At US Naval Academy ship selection, Ohioans take the top spots
By DANIELLE OHL | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: February 1, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — A raucous crowd bangs blue and white noisemakers. Some furiously flap posters decked with glitter and lights. A group of men sling a t-shirt into the cheering masses.
Beaming twenty-somethings shake hands and accept baseball caps.
But this is not the National Football League draft. It’s ship selection night at the Naval Academy.
“Are you guys ready?” asked Vice Admiral Rich Brown, who commands the Naval Surface Forces. The midshipmen roared back.
At ship selection Thursday night, mids one by one ascend a stage, consider rows of color-coded ship names before them and choose their future.
Only those midshipman in the surface warfare community select ships, but their fellow classmates flood the Alumni Hall basketball court to cheer the SWO’s on.
“It’s a full contact sport, ladies and gentlemen,” Brown said. “In 2018, it looks a lot like it did in the 1930s.”
Brown spoke of mounting aggression in China and Russia. He recalled the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II, where all sailors, even ensigns, had their place.
“That’s what’s required in 2019,” he said, “and that’s what will be required in 2020.”
And with that selection began.
Ask some academy alums and they’ll say their selection was never like this. People clapped. It was polite and celebratory.
But this — this is a rock show and first-class midshipmen are the stars.
The mids choose in “order of merit,” a cumulative class rank comprising academic, military and physical standing. The homeports span the world — Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Yokosuka, Japan; Rota, Spain.
And of course, what mid would pass up a chance to work in San Diego? The ones who want to work in Mayport, Florida, of course.
Tim and Jennifer Imhoff traveled from Twinsburg, Ohio, to surprise their son Thomas, who chose first Thursday night.
They arrived in the afternoon, the 21-degree weather feeling balmy in comparison to the -8 degree Midwestern weather.
“When he earned the top spot, we knew we cannot not come,” Tim Imhoff said.
Thomas chose the USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer based in Rota, Spain. Drew Weninger, also a native Ohioan, picked the same ship.
Both the Weningers and the Imhoffs are from northwestern Ohio. The families met during the Induction Day Welcome Aboard picnic.
“We had no idea they’d be one and two,” said Ernie Weninger, Drew’s father.
Thomas Imhoff ascended the stairs after his pick, shaking hands and stopping to talk to media. Then he spotted his mother.
“Oh my gosh!” Thomas Imhoff exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
Both Imhoff and Weninger knew they wanted the opportunity to serve in Spain and join the forces right away.
Others weren’t so sure of their choices. Midshipmen waiting in line debated the merits of Florida over California. They grasped hands with friends, screamed to family in the crowd.
As Midshipman First Class Claire Suess, a chemistry major from Cincinnati, awaited her pick, she had her mind made up. The USS Thomas Hudner.
“Well,” she said. “I think. I hope. I don’t know — it’s kind of a game-time decision.”
She chose the Hudner.
Midshipman First Class Anna Maxsimic, at the last minute, chose the USS Zumwalt, the lead ship among the futuristic Zumwalt-class destroyers, based in San Diego.
The ship was commissioned in Baltimore in 2016. It’s one of three ships at the forefront of Naval technology. At 600 feet and 14,000 tons, it’s the largest destroyer the Navy has ever built.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” she said. “It’s uncharted territory.”
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