By Midshipman Cam Eldridge ’24, Brigade Honor Advisor

Character development at the Naval Academy can be traced back to the creation of the Honor Concept in 1953. The Honor Concept concisely outlines behavior that is unacceptable of a midshipman: lying, cheating or stealing. While this is certainly a baseline for morality, it is not the complete picture of honorable living. Following a major cheating scandal in 1992, a committee chaired by then-Ambassador Richard Armitage ’67 noted this fact, saying:

Character development is far more than not lying, cheating or stealing. The Honor Concept is more than a simple set of rules or procedures; it is a “way of life.” Every future Navy and Marine Corps officer must weave honor into the fabric of his or her being, professional and personal. From Induction Day, midshipmen must realize that the content of their character, and the degree of attention given to it by the Academy, are central to their development as future officers. When midshipmen adopt and internalize the honor ethos, it must not be solely for fear of punishment, but because they aspire without reservation to the right course of action.

—Report of the Honor Review Committee to the Secretary of the Navy on Honor at the United States Naval Academy, 1993

The committee also concluded the Honor Concept had come to be viewed as a “punitive process” and an “obstacle to be avoided” rather than an aspirational ideal that could change the way they lived. In accordance with these observations, the committee recommended the creation of a new document to supplement the Honor Concept and set out the basis of character development in “thou shalt” language. The following year, in 1994, the Honor Treatise was created, but in the following decades it was not used to its potential.

By 2022, in the wake of another cheating incident at the Naval Academy, honorable living became a major focus of the Commandant. At the squad level we all discussed what constituted honorable living and the topic came up in “Dant’s Calls” frequently. Around the same time, I signed 2 for 7’s and attended the Second Class Commitment Dinner, where the Honor Treatise was read; this was the first time that I had ever heard the Honor Treatise. Just a few weeks later I had the unique opportunity as a member of the Brigade Honor Staff to interview the Commandant about his perception of honor at the Naval Academy. I asked him about the Honor Treatise, noting that despite the Brigade’s unfamiliarity with it, the document seemed directly tied to the concept of honorable living. To my surprise, I walked out of the Commandant’s office that day with a charge to review the Honor Treatise and use it as the basis for an updated document that is meaningful to the Brigade.

As the Honor Staff discussed the perception of honor throughout the Brigade, we noted that the issues identified by the Armitage Committee were still prevalent. The Honor Concept was a great baseline for defining behaviors that must be remediated, but it alone actually does very little to guide midshipmen toward living a virtuous life. We concluded if the Brigade had an opportunity to revise the Honor Treatise, we would be able to deliver a document that simultaneously inspires midshipmen to improve their character while speaking to the values and challenges faced by midshipmen today.

After a handful of meetings, consultation with officers and mentors, a Brigade-wide town hall and a discussion with Medal of Honor recipient Britt Slabinski, our committee of nine midshipmen had identified the ideas that we wanted to be encapsulated in our document: the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice; the privilege of serving our nation; teamwork; dignity and respect; and upholding a standard of excellence, to name a few. Upon completion of the draft, our group realized that what we had created was not just a treatise on honor, but rather a document that describes the beliefs and aspirations of the Brigade. An ethos for midshipmen.

Since its adoption the Midshipman Ethos has been incorporated into Brigade training at various levels, most notably Plebe Summer, where the Class of 2027 memorized it as a rate. In the lifelong and often confusing journey of developing virtue, the Midshipman Ethos serves as a guide for midshipmen. We recognize that living an honorable life is about more than only abstaining from lying and that phrases often used in Bancroft Hall such as “be a good dude” provide no concrete direction. The Midshipman Ethos does not replace the Honor Concept but builds upon it as a set of values that all midshipmen and graduates can hold close as pillars of their character during their time at Annapolis and beyond.

Midshipman Mitchell Riley ’26
From the Commandant’s task to revise USNA’s Honor Treatise to the final document we uphold now, contributing to the Midshipman Ethos has been an honor and truly formative experience. The Ethos is not an entirely new document; however, our intention as a committee along with our overseeing leadership, and the Brigade as a whole, was to revitalize and modernize a document that was passed down to us by our predecessors. In their time, the Brigade faced its own unique challenges. In ours, we are adapting as well.

Nonetheless, we recognized that the foundation of our responsibility as midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy is unchanging and should thus be articulated in a concrete ethos, while addressing our evolving environment. I found it educational and eye-opening to work with fellow midshipmen from various backgrounds and perspectives. Individually, we each brought our own thoughts and biases to the table and together, we shared them to form a draft.

With time, our draft was molded and reshaped by countless officers and members of the wider Brigade. Ultimately, the Midshipman Ethos is a living document that deserves our attention, reflection and revision. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have shared a hand in forming the Ethos we see today and eager to see how the Brigade continues to evolve while remaining grounded in our cardinal structure.

Midshipman Theresa Milio ’24
The ability to revise the Honor Treatise, now the Midshipman Ethos, was an amazing opportunity for us. The goal was to instill a sense of pride in what we do and remind everyone of the reasons we are here when they read the Ethos. We have a lot of regulations detailing the things we should not do, so creating something more positive that describes our values and the way they manifest in our actions is very valuable for the Brigade.

The Commandant has been constantly emphasizing the Midshipman Ethos and its applicability to both our everyday actions and our future careers as officers. It is especially unique in that it was not simply written by officers, but instead had input from both midshipmen and officers. The ability to define the virtues we live by and what is important to us as a Brigade makes it more applicable, and differentiates it from other regulations at USNA.

Midshipman Sydney Bare ’25
While the Naval Academy has been producing phenomenal officers without a true Midshipman Ethos, the truth is that the Naval Academy needed a positive spin on honorable living. In addition, we needed a simple answer to the ever-present question of “What is it like to be a midshipman?”

Within the group drafting, there were many different backgrounds, inspirations and aspirations
present. That said, it was seemingly simple to agree on the key takeaways of what the Midshipman Ethos should represent. This Ethos sets us apart from counterparts by giving the midshipmen and graduates something to take pride in and something to hold near and dear to their core for as long as they will live.

Captain Jason Rimmer ’95, USN
Director, Naval Academy Division of Leadership Education and Development
I am proud of the Midshipman Ethos and the midshipmen who collaborated to write it. A companion to the USNA Mission and the Honor Concept, it serves as an aspirational document that lays out the components of character we hope to build in the members of the Brigade.

We included the Midshipman Ethos in this year’s Reef Points issued to the Class of 2027. Like the Naval Academy Mission, our intent is to ensure the Ethos is memorized, understood and frequently referred to as a guiding document.