Our oldest son, Nick Hunter, was determined to enlist in the Navy after high school, but in his senior year of homeschooling, he decided to pursue an appointment to the Naval Academy instead. Having missed the application deadlines, he enrolled in a state university while completing the application process for a congressional nomination and academy appointment the following year.
With many students applying to all five federal service academies, Nick’s preference for the Navy reduced his chances in the highly competitive process. Our congressman’s academy selection committee encouraged Nick to apply not only to the Naval Academy but also to the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point (USMMA), where a commission in the US Navy was an option. Early in 2001, Nick was notified of his nomination to Kings Point.
Although Nick was initially disappointed he had not received a Naval Academy appointment, the legacy of his grandfather’s World War II service in the Merchant Marines combined with his own love of being on the water inspired Nick to pursue an appointment to Kings Point, whose mission it is “To educate and graduate professional officers and leaders of honor and integrity, who are dedicated to serving the economic and defense interests of the United States in our Armed Forces and Merchant Marine, and who will contribute to an intermodal transportation system that effectively ties America together.”Nick was encouraged by the multiple options available to Kings Point graduates, the smaller school and class size (approximately 950 students with a student-faculty ratio of 12:1), and the opportunity to travel around the world for a year at sea.
In early May 2001, Nick was notified that he was a prospective candidate to Kings Point. Six weeks later, Nick was offered an appointment, and on July 7, 2001, his four-year career at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, was launched.
Following “indoc”—a two-week introduction to regimental life—the challenging academic coursework and Nick’s memorable plebe (freshman) year began. On September 6, 2001, we flew to New York for Parents Weekend, a 3-day event highlighted on Acceptance Day, when the plebe candidates who had successfully endured “indoc,”ongoing rigorous regimental demands, and first trimester midterm exams, were “accepted”by the regiment as “plebes.”On the evening of September 9, we left Nick at Kings Point, catching a glimpse of the World Trade Center as we flew out of LaGuardia Airport.
Less than 36 hours later, our Internet contact with Nick was lost when the Academy Internet service provider in Manhattan was disabled. It was the morning of September 11, 2001, and across New York Harbor, 20 miles east of Manhattan on the Long Island Sound, Nick and his fellow midshipmen and Kings Point faculty and staff watched from the waterfront as the Twin Towers burned and collapsed. As the Academy prepared to become a temporary morgue, the midshipmen were requested to participate in rescue and relief efforts. Nick was one of 18 plebes chosen to assist in the ferrying of workers around New York Harbor in the days following the attack. His class, the Class of 2005, was the last to see the Twin Towers from the waterfront—an image they captured on their class ring.
Encouraged to participate in athletics, Nick joined the crew team and traveled to compete in regattas throughout the mid- Atlantic states during the fall and spring. The challenging academic course load at Kings Point was matched with increasing regimental demands, early morning crew practices, and weekend regattas. With six majors to choose from—three engineering and three deck—Nick decided on Maritime Operations and Technology, a marine transportation major combined with studies in marine engineering, qualifying him to sit for his Third Mate’s Coast Guard License and the QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Department) engineering examinations at graduation.
Only six days after completing his first year at Kings Point, Nick began summer school classes in Calculus II, a concentrated four-week course. The third day of class, he had surgery to remove his appendix, but, determined to pass Calculus II and move on to his third class year, Nick spent one night in the hospital and missed only one day of class.
As challenging as his plebe year at Kings Point was, it was typical of the demands and obstacles Nick would be required to overcome in the three years that followed. In addition to successfully completing the academics to earn a bachelor of science degree, midshipmen are required by the Coast Guard to complete 330 days of shipboard training at sea to qualify for license exams before graduation. Sea Year, which is unique to Kings Point, places the midshipmen in harm’s way, the only federal service academy to do so before graduation. During World War II, 142 midshipmen cadets sacrificed their lives in service to their country at sea. Midshipmen have served on ships in every conflict since World War II. As a result, Kings Point is the only federal service academy authorized to carry a Battle Standard, a flag recognizing the service of the midshipmen during times of war.
In order to accommodate both the academic and Sea Year requirements during the course of four years, an 11-month academic year is divided into 16-week trimesters. Midshipmen must complete nine trimesters of academics on campus and three trimesters of shipboard training at sea. During Nick’s Sea Year, he sailed for four months on a container ship to the Mediterranean Sea, visiting Spain, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and Italy, and for eight months on an oil tanker in the Pacific Ocean making runs between California, Alaska, and Hawaii.
The rewards for Nick’s perseverance proved well worth his effort. Though academic struggles threatened to set him back, he earned academic stars—the Academy equivalent of the Deans List— his First Class (senior) year. He excelled in leadership skills and rose through regimental ranks to graduate as the highest student officer in the regiment, the Regimental Commander, a position that afforded him multiple opportunities, including marching in the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Parade and meeting dignitaries such as General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Commander Michael De Rosa, Assistant Director of Admissions at Kings Point, had this advice for homeschoolers interested in an appointment: “It’s important that homeschooled candidates meet the USMMA’s minimum requirements in science (chemistry with a lab or physics with a lab). Sometimes they can take these courses at a local high school or community college. … It’s also advisable for the parents of homeschooled candidates to follow one of the accredited homeschool programs. This makes it easier for the Academy to review a candidate’s course outline to determine if it meets the Academy’s requirements.”
Nick was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school using an eclectic blend of curriculum not considered to be an accredited program. However, he took chemistry with a lab at a local community college while still in high school.
Marty Skrocki, USMMA Public Information Officer, added: “The percentages of homeschooled candidates enrolled at the USMMA over the last four years are: Class of 2007, 1%; Class of 2008, 4%; Class of 2009, 1%; and Class of 2010, 2%.”
The service obligation for midshipmen who graduate from Kings Point includes an obligation to maintain a license as an officer in the United States Merchant Marine for at least six years; and to apply for and accept, if offered, an appointment to serve as a commissioned officer in the US Navy Reserves, US Coast Guard Reserve, or any other Reserve unit of the armed forces of the United States for eight years; and to serve the foreign and domestic commerce and national defense of the United States for at least five years, all following the date of graduation.
Nick Hunter graduated from Kings Point in June 2005, with a Bachelor of Science degree, a Coast Guard Third Mate’s License and QMED license, and a commission in the United States Navy Reserves. Following his marriage to Kristin a month after graduation, he accepted a third mate maritime service position with TECO on a seagoing tug operating between the Mississippi River and Tampa Bay.
“Acta Non Verba,”meaning “Deeds, Not Words,”is the Kings Point motto. For more information about the United States Merchant Marine Academy, visit their website at www.usmma.edu.