There are over one hundred first class midshipman officer billets within the USMMA regimental structure. The purpose of these positions is three-fold. First, midshipman officers maintain good order and discipline amongst the student population through accountability, emergency evacuation, marching and formations. Second, many positions prepare Midshipmen for their post-graduation careers by educating them on practical day-to-day functions they will perform, whether in the maritime industry or on active duty. Third and most important, midshipmen officers learn how to lead.
The leadership positions at USMMA can generally be classified as either "line officers" or "staff officers". Line officers administer the "chain of command" structure. Aboard a merchant ship, that chain runs from the Master to the Chief Mate and Chief Engineer, and then downward through the Deck and Engine departments. At USMMA, midshipman leadership authority flows from the Superintendent, to the Commandant, and then to each midshipman through the regimental structure.
The leadership experience for line officers varies significantly, from the micro to the macro. Where a Platoon Commander may be responsible for the daily performance of 50 midshipmen, the Regimental Commander is focused on the entire residential population of 700. Regimental-level officers work with the Commandant's Staff to develop policy, while the battalion- and company-level officers execute policy.
Staff officers on the other hand support the regimental structure at the company, battalion, and regimental levels by providing specific services or managing programs. Watchstanding, logistics, intramurals, and human relations are some examples of regimental-level staff officer responsibilities. Staff officers generally become subject-matter experts in their field, and many work closely with Academy staff and faculty outside the Commandant's Staff in administering programs.
In addition to responsibilities specific to each billet, all midshipman officers are required to obey a general set of guidelines. These guidelines set the groundwork for the leadership laboratory in which Midshipmen live. The Midshipmen at the top of the chain of command must set a high standard, then enforce that standard all the way to the bottom of the chain.
- Each officer shall obey orders given to him and the regulations of the Academy.
- Each officer shall take command and responsibility where appropriate and able.
- Each officer is responsible for maintaining order and discipline in the Regiment, as well as taking appropriate corrective action to remediate any deficiencies.
- Each officer shall execute the daily routine of the Regiment, including watch duties.
- Each officer derives his authority from the Superintendent. The exercise of that authority is supervised by officers of the Commandant's department.
In addition, each officer is expected to follow the leadership education that he has received, including ideas such as the 14 leadership traits and 11 leadership principals, among others.