BRACK: Top midshipman at Naval Academy is a 2014 Brookwood High graduate

Harmel salutes during the recent blustery Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. Photos provided.

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher The highest-ranking midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy is a 2014 Brookwood High graduate from Snellville. He is Austin Harmel, son of Danita and David Harmel of Snellville, who is in charge of all 4,400 students at the Academy. He has a sister, Helen, a freshman at the University of Georgia.

On Christmas vacation at home this week, Brigade Commander Harmel, 22, is a mathematics and economics major at the Annapolis academy, and anticipate making the Navy his career. He attained his cadet appointment by being tops in his class and through his leadership skills, after an extensive interview process.

As the brigade commander, he works closely advising the commandant of the academy, Navy Capt. Robert Chadwick II, whose father was also a commandant of the academy, the first father-son to hold the office.

Harmel’s duties has him coordinating policy and decision making on a day-to-day life of the midshipmen at the academy. “We’re more focused on how we shape the leadership development of the brigade and how to make them better leaders.”

Meanwhile, he’s a student, too, majoring in mathematics and economics. In addition, he’s a walk-on swimmer on the Navy varsity team, on the 200- and 500-yard freestyle relay team.  The swim team has done well this year, including winning the 27th straight swim meet against the U.S. Military Academy. He’s proud to wear the “Beat Army” sticker on his uniform.


Harmel won an appointment to the academy. He is among about 120 Georgians who are there. Only a few Georgians have been the brigade commander before him.  At Brookwood High, he was on the swim team, played “a little baseball,” and was a member of Swim Atlanta.

A typical day has him arising at 5 a.m. for swim practice. Breakfast is at 7 a.m., and then it’s classes or Harmel meeting with the commandant or his assistants.  There’s a daily Meal Formation open to the public each day at 12:05 p.m., and then Harmel leads the parade of midshipmen into King Hall for their lunch. (“Half the student body meets on the back side of King Hall in formation, which the public doesn’t see. This second formation helps speed up things a bit.”) The entire brigade eats family style at the same time, relaxing with one another. “The staff does a phenomenal job in feeding us.”

After lunch, classes continue until 3:20 p.m., and then it’s more swim practice before dinner at 6 p.m.

Among his course work the previous semester were econometrics, international trade and finance, bio-statistics, law for junior officers and engineering in the zone close to shore, basically navigation.  Next semester he’ll take his capstone course on national defense economics.

Harmel, right, introduces U.S. Sen. John McCain

Naval Academy students get free time after classes on Friday until Sunday at 6 p.m. Many grab a meal or see a movie, but for Harmel, there’s still swim practice daily.

The students are members of the military, and get 35 percent of the basic pay of an ensign, but have to pay off loans for their uniforms and meals.  That works out to about $100 a month for freshmen, and increasing to about $400 to $700 monthly for seniors, depending on how fast they pay off their loans.

As the top student, he gets a “slightly larger room,” but mainly opportunities to meet dignitaries, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, who he introduced to the students recently. “When dignitaries come on campus, I’m one of the first to get to meet and interact with them,” he says.

How’s that for a graduate of Gwinnett County public schools?

More photos

Harmel with parents, Danita and David Harmel, at Army-Navy game.

Harmel at recent Army-Navy game, in front of all midshipmen. Note snow on dark coat background

At swim practice