By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Leaders of the U.S. Naval Academy tinkered with the composition of the color guard that appeared at a World Series game last month so the group would not be exclusively white and male.
Accounts differ as to who was added to or removed from the Oct. 29 color guard. But the net result was that one of the six who marched on Yankee Stadium's field, Midshipman 2nd Class Hannah Allaire, was selected because her presence would make the service academy look more diverse before a national audience.
The incident has captured the attention of the Annapolis campus and stirred up the broader community of alumni and military observers, who see it as part of a campaign to bring more racial and sexual diversity to the academy. Diversity is a sensitive point at the Naval Academy, an institution that has been accused by some faculty members and alumni of forsaking fairness in its quest to build a brigade that mirrors the nation as a whole.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, elevated diversity to a "strategic imperative" during his tenure as chief of naval operations. Academy leaders, on their official Web site, call diversity "our highest personnel priority."
That thinking reflects "a sea change, in that this initiative was generated from within the military, rather than imposed from without by civilian overseers," said retired Marine Maj. Gen. Thomas Wilkerson, an academy alumnus and chief executive of the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent think tank. Some alumni, he said, "have voiced concerns that it will happen at the expense of quality and combat readiness."
A military-oriented blog, CDR Salamander, reported last week that two white men had been pulled from the color guard that went to Yankee Stadium and replaced with an Asian American man and a white woman to make the group more diverse.
Academy leadership disputed that account.
"No midshipman was ever given approval to attend this event and then later told they could not," said Capt. Matthew Klunder, commandant of midshipmen, in a statement Monday. He said he considered replacing two white men but chose to expand the color guard from six to eight to make it more representative of the Naval Academy.
Two of the eight could not perform because Zishan Hameed, one of the midshipmen added to the color guard, had forgotten parts of his uniform, Klunder said. The color guard marches in pairs.
A report in the Navy Times, citing unnamed sources, stated that two white men were replaced by Allaire and Hameed. The report noted that a pregame news release named a six-person color guard, including Allaire and Hameed.
Two members of the color guard contacted by The Washington Post referred interview requests to the school's public affairs office. Another declined to comment Monday. Two others could not be reached for comment.
According to an academy spokesman, Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, the color guard was invited to present the flag during the national anthem at the World Series game. Senior staff members reviewed the names of those who wanted to go, all white males, and decided that the group should better reflect the academy's diversity. Of the 4,400 midshipmen, 20 percent are female, and about one-quarter are members of minority groups.
"The color guard that was going to the World Series, which by all accounts is an event on a national stage, with a national audience, needed to be representative of the Naval Academy," Carpenter said.
An academy color guard is assembled from a roster of 28 midshipmen to represent the institution at ceremonies and public events. "That group of 28 can be put together in any combination," Carpenter said. Groups of midshipmen can ask to participate in high-profile events, Carpenter said, but the final decision rests with the commandant and his staff.
Klunder said in a statement that when he initially planned to replace some members of the color guard, his instructions were "that any replacements must be fully qualified team members and that originally proposed team members would still be permitted to travel to and attend the World Series." After further discussion, he said, he made the decision to expand the guard from six to eight members.
Klunder said he met afterward with the two midshipmen who could not participate because of the forgotten garments "to discuss the sequence of events and improve on any communication breakdowns or misperceptions that were experienced."
About the ensuing controversy, Klunder said: "It is regretful that assumptions were made" by the six midshipmen who asked to march at Yankee Stadium, "but it has been and will remain the Naval Academy leadership's prerogative" to decide who carries the flag.