Naval Academy seniors pick ships and future military path
By MEREDITH NEWMAN | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: January 27, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Less than 10 minutes before the selection began, Midshipman 1st Class Woojin Chung still wasn't sure what he was going to pick.
"Nothing could prepare me for this," he said.
Chung was one of 250 Naval Academy midshipmen to participate in Ship Selection Thursday. It's a night where seniors have the chance to choose their destiny by selecting their first ship and home port. You can think of the night like the NFL draft, but where the players choose their team.
There are hundreds of ships based in areas like San Diego, California, Yokosuka, Japan and Norfolk, Virginia. This moment would be one of the few times in his military career where he could choose where he's based.
No pressure, right?
The Chicago resident was 47th in line to choose his ship, and living in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after graduation sounded good to him.
"I've never been, but I've heard really good things," he laughed.
The mids can choose from Navy destroyers, command ships or cruisers that have ports all over the world. Some are more selective than others, like ships based in Spain or Bahrain. The order of the mids is based on "overall order of merit," a class rank that is determined on academic, military and physical standing within their class.
The mids were assigned surface warfare officers in November, while others in their class were assigned Naval flight officers, Marines and submariners. SWOs are the only group to choose their ships.
During the selection, the mids' names are called one by one. They then choose a ship on the assignment boards and hoist the name card in the air like a trophy.
"Every team here is undefeated," said Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, the commander of the Naval Surface Forces. "And we're going to stay undefeated because of you."
Known as the "SWO boss," Rowden pumped the mids up before they chose their ships. The selection will be one of the most defining moments of their life, he said.
The event was held in Alumni Hall for the first time this year and was quite a spectacle: The mids chose walk-up songs, shirts were rocketed to the cheering section and there was even a selfie booth.
A military film crew streamed the selection live for the moms, dads and grandparents to watch from home. The mids were also gifted with swag bags, which include items sent by the ships' captains.
For many of the mids, strategy is key. Several months ago, the 2017 class set up a spreadsheet where the future SWOs indicated what ships they were thinking of picking, said Midshipman 1st Class Sarah Claudy.
So while most of the mids had an idea of what they were picking, there's never a guarantee until their name is called.
Claudy, who was third to pick, chose the USS Donald Cook in Rota, Spain. The English major said she chose the home port because she wants to travel as much as possible after graduation.
"It's definitely a memory I'm going to have with me forever," she said before the selection. "To have that (card) in my hand is going to be really symbolic."
Midshipman 1st Class Sierra Knoch chose a ship in San Diego because she wanted to get out of Maryland for her deployment. Knoch went to Severna Park High School and her family now lives in Annapolis.
"When I was a plebe and youngster, I didn't really get it," she said of the event. "But last year, all my friends chose their ship. It's cool, it's the only time that you'll pick exactly what you want. It's a culmination of how hard you've worked."
Midshipman 1st Class Steven Pantus said he's been thinking about choosing a ship since he walked onto the yard as a plebe. Now that his ship is chosen, graduation is the final step to becoming a commissioned Navy officer.
"It makes it real," he said of his selection. "And a little scary."
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