How does a kid who grew up in central Alabama end up out to sea? In the case of Richard Salser, he discovered his love of the sea while at the Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point.
Salser said he started thinking about college later than many of his classmates at Mortimer Jordan High School, but was inspired when a favorite teacher brought up the topic of Annapolis Naval Academy. Salser applied, but was not accepted.
Undeterred, Salser attended Marion Military Academy in Alabama, with intentions to apply again. It was then that he began investigating other military academies and discovered the Merchant Marines.
The school, known for its rigorous academics and service requirements, seems to have been a perfect fit for Salser, although he admits that the year-round classes, set up in trimesters, spending almost a year-worth of days at sea and other projects is not for everyone.
According to the school’s website:
All graduates have a service obligation upon graduation that provides the most career options offered by any of the federal academy.
• Graduates can choose to work five years in the United States maritime industry with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the Armed Forces.
• Or five years on active duty in any of the nation’s Armed Forces.
Graduates also have a bachelor’s degree, a Coast Guard license and officer’s commission in the armed forces.
“The program is one of kind,” Salser said. “There is nothing like it in the world.”
Part of that “one of a kind” experience is the opportunity to leave school and actually serve on ships around the world. Recently, he was in the Gulf of Oman, shortly after tanker vessels were attacked. The ship he was working on was headed to the Port of Dubai and came through the area shortly after the attack as salvage crews worked on the vehicles in the sea.
“I was there, I was part of that, I saw it,” Salser said. “Things like that, experiences like that, you would not get at another federal service academy, much less a civilian institution.”
In addition to the experience Salser values, he loves the history of the school and the stories and graduates that he will now be a part of forever.
Salser is currently home doing a graduation project as an intern at the law office of Jim Roberts through the end of the year, before he returns to the academy to finish his final year, graduating in July of 2021.
After graduation, Salser plans to take advantage of the opportunity to work five years in the shipping industry and serving in the reserves for the military. He will have a bachelor’s degree and a third mate license by then.
Congressman Gary Palmer nominated Salser in 2015 and he was accepted in 2016.
For anyone else considering the path he has taken, Salser offers this advice, “King’s Point is the epitome of secondary educational options, as far as colleges go. Being able to commission in any branch, being able to sail commercially and make good money so you can go back to school. That’s what a lot of people do, because the kind of money you make after graduation as a third mate or third engineer and the time that you have—you sail about four months on and four months off, that’s roughly half the year—half the year, you have to yourself.”
In order to be considered for nomination, applicants must be residents of Alabama and complete the required ACT or SAT exams. They must also provide letters of recommendation, a school transcript, a completed medical examination, and a completed application form, which is found on Senator Shelby’s website.