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Annapolis Grads Eager to Join Fleet, Marine Corps

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. , May 29, 2012 – Tossing their hats skyward in a tradition that marked its 100th anniversary this year, the 1,099 members of the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2012 celebrated their graduation and commissioning here today, eager to take their experiences with them as they join the Navy and Marine Corps.

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Members of the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2012 listen as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta challenges them to become leaders during a time of transition within the Defense Department and the world. DOD photo by Donna Miles
  

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For Daniel Iafrato, attending the Naval Academy was a dream come true. He got his initial introduction during a summer seminar here after his junior year of high school in Carmel, Ind., and “absolutely fell in love with the place.”

Kristen Tella was just 9 years old when her church group from Boca Raton, Fla., visited the academy. “I was so impressed. I knew this was where I wanted to come,” she said. The 9/11 terror attacks on the United States only reinforced her decision.

Sean McDonnell, an Annapolis native, admitted that he initially resisted the idea of attending the Naval Academy. His father was a 1985 graduate who later served as an ethics professor here, and it wasn’t until high school that McDonnell said he started to consider the possibility for himself.

But today, as academy graduates heard Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus praise their accomplishments and remind them that their biggest challenges are still ahead, they all said they’re ready to take what they learned here, roll up their sleeves and get started.

Andrew Hotsko, among the 267 midshipmen commissioned today into the Marine Corps, said he looks forward to applying the leadership lessons that are woven throughout the academy’s instruction. “I feel that the academy has prepared me really well to transition from being a midshipman to being an officer,” said the Panama City, Panama, native.

Hotsko reflected on the once-unfathomable practices the academy subjected him to during his time here, from having his head shaved on arrival to the early morning runs to the “rack races” in which midshipmen competed to make their beds as quickly as possible.

“You realize there is a method to the madness,” he said, all centering on leadership principles and attention to detail.

“It’s all a process of breaking you down to rebuild you in a particular mold,” Hotsko said.

The process wasn’t always easy, Hotsko conceded. “You have to grow up fast,” he said. “And you learn a lot about yourself in the process.”

Hotsko said he also learned about the sense of camaraderie that had attracted him to the Naval Academy and ultimately, to the Marine Corps. “When things got tough, you would look to your left and you look to your right and you see your buddies,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Now Hotsko said he’s ready for the next set of challenges that await him at the Marines’ Basic School in Quantico, Va. He said he’s confident he’ll “get to know what I need to know to lead men and women in combat” and to become an example they can look up to.

Undeterred by Mabus’ reflection that he and his fellow Marine second lieutenants could be serving in Afghanistan within the next six months, Hotsko said he knows what he signed up for and looks forward to the opportunity. “I’ll be ready,” he said, nodding his head as if to punctuate the point.

Sean Cruz, the son of a retired Navy captain and retired Navy lieutenant commander, grew up around the Navy and had a good sense of what he was signing on for when he elected to attend the academy.

But if there’s one lesson he said he learned at the academy, it’s humility. “Everyone here comes from the top of their class at their high school. They’re big fish in a small pond,” he said. “Here, all that gets flipped. Everyone is a small fish in a big pond.”

Cruz embraced the opportunity to grow and learn within this “big pond,” and to form lifetime friendships.

Now, as he prepares to enter the all-volunteer submarine force -- one of just 139 graduates to do so -- Cruz said he’s looking forward to his next chance to serve with “the best of the best.”

Applying lessons instilled here at Annapolis, Cruz said he’ll rely heavily on the experience and guidance of the senior enlisted force as he takes command. “I want to lead my men and do the best I can for them,” he said. “And the bottom line is, I recognize that I am working for them. They aren’t working for me.”

Tella, one of 221 midshipmen commissioned today to become Navy surface warfare officers, said she, too, is ready to take the lessons learned here and to use them to give back.

“My goals have changed dramatically since I was that starry-eyed little girl who first came here,” she said. “But I still firmly believe there is no other profession that I can be more proud of -- serving your country and doing good in the world.”

Iafrato, also set to serve as a surface warfare officer, said he’s never looked back on his decision to attend the Naval Academy.

Like his classmates, Iafrato was too young to fully understand the impact of the 9/11 attacks on the United States when they occurred. He was 11 years old at the time, attending a church service at his school when someone ran in with the announcement.

But growing up in a nation at war, Iafrato said he always felt a personal calling to be part of something larger than himself. “I don’t feel like it’s other people’s responsibility to serve our nation,” he said. “Everyone has a role.”

McDonnell, commissioned today into the Marine Corps, shares Iafrato’s deep-seated sense of duty. “I’m excited to support and defend the country,” he said, and ready to deploy when and where he’s needed.

“I feel like I have been called to do this,” McDonnell said. “It’s something I believe in and feel I’m destined to do.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2012 file toward their seats for graduation and commissioning ceremonies, May 29, 2012. DOD photo by Donna Miles   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDaniel Iafrato receives his new officer identification card just before graduation and commissioning ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., May 29, 2012. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAndrew Hotsko, right, among the 267 midshipmen commissioned into the Marine Corps during graduation and commissioning ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., serves as an inspiration for junior midshipmen, including first-year midshipman Kyle Combado, left. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageKristen Tella, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation class of 2012, proudly displays the tape-covered officer insignia she will reveal at the end of commissioning and graduation ceremonies, May 29, 2012. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSean Cruz, who elected to become a submarine officer so he could serve with “the best of the best,” readies for graduation and commissioning ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., May 29, 2012. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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