Midshipmen Affirm Their Commitment to Fight Terror
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2006 The events of Sept. 11, 2001, created major doubts and new difficulties for many in America, but for midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, those events have become a reason to serve.
The U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2006 celebrates its accomplishment by tossing hats into the air at commencement May 26 in Annapolis, Md. The hat toss tradition began at the academy in 1912 in a spontaneous celebration as graduates threw away their midshipman hats and donned the hats of newly commissioned officers. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The Class of 2006 is the first class to be inducted into the academy after 9/11. As they marched into their graduation ceremony May 26, the rest of the Brigade of Midshipmen prepared to move into new leadership roles at the school, soon to take their turn in "the fleet" as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.
"There was no second-guessing," Midshipman Sanjay Stone, a junior, said. He had started the application process to the academy before the attacks and said he felt "a resurgence" in his commitment to the country. "You know, 9/11 was a horrible thing ... and I wanted to do whatever I can to serve and protect. It didn't change my attitude."
Stone, whose father and grandfather both served in the Navy, said this summer he would do a training cruise aboard the dock landing ship USS Rushmore. After that, he will spend the rest of the summer training incoming freshmen in shipboard damage-control techniques. In the fall, he and his classmates will take leadership positions before they are commissioned this time next year, then head into the fleet as officers.
Midshipman Gary Grimes, also a junior, said he has faith he and his classmates will be ready to lead their sailors and Marines in the fight against terrorism when their time comes. "I think it'll be a good experience ... and I think the academy has helped prepare me for that," Grimes said. "I'm ready for it. I'm excited for it, and I'm excited for a lot of these guys graduating, my friends."
The academy has adjusted its training mode for today's wartime situation, as it has in others. During the Civil War, the school moved from here to Newport, R.I., and throughout both World Wars, midshipmen completed an accelerated three-year program, joining the fleet a year early. After 9/11, the academy added Arabic studies to its language curriculum and placed new emphasis on counter-insurgency training.
Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the school has started commissioning more of its graduates in the Marine Corps. "Over the past few years, a growing number of midshipmen expressed a desire to serve in assignments on the front lines of the global war on terror," an academy public affairs official said.
The Class of 2001 saw 151 of its members become Marine officers, while 203 graduates were allowed to take Marine commissions this year -- a jump from 17 to 21 percent.
Midshipman Cody Forsythe, a freshman, said he spoke to a Navy recruiter about enlisting in the Navy just two weeks before the attacks. On 9/11 he got a phone call from that recruiter, asking him if he was still willing to be a part of the armed forces. Forsythe had not even heard about the terrorist incidents yet.
"I didn't know what he was talking about, and so I turned on the TV," he said. "I saw it, and yeah, that was definitely one of the reasons I stuck with it. Definitely."
On Sept. 12, 2001, Forsythe said he saw a huge number of people with his attitude at the recruiting office.
"The next day, I went into my recruiting office to check in, and there was a line out the door, around the corner, people signing up," he said. "It was one of those combined offices. It wasn't just Navy. It was Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force, all in the same area, and the line was just out the hall, people just upset, ready to serve."
After enlisting, Forsythe served as a nuclear machinist's mate before earning a place at the Naval Academy. He said the opportunity to prepare at this school to lead people in this war is an honor.
"Our country was under attack," he said. "The country kind of needed me. That's what I felt like, that I was going to be serving a purpose."