replaced or relocated. Some of these changes have been quite controversial. Has this been because of the turmoil the academy has been experiencing, or for different reasons? Will the individuals with new positions be holding them long-term? AS: Well, what I was told was the Secretary has lost faith in me to be in charge of this school, and I was going to be terminated from my position. I believe the department felt it was time for a leadership change at the academy. I was offered a position at MARAD, but decided to retire instead. What happened with Admiral McMahon is that they deleted his billet, so the position of Assistant Superintendent doesn’t exist any more. He was able to be moved to another position at the Senior Executive Service level, which was basically made up of three positions here – my job, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and the Dean. Now of course we just have the Superintendent and the Dean. Admiral McMahon is receiving a new billet in Washington, so he’s just been relocated. As far as Captain Allee goes, whom I had great respect for and I think did a great job, he just decided it was time to move on. He wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren. It’s the same case with the COs that left or relocated, they just moved on to other things. Much of this had nothing to do with what’s been going on at the academy. When Captain Allee left, we had to move people up to fill temporary spots, so when Commander Fell became Commandant, we needed a new Deputy Commandant, which is now Commander Mund, and in turn needed someone to fill his position. Honestly, I thought it’d be nice to give Third Company a little break from Commander
Ragin, and it would be good to have someone experienced filling in at RO while we look for new people. I will say I haven’t been completely pleased with what I’ve been hearing has been going on at Reg Row, and I need to look into it further, but we’re doing the best we can to fill positions right now while we work on getting new people here. HT: Many feel that Indoctrination and plebe year in general have become too easy, with an excessive amount of limitations for those training plebes, and too many privileges for plebes. Some have said plebes are “practically recognized” already. Your thoughts? Do you think the type of system you experienced in the early 60s, with more hazing and fewer restrictions, was more or less effective? AS: I don’t see much change now compared to when I got here. Honestly, if anything, I think it was almost easier when I went through Indoc at Navy, because it was so long. We had so much downtime, we would spend hours reading books they gave us, shining our shoes, or ironing our uniforms. There was just so much time to kill, they couldn’t use it all. I don’t really see a big change in Indoc or the plebe system now as opposed to when I got here. I don’t think it’s gotten any easier. If anything, it’s harder here, because it’s more condensed. It’s a more full and active Indoc than what I remember being run at Navy. Now, about tattoo, I’ve heard about that change, and I don’t completely agree with it. I need to look into what’s going on there a little more, because I don’t really like what I’ve been hearing about tattoo being changed. The plebe system doesn’t seem to be much different to me than it’s always been, though. HT: What are your views on the controversial new midshipman officer system, where M/N officers were spontaneously switched between companies? Many people have expressed their disapproval of this idea in various ways. Do you think it has been effective, and looking back, could it have been handled better? AS: Well, this was Captain Allee’s idea before he left, and I thought it was a good idea. The hardest thing about being an officer is leading people who are your friends, and people who are the same rank as you. I thought it’d be a good way for midshipmen to learn true leadership and have a little bit more of a challenge. As far as the way it was handled, maybe it should be more of a participatory thing, with more input from the people who would be involved. There’s nothing worse than decisions coming down with no input from the people they affect. For example, lately MARAD has been making decisions that affect the academy without even letting us know about it, and nothing frustrates me more. So, maybe it could be more of a participatory system with more collected input. The same thing for issues such as the tattoo change, maybe there could be more input there before those types of decisions are made. HT: Ten years ago when you began your tenure as Superintendent, what were your goals? How do you feel you did in accomplishing your goals? What would you have done differently in hindsight? AS: I honestly didn’t have any goals coming in. I didn’t really get any guidance from Washington, and didn’t really know enough about the place to set any goals. I guess I
took the standard military approach of trying to come into an assignment and leave it better than how you found it. Once I settled in, though, I set two main goals. First, it seemed to me like the midshipmen weren’t really too proud to be at Kings Point, and I wanted to change that. The other thing was the facilities were deplorable, and maybe this had something to do with the attitude of the midshipmen. I wanted to instill a little more pride in the midshipmen, and fix the place up as much as I could. I think there’s a lot of pride in the school right now, so I guess I’ve done what I could to help the students be proud of Kings Point. I guess if I had to do it over again, I would try and create a little warmer relationship with the faculty. I don’t know if the administration and faculty had the kind of relationship they could have had, and I wish I could have made that a little better. The same can be said for MARAD. I wish we had a better understanding with MARAD, a better working relationship. So, if I could do it over again, I’d try to foster a better relationship with the faculty, maybe sit in on more classes, and try to have a better relationship with them. Also, MARAD, I wish we got along a little better. HT: There have been many changes at Kings Point in the last decade, some good and some bad. What do you feel is your greatest achievement as Superintendent? Greatest failure? AS: I think there’s a lot more pride among the midshipmen now, and I certainly hope I’ve helped to bring that about. Everyone seems to be a lot more proud of being a Kings Pointer than when I started. I certainly didn’t do it by myself, but we have a much larger budget now than when we started, and it’s not nearly what we need, but we’re making progress. At the DOT, they have a ton of money. We’re talking megabucks. It’d be nice if we could get a little more of that. A simple thing is the emphasis we have now on honor and ethics, with the required classes. I think that’s important. I’ve tried to fix up the place as much as possible, and we’ve done a lot. We just awarded the contract to renovate Murphy Hall, so that should be starting soon. We still need a lot more work, but it’s coming along. Also, having the Congressional Board of Visitors come here is a big deal. All of the other academies have a Board of Visitors that come every so often, and we haven’t had a visit. These are the guys that are supposed to be overlooking the school, and they haven’t been here. There’s one guy in Congress who didn’t even know he was on the Board until we told him. So, they’re coming here next month, which could be really helpful and good for the academy if it’s handled properly. As far as my greatest failure goes, I would say the faculty relationship. I wish it was a little bit warmer than it is. I’ve sat in on some classes before, and maybe I should have done that more, but I just think I could have done better in dealing with the faculty. One problem is the uniformed guys up in Marine Transportation – it seems to be that if you haven’t been captain of a ship, you somehow don’t quite belong, and I don’t know if that’s the way it should be. Anyway, I’m proud of a lot of things that have been done in my time, but I wish I had a warmer relationship with the faculty. HT: What will be your fondest memory of your time as Superintendent? Worst memory? AS: There are so many fond memories I’ll take away from this place, it’s really hard to choose just one. I guess I would say when we wrestled Coast Guard last year, and the
Alma Mater was played. It was sure nice to beat them 38-0, but the thing that stood out to me was the Alma Mater. They played it over the loudspeakers, and in the middle it cut out. I thought there would be a bunch of catcalls and hooting, and the place was packed, but everyone stood there respectfully at attention to wait and see if it would come back on, and when it didn’t, they all finished the song loud and proud. That was really special for me, to see everyone show that kind of pride with Coast Guard here, and finish the Alma Mater like they did. Also, when we played Coast Guard in football and we marched on the field. We stand straighter, our uniforms look better, and we just do everything better than those guys. It really makes me proud to see that kind of pride. What I really hated to see was one time we made everybody come to a football game, required the regiment to be there. During that year, we didn’t make people go to some games, and nobody showed up, and Alumni were complaining that there was nobody there. This was the weekend before finals. So, everyone marched on the field, and from the stands I saw that everyone had briefcases in their hands. This was all orchestrated by a midshipman officer. They went to man the stands, and everyone opened their briefcases and made it clear they weren’t going to pay attention; they were just going to study their calculus, or whatever. I was really disappointed to see that, that’s really stuck with me. I’ll definitely take a lot of great memories away with me, though, too many to count. HT: Did you know about Kings Point when you applied to the Naval Academy? If so, did you consider it? If not, had you known, would you have rather gone here? AS: I didn’t know about it, but if I had, I think Kings Point would have been better for me. I think I would have done better here, because it’s a smaller school, and everyone knows each other. I was the type of guy who could get lost in the back of the crowd, so I think if I would have known about Kings Point, I would have done better here than I did at Navy. I’d just never heard of it at the time. I thought there were only four service academies, like a lot of people do now. HT: You quoted Rodney Dangerfield in the most recent issue of Kings Pointer magazine to start your column, appropriately using his famous line, “I get no respect” in reference to Kings Point. Do you think Kings Point will ever receive the same respect and/or funding as the other four service academies that we deserve? AS: Well, I think we’ll always be the underdog, there’s no way around it. I think we’re already gaining in publicity and respect, but I think we’ll just never get to the same level as the other four academies. We’ll gain on them, certainly, but probably never get to the same level of funding or respect. I hope I’m wrong, though. What’s been good about the controversy lately is that we’ve gotten a lot of much-needed publicity and attention drawn to us, which we’ve never had before. I think that Kings Point being the underdog makes it better, anyway, guys here don’t have as much as the other academies, and they realize they have to work a little harder to get the respect they deserve, which makes us better in the end. Having that desire, and not feeling quite as entitled to things is what makes Kings Point great.
HT: You graduated from Annapolis in 1964, meaning you have been an officer-intraining and officer for nearly a half century. In your opinion, what makes a good officer in the military? AS: I would say that you need to care about your people, and take care of them. You can’t be a good leader if you don’t care about your people, and do everything you can to make sure they’re taken care of. They won’t follow you, either, if they know you don’t care. Another thing I would say is always be honorable and ethical, it’s pretty simple. You have to keep your honor as an officer. I guess I would simplify it down to the 3 Cs of leadership everybody’s heard, competence, character and caring. It’s pretty simple when you think about it. That’s what I would say makes a good officer. HT: What single midshipman do you remember most clearly, and why? AS: Oh, there have been so many, I don’t know if I can pick one. I guess I’d have to say Gabe Whitney, finally making after six years and hugging the president at graduation. Some alumni were actually upset about that, calling to say we don’t really have standards or anything, mad that we’re letting people hug the president like that. What we did was we looked back and found some pictures from a Naval Academy graduation when some midshipmen there hugged the president when he spoke, so it’s happened there, too. We’ve had a few guys on the six year plan, one right now, and they eventually do well, it just takes them longer to figure it out. HT: What is the craziest thing you have ever seen or heard of a midshipman doing, either at school, at sea, or both? AS: Boy, that’s a hard one; I’m having trouble thinking of crazy things off the top of my head. I can’t believe those guys were huffing that stuff, the computer cleaner. That’s pretty hard to believe. I don’t know why people would decide to do that. You know what I’ve been really impressed with is the ring painted on the grinder. That’s the best one I’ve ever seen, and it’s permanent. The plebe class really did a good job with that one. I didn’t see it, but I heard they had a plane fly over with a banner congratulating you guys, your class, which is pretty neat too. The plebes this year have done some good spirit missions. HT: How has your time as Superintendent of Kings Point compared to your career in the Marine Corps? AS: Well, it’s certainly the longest time I’ve ever spent in one place. When I was in the Marines, you know, we’d spend two or three years at one place, one post, and then move on to the next assignment, so this has definitely been my greatest attachment to one place. I would say it’s been my most meaningful time in uniform. When I leave here, it won’t be like leaving one of my assignments in the Marines, it’ll definitely be harder. This place means a lot more to me than anywhere else ever has. It’s definitely been my most meaningful time in uniform. HT: What would you like your legacy to be as the academy’s ninth Superintendent?
AS: Well, that’s a tough question, but basically, that the regiment was more professional and honorable than it’s ever been. I just want to be remembered for instilling a sense of pride in the regiment, and that everyone acted professionally and honorably for the most part while I was here. That’s been my main goal, and I hope I’ve achieved it. HT: What would your advice be for the next Superintendent? What should would you most like to see changed here, and what should be maintained? AS: Well, the biggest area we could probably improve in is in our relationship with MARAD. I probably could have spent more time in Washington, and I would tell my successor to spend as much time as possible in Washington, creating good working relationships with people there who could help us. I would tell them to voluntarily go and try to create more goodwill towards the school in Washington. Also, try to do better than I did with the faculty, spending more time with them, and maybe doing some teaching. Where I could have done better, I would tell them to go to work, to try and get along better with MARAD and the faculty here. HT: What vision do you have for the future of Kings Point? Will it fully recover from these hard times, and how? What direction is the school headed in? AS: I think Kings Point’s future is going to be onward and upward, and things are only going to get better. It’s somewhat of a tough time right now, but we’ll bounce back stronger than ever. There are a few things that will keep this place strong. One is, there is a shortage of mariners right now, and it should stay that way for quite some time. They’re always going to need mariners, and we’ll be able to provide that. Also, another issue is the ever-increasing security concerns about shipping, with foreign-flag ships and foreign crews and whatnot. I think there will be demands for people from here as these concerns grow, so the demand for Kings Pointers will always be there. I’ve been asked about the possibility of actually increasing enrollment here, which we could do. Once we get all of the renovating done, since we’ve got one whole building right now we don’t use, we could absolutely increase enrollment. We could even build more barracks; we just need to get the money to do it. I think we’ll only get stronger, and grow in size. The school will keep growing. HT: Where do the hilarious Coast Guard “true stories” come from? AS: Well, when I got here, I thought having a rivalry with Coast Guard would help increase the pride in Kings Point some. I guess when I got here there was a rivalry, but it didn’t really seem like it. For a while, there was some sort of rivalry with Fort Schuyler, but it’s not what it used to be. I thought we needed to have a rivalry with another academy, so we’ve tried to create a good rivalry between us and Coast Guard, and we’ve done well against them. What I do is just take normal jokes alumni and other people send to me, and change the names to Coast Guard. They’re not really true stories, no big secret. I’m glad people enjoy them, though.
HT: What is the highest number of pushups you have ever done during a football game? AS: Well, I do pushups every day, but I can only do about 30 now. That’s about all I can ever remember doing, and I let the plebes do the rest. If the football team scores more than 30 points, I’m in trouble (Laughs). HT: Rumor has it that you are retiring to a golf course. I have seen you hitting balls on the lawn by your house, and was impressed with your swing. What is your lowest 18-hole score, and if you could play a round of golf with any three people in history, who would you choose? AS: (Laughs) I have a terrible swing – I don’t know what you’re talking about. Well, that’s true; we are retiring to a community with a golf course. I’m pretty horrible at golf, I only play about once a year, but I’d like to play more, and get better at it. I think I’ve broken 100 a couple of times, but I’m not very good. Once I get some time, I would like to play a lot more, though. I guess I’d play a round with my wife and two sons. HT: Will you be coming back to Kings Point for any occasions in the future, or be involved with the academy in any capacity? AS: I might come back if I’m invited. I’d certainly come back for a football game, or maybe if the basketball team is ever down in the Washington D.C. area I’ll see them play. If I get invited I’ll certainly come back. I’d like to come back for graduation next year if possible. I certainly don’t see myself being actively involved with anything after my retirement, but I’m open to anything if invited. HT: Finally, let’s end on a serious note. Is there anything you would like to be printed in Hear This! for the regiment and the rest of our audience to know? AS: I just want everyone to know I’m honored to have had the chance to serve here at Kings Point. It has been an incredible experience and such a big part of my life for the past ten years. It’s going to be really hard to leave here – Kings Point is a really big part of my heart, and it means so much to me. It has really become a home to me here, and I will have a hard time leaving. I want to thank everyone for their support lately and throughout the years. It has truly been an honor to serve as Superintendent, and I wish everyone the best of luck at Kings Point. The midshipmen have truly done more for me than I’ve done for them. HT: That concludes our interview. Thank you for your time, sir, and thank you for everything you’ve done for Kings Point. -Erik Henden 1/C