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New Grads Say Desire to Serve, Lead Led Them to Naval Academy

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 25, 2007 – Mackenzie White has vivid memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- particularly, the thick, black smoke he saw rising from the Pentagon, just a few miles away from his high school in Alexandria, Va.

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Mackenzie White, left, said seeing smoke from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon reaffirmed his desire to serve in the military. He joined Michael Deloach, right, and more than 1,000 other midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy May 25 in being commissioned as Navy and Marine Corps officers. Photo by Donna Miles

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White said he had always known he wanted to serve in the military, but that seeing his country come under attack “made it even more certain.”

The events of Sept. 11, the U.S entry into the global war on terror and the recognition that he’d be entering a wartime force never dissuaded White; today he joined 1,027 other midshipmen to be commissioned at the U.S. Naval Academy here.

“It made me realize that you should feel compelled to serve,” said White, who was among about 20 percent of the Class of 2007 commissioned as Marine Corps second lieutenants.

Whether headed to the Marine Corps, to flight school or to the fleet to serve as surface warriors, submariners or in other capacities, today’s graduates said they brought a common drive to the Naval Academy: a desire to serve their country.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates noted during his commencement address today that all had solid credentials and could have chosen an easier or more lucrative path. “You, however, are special,” he said, “because you are among those who have chosen to serve – to defend the dreams of others. And that sets you apart.”

As they gathered inside the fenceline at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in preparation for today’s graduation and commissioning ceremony, the midshipmen reflected on why they chose to serve, and the leadership qualities they hope to bring to the calling.

Jade Baum, also commissioned today into the Marine Corps, said she learned at a young age that she wanted a life of service, and decided the Marine Corps was the best way to start. “I realized that accomplishing things for yourself isn’t really satisfying,” she said. “What’s really satisfying is serving others. That’s the best way to spend your life.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” agreed Tom Emge, who said he decided he wanted to attend the Naval Academy after taking a field trip there with his third-grade class. “Our country is so great, and if it hadn’t been for people willing to give back something and sacrifice for it, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

For Ashley Myers, who will head to naval flight school in Pensacola, Fla., later this summer, military service is something of a family affair. She said she followed in the footsteps of both of her grandfathers to join the military. “I knew that they had done their part to give me a future,” she said. “So why shouldn’t I do it, too?”

As they serve the country as Navy and Marine Corps officers, the new graduates said they recognize their most important responsibility will be to serve the sailors and Marines they command.

White said the biggest leadership lesson he learned at the academy was that leadership means being focused on the people being led. “They make sure you realize that it’s not about you,” he said. “We are here for the people serving under us. We’re here to become the best leaders we can possibly be, prepared to take care of our people.”

Myers said she realizes that there’s no cookie-cutter formula for leading people. Rather, she said, it requires getting to know your people as individuals to understand what motivates them.

She said she recognizes that she and her fellow midshipmen joined an all-volunteer force because they want to serve. “So that means that if they’re not accomplishing what they need to, it’s the leader’s fault,” she said.

Emge, who is headed to USS Preble, a destroyer homeported in San Diego, Calif., said he will work to earn the respect of the people he leads. “I’m going to learn from them and not try to tell them I know it all,” he said.

He said he’ll roll up his sleeves and prove that he’s part of the team. “I’ll show them I’m willing to work as hard or even harder than they do,” he said.

Baum said she learned valuable lessons serving as brigade commander during the past semester and hopes to apply them as a Marine Corps officer. “I learned to be patient and to stay calm,” she said.

And as though anticipating advice Gates later offered during his commencement address -- “Don’t ever lose your sense of humor” -- Baum said she had learned “to be sure to laugh a lot.”

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Related Sites:
U.S. Naval Academy
Web Special: The Military Academies

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Gates Calls Congress, Press Key Pillars in Protecting Liberty

Click photo for screen-resolution imageJade Baum, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2007, said she chose to join the Marine Corps because she wants to serve. She plans to draw on lessons learned while acting as brigade commander at the academy as a Marine Corps officer. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageTom Emge set his heart on attending the U.S. Naval Academy after a third-grade field trip. Now, as a newly commissioned ensign headed for USS Preble, he said he’ll work to earn the respect of the sailors serving under him. Photo by Donna Miles  
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