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Naval Academy Graduates Say They Signed Up to Serve

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 23, 2008 – Michael Ursetti was a high school sophomore living in northern New Jersey when the terrorist planes attacked the World Trade Center towers in New York, killing more than a dozen of his neighbors.

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Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2008 walk onto the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., during graduation and commencement ceremonies May 23, 2008. Defense Department photo by Donna Miles

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“I had known since I was about 16 that I wanted to be in the military, but that pretty much solidified it,” said Ursetti, one of 1,037 midshipmen to graduate today from the U.S. Naval Academy.

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 Ursetti from attending the academy. He chose to join the Marine Corps, believing it would give him “more of a direct impact” on the ongoing combat operations.

When he gets to the Corps’ Basic Course later next month, Ursetti hopes to be selected as an infantry officer.

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.

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

“I came for the education, but also because I wanted to serve my country,” said Sarah Matt, who will train as a naval flight officer. “It’s a way to be a part what provides us all the freedoms we enjoy.”

Navy Secretary Donald Winter noted during today’s graduation and commissioning ceremonies that none had chosen the easy, most profitable or most comfortable road. “You have not chosen a profession sheltered from the dangers of war or from the constant demands of the life at sea,” he said.

Paul Bridgers, who is headed to Pensacola, Fla., to become a Navy pilot, said he accepted these demands when he chose to go Navy. “I wanted a career that made me feel like I’m doing something important,” he said.

Bridgers first visited the academy during a school field trip, but never seriously thought about attending until a football scout recruited him to become a right tackle.

Heralding the Navy team’s prowess, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drew cheers and applause from the thousands of families and friends who packed the stadium for the ceremonies. In his keynote address, he noted that the team beat Army four consecutive years, earned the Commander in Chief’s trophy five consecutive years, and gave Notre Dame its first loss to Navy in 43 games.

Football taught Bridgers a lot, but he said his entire academy experience left him more disciplined and ready to take on challenges of being a Navy officer during wartime. “It really doesn’t make a difference whether or not we’re at war. We have to be ready for it either way,” he said.

Zerbin Singleton, a Navy football running back, said the Naval Academy helped him recognize his strengths, overcome his weaknesses and build leadership skills. Now he’s taking that training to the Marine Corps, to become a pilot and someday, he hopes, an astronaut.

“The thing that drew me to the Marine Corps is how they carry themselves,” said the Decatur, Ga., native. “They believe they are the best of the best, and they are. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to be.”

Navy Lt. Brandon Soule, a 2001 academy graduate who now teaches at his alma mater, said lessons the new officers learned here will remain with them as they join the fleet and Corps.

Graduates already have held leadership positions in which they’ve been responsible for others. “You learn what’s critical to being a leader,” Soule said. “You learn that, to lead people, you have to understand people and you have to care.”

As he paid tribute to the graduates, Mullen praised the family members for their role in developing the future Navy and Marine officers and promised to do right by them.

“You taught them to be good citizens, and you instilled in them -- whether you knew it or not -- a desire to serve. And then you handed them over to us and said, ‘Here, take my child in a time of war. Teach them how to lead and how to fight. Teach them how to be good servants of the public, good defenders of our freedom, good leaders to good sailors and good Marines.

“Thank you for that,” Mullen told the families. “We know what you expect of us. We appreciate your trust. We will labor always to deserve it.”

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Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
U.S. Naval Academy

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2008, who graduated May 23, 2008, said they chose the military as a way to serve the country. Michael Ursetti, left, was commissioned as a Marine Corps second lieutenant and hopes to become an infantry officer. Sarah Matt, now a Navy ensign slated to train as a naval flight officer, said she wants to defend America’s freedoms. Defense Department photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThousands of family members and friends look on as 785 of the 1,037 graduating U.S. Naval Academy students take their oath as U.S. Navy officers. Another 233 of the graduates were sworn into the Marine Corps during May 23, 2008, ceremonies in Annapolis, Md. Defense Department photo by Donna Miles  
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