Outgoing Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffery Fowler, left, welcomes his replacement, Vice Adm. Michael Miller, at a change of command and retirement ceremony Aug. 3 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (Chris Maddaloni / Staff)
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The new superintendent of the Naval Academy vowed Tuesday that ethics would be his top priority as he assumes command from a predecessor leaving the Navy amid revelations of lavish spending and a "slush fund."
Vice Adm. Michael Miller, wearing a newly added third star, did not directly mention the Navy Inspector General's findings that ended the career of outgoing supe Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, but Miller did stress that his main focus will be on basic principles.
"This institution is about leadership," he said. "To effectively lead, our midshipmen must engender the trust of those who follow them, and honor is at the core of building that trust. I'm confident that an ethical foundation must come first, and that will be our starting point while I'm here."
Miller relieved Fowler of command in a lighthearted ceremony in the academy's basketball arena, full of jokes and shout-outs to the friends, family and old classmates who were in attendance. In keeping with Navy tradition, it ended with Fowler and his family being "piped ashore."
The change of command ceremony was originally slated for September, Fowler told the academy Board of Visitors on June 28, but the change-over was moved up by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, "to better position the Naval Academy for success in the upcoming academic year," officials said July 15.
During a closed portion of that June 28 meeting, Fowler revealed to the board that a Navy Inspector General's investigation, finished months before, had faulted him and other top academy officials for excessive spending on luxurious gifts and parties, much of it to appease football coaches, boosters and alumni. Inspectors did not find Fowler or his subordinates had broken any laws, but he received "administrative action" from commanders and the academy's top fundraiser was suspended for five days without pay.
A portion of the Board of Visitors met July 21 in Washington to "gather information" about the IG investigation and "Navy-directed corrective actions," in a closed session not announced until after the fact. Board chairman Michael Hightower said in a written statement that federal law permits public boards to hold "preparatory meetings" for which they don't need to give public notice and are not subject to open meetings laws.
But none of Tuesday's speakers, who also included Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, mentioned any of that. Instead they praised Fowler and his wife, Katie, for three decades of service to the Navy and a legacy of emphasizing "leadership" in Annapolis. During Fowler's tenure, the academy changed the wording of its mission statement so that its goal went from "producing graduates" to "graduating leaders."
As for Fowler himself, he assured the audience that he leaves the Navy a happy man:
"Let me sum up my 36 years of active duty in one minute," he said. "My life has been a dream come true. I wanted to see the world. Live an adventure. Find the girl of my dreams, raise a wonderful family, and make a difference to those coming behind me. … I have no regrets. I have such happy, amazing memories."