For decades, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, has been preparing leaders for service in the Merchant Marine, our Armed Forces, and other transportation careers.
Several years ago, the Department of Transportation pledged to restore Kings Point as a jewel among America’s five service academies. And the academy's new training vessel, Kings Pointer - which we rechristened - is one sign that, together, we are working together to make good on that pledge.
Of course, we did more than simply rename the former NASA vessel. It returns to us having undergone a $3.3 million retrofit that makes it a true state-of-the-art training vessel for the midshipmen of Kings Point.
There are other signs that we're making good on that pledge, too. Because a lot has changed on the campus in a very short amount of time.
For example, the people who turned out for the festivities were standing on a recently rebuilt and newly stable Mallory Pier. And a walk around campus shows that more work is in progress, like a complete renovation of Cleveland Hall.
In total, over the past five years, the Obama Administration has invested more than $98 million in improvements to provide the academy and our faculty the resources necessary to train the fine students who come from all over America to begin their professional service at Kings Point.
The work on campus is just part of what DOT is doing for our waterways and those who serve on them. Because when we say we want the midshipmen to have everything they need to succeed, that also includes good jobs when they graduate.
That's not just good for them, it's good for all of us. Much of the freight that fuels our economy moves over water. And many of the goods so important to our everyday lives arrive in our kitchens, garages, and living rooms having traveled across an ocean.
In times of conflict, our merchant mariners also support our national defense, providing critical cargo services to keep supply lines healthy and often traveling into harm's way. In times of emergency, we use ships to house relief supplies, workers, and equipment.
America needs a strong maritime industry, and that industry needs skilled leaders like the men and women who graduate from Kings Point.
That's why DOT has stood ready to give the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy the resources we need.
So, it was fitting that we have rechristened a vessel that was once the NASA M/V Liberty Star. Because as we broke a champagne bottle over a new T/V Kings Pointer, we were not just wishing one ship good luck; we were celebrating a new era for Kings Point.
RADM James A. Helis is Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
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