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Future Surface Warfare Officers pick ship to serve on after Naval Academy

Midshipman First Class Andrew J. Ahn holds a sign for the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS San Jacinto during Ship Selection Night at the U.S. Naval Academy, January 25, 2018.

KAITLIN ROWELL/U.S. NAVY

By RACHAEL PACELLA | The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) | Published: January 26, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — To thunderous applause 256 future Navy Surface Warfare Officers selected the ship they’ll serve on Thursday night, at an event billed as the NFL draft, but for SWOs.

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who assumed command of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet on Jan. 18, had some motivational words for the first class midshipmen, now nearing the end of their time at the Naval Academy.

“Believe it it or not, in five or six months you’re going to be standing in front of a division of sailors leading them at sea,” Brown said.

The first ship they serve on will set the course for the rest of their career, he said.

Family members, sponsors and other midshipmen held signs and cheered from the upper level of Alumni Hall, while one by one men and women assigned to the Surface Warfare community walked down to the stage and picked their ship from a magnetic board. Ships are selected by order of merit, a cumulative class rank based on academic, military and physical standing.

The ships were organized on the board by homeport — Norfolk, San Diego, Spain, Japan and more.

Christine Chhor of Severna Park chose the USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer with a homeport of Pearl Harbor. Chhor said going into the event she knew she wanted to go to Pearl Harbor, but decided to pick the John Paul Jones at the last minute.

Chhor is a first generation American, and her family on both her mother’s and father’s side came to America as refugees from Cambodia after spending time in concentration camps during the Khmer Rouge regime. That’s one of the reasons she wanted to go to the Naval Academy.

“I thought that I wanted to give back to the country that gave my family a second chance,” she said.

Caitlyn Vernon of Millersville chose the USS Thomas Hudner, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for a medal of honor recipient and set to be commissioned in late September in Boston. She’ll be one of the first people to serve on the ship, which has a homeport of Mayport, Florida.

Vernon said her father, Wayne Vernon, sent letters to every living Medal of Honor recipient a few years ago. Hudner was one of the ones who replied.

“It said ‘to Officer Wayne Vernon and your children, best of luck,” she said. “Once I saw he got a reply from Hudner, I was like, I have to get that ship. It was meant to be.”

Hudner received his Medal of Honor for risking his life in an attempt to save his squadron mate, who was also the Navy’s first African-American aviator, when the man’s plane was forced down behind enemy lines during the Korean War. Hudner died in November at the age of 93.

One billet was also available for the blue crew of the USS Sioux City, a Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship that will be commissioned in Annapolis this summer.

Kelsey Ackerman of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, said she was filled with so much happiness when she picked the Sioux City. She’s been at the Naval Academy for nearly four years, and it’s been a journey.

“I’ve had a lot of growing pains happen here, so the fact that I’m starting my career or my future in a place that has really kind of developed me into the person that I want to be is absolutely wonderful,” she said.

When she was left the stage she was greeted by Retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp, the chairman of the ship’s commissioning committee. He gave her a card, a coin and congratulations.

Thorp, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981 said before the event that the first ship a Surface Warfare Officer serves on has a bearing on the rest of their career. But it doesn’t limit their career in any way, he said — that’s the beauty of it.

“It’s a big decision, but there’s no bad decision,” he said

Ships have personalities, and the type of ship you pick and the ship’s schedule matter, he said. His first ship was the USS St. Louis, an amphibious cargo ship.

When he was deployed the Commander of the 7th Fleet toured the ship and met Thorp in the engine room. The commander recommended him for a job as an admiral’s aide, launching him on a career path in public affairs that would culminate with a job as the Navy’s Chief Information Officer.

The Sioux City went through sea trials in December, and is progressing toward a commissioning this summer, Thorp said. Last year four midshipmen selected the USS Sioux City.

©2018 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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