Developing Future Merchant Marine and Military Officers

By 2nd Lt. Jennifer Zucarro and Lt. Col. Ranall Cook

On July 18, 2022, the 98th Division Commander (Brigadier General David Samuelsen) and Command Sergeant Major (CSM Kaim), visited the United States Merchant Marine Academy (“USMMA”) in Kings Point, New York, where drill sergeants from the 2nd Battalion, 417th Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 98th Division were providing instruction and oversight to an incoming class of future Merchant Marine officers. USMMA is a service academy administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the mission to produce officers to lead the nation’s civil merchant marine fleet. 

Similar to West Point and Annapolis, USMMA each summer admits a new class of freshman “plebes” from across the country, who undergo strenuous military training and conditioning in order to build discipline, pride, and resilience critical to success during the rigorous USMMA college program and subsequent careers as U.S. Merchant Marine and/or military officers. Many USMMA cadets ultimately commission into the U.S. Army or another military service.

In recent summers, 2-417 drill sergeants and Soldiers have worked with USMMA staff and cadet cadre to provide instruction and oversight for the plebe cadets. The 2-417 drill sergeants applied their particular expertise training new servicemembers in drill and ceremonies, physical training, Warrior tasks, military discipline, and leadership development in order to increase the quality, effectiveness, and safety of plebe training. In addition to helping forge the new plebes into disciplined cadets, the 2-417 Soldiers also worked with and mentored upper class cadets regarding the appropriate role and relationships of commissioned officers and NCOs in military and Merchant Marine organizations. A great benefit for the 2-417 drill sergeants and drill sergeant candidates is the opportunity to apply and refine their craft in a novel training environment.

During Samuelsen’s visit, USMMA’s leadership and cadets demonstrated enormous hospitality and appreciation for this valuable training relationship. Activities included an executive introduction to USMMA’s mission, drill demonstration by the plebe class, and tour of the campus and working vessels. Samuelsen and Kaim also took the opportunity to meet, speak with, and mentor 2-417 Soldiers. The result was a stronger relationship and opportunities for increased cooperation between USMMA and the 98th Division, which share a mission of preparing young warriors to secure the United States’ vital interests.

Although USMMA is an atypical training environment for U.S. Army Soldiers, 2-417’s drill sergeant demonstrated again their unmatched capability as military trainers, helping USMMA plebes begin a transformation from young civilians into military professionals and leaders. As commented by Sgt. 1st Class Torres, a 2-417 Battalion senior drill sergeant, “These trainees are taking their first steps in building a foundation for a career as a commissioned Merchant Marine Officer or Officer in the Armed Forces. I am honored that I am able to mentor and guide them in bringing their dreams to fruition.”

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