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The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.

Graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy toss their caps in the air
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

As part of a series on military service academies, Edward J. Kelly , Class of 1973 , reflects on his experience at and the history of United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

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he United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) is one of the five federal service academies and is located in Kings Point, N.Y.  USMMA educates and graduates leaders of exemplary character who are committed to serve the national security, marine transportation and economic needs of the United States as licensed Merchant Marine Officers and commissioned officers in the Armed Forces. These leaders are vital to the effective operation of our merchant fleet for both commercial and military transport in peace and war. Academy graduates abide by the motto Acta Non Verba, or “Deeds Not Words,” and are leaders who exemplify the concept of service-above-self.

The 1936 Merchant Marine Act provided for the creation of the federal academy; the corps of cadets was officially founded in March 1938 and has been in continuous service since then. In 1974 USMMA became the first federal service academy to admit women, two full years before the other service branches did so.

Admission to USMMA requires nomination by the applicant’s Congressman or Senator and the program is known for its academic rigor, requiring more credit hours for a bachelor’s degree than any other federal service academy. This challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea Year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard active U.S. flag vessels sailing to ports around the world.

As a result of their at-sea training during Sea Year, USMMA cadets have served upon vessels in active combat zones in every major conflict the U.S. has been involved in since World War II. Thus, USMMA is the only federal service academy granted the right to carry a regimental battle standard decorated with campaign ribbons from all the conflicts in which midshipmen have been actively deployed. 

Midshipmen who master this demanding curriculum earn a unique combination of credentials: a highly regarded bachelor of science degree, an unlimited U.S. Coast Guard license as a Merchant Marine Officer and an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces 

Upon graduation, the majority of “Kings Pointers” serve for 8 years as U.S. Navy reservists in the Strategic Sealift Officers Program, serving aboard U.S. flag vessels; others serve a minimum of five years as active-duty members of our nation’s Armed Forces. 

In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as the “fourth arm of defense” and on many occasions has been ordered to national service to deliver military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our armed forces and allies, operating as an auxiliary unit of the Navy. The stark lessons of 21st -century conflicts prove that a strong merchant marine is an essential part of American security and sea power. 

The most important element in a strong and secure marine transportation industry is people - men and women who can lead with integrity, honor, intelligence, dedication, and competence. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy ensures that such people are available to the nation as shipboard officers and as leaders in the transportation field who will meet the challenges of the present and the future. 

After my four challenging years at USMMA, I served 48 years in the U.S. maritime industry, and achieved top senior executive positions that allowed me to make significant impacts on U.S. trade and security. Acta Non Verba!