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Naval Academy Grads to Take Dreams, Sense of Service to Fleet, Corps

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 22, 2009 – Pageantry and tradition reined here today as 1,036 members of U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2009 raised their right hands and swore to protect and defend the United States and its Constitution as the newest Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants.

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Newly commissioned Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Anthony Arguelles said a deep-seeded love of America’s freedoms led him to the U.S. Naval Academy and on to become a Marine Corps officer. He’s among 267 members of the Naval Academy’s 2009 graduating class to be commissioned into the Marine Corps – the highest number in history. DoD photo by Donna Miles

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The graduates gathered under a spectacular late-spring sky at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the day. President Barack Obama offered the keynote address, praising the midshipmen for their decision to serve at a time when he told them their country needs them more than ever.

A 21-gun salute heralded Obama’s entry into the stadium. The Blue Angels roared overhead, their F/A-18 Hornets spewing white smoke in their wake. The Naval Academy Glee Club and Band boomed out patriotic renditions. Cheers and applause from a near-capacity crowd of family members and friends rang out throughout the ceremony.

But in the quiet moments before the midshipman lined up for their processional into the stadium, they paused to reflect on the forces that brought them to the academy and sustained them through four intellectually, physically and emotionally demanding academic years.

Here are some of their stories:

Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Anthony Arguelles

Anthony Arguelles always knew he wanted to serve in the military. The son of a Cuban immigrant, he said he learned at an early age not to take the freedoms Americans enjoy for granted.

“It gives you a sense of pride when you grow up knowing that not everyone has those same freedoms,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of ensuring that.”

After four years at the academy – juggling academics, physical fitness, military requirements and whatever personal life he managed to fit in – Arguelles said he’s ready to take on new challenges as a Marine Corps officer. He’s among 267 members of the Naval Academy’s 2009 graduating class to be commissioned into the Marine Corps – the highest number in history.

From here, Arguelles will head the Marine Corps Basic Course at Quantico, Va., with hopes of becoming an infantry officer. He’s accepting his gold bars with his eyes wide open to the probability that he’ll end up deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq early during his career.

“General Conway told us last week that we can all expect to go over there at some point,” he said, referring to a visit Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, paid to the future Marines.

“But I’m happy to go where the fight is, and where Americans are doing what Americans do,” Arguelles said.

And when he arrives at the Corps, he said, he’ll keep the welfare of the Marines under his charge first and foremost. “I’m going to take care of them the very best I can,” he said. “That’s my No. 1 priority.”

Navy Ensign Will Arnest

Will Arnest grew up in Honolulu, knowing he wanted to go Navy. Both grandfathers served in the Navy, and his father worked at a ship fitter at Pearl Harbor.

“Seeing the Navy up close left an impression, and I was hooked from an early age,” he said. “I really bought into the idea that ‘It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,’” he said, referring to the old Navy recruiting slogan. “Well, for me, it’s still an adventure.”

Although Arnest knew early on that he wanted to go to the Naval Academy, his path there wasn’t as direct as he might have liked. He applied three times before he was accepted, and then only after he’d already finished two years of study at the University of Hawaii.

Academics – particularly electrical engineering and thermodynamics – challenged Arnest at the academy. He struggled to stay on top of his physical readiness requirements, too. But today, as he joined his fellow midshipmen gathering inside the fence line at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in preparation for their graduation and commissioning ceremony, Arnest said he hadn’t quite accepted the fact that he was finally achieving his long-time dream.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said. “I think that is all going happen when I hold up my hand for the oath of induction, and when I toss my cap up in the air. When that happens, I think it is going to hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Arnest said he’ll miss the deep bonds he forged at the academy as he goes off to join the submarine force. But like his fellow graduates, he said he takes comfort knowing he’ll encounter many of his former classmates again during what he hopes will be a long Navy career.

“I plan to stay in the Navy as long as they will keep me around,” he said.

Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Stephanie LaLiberte

Stephanie LaLiberte, one of this year’s distinguished graduates, said she was drawn to military service at a young age. “I’ve always been a very disciplined person, and I was drawn to the lifestyle,” he said.

She joined a Navy Junior ROTC program at her Orlando, Fla., high school, where a Marine Corps instructor, Sgt. Maj. Luis Torres, left a deep and lasting impression on her. But it was during her freshman year of high school, as she watched images of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks replay over and over again, that locked in her plans. “Nine-11 solidified it for me,” she said.

After today’s graduation and commissioning ceremonies, she’s headed to the Marine Corps Basic Officer Course, after which she hopes to become a combat engineer. LaLiberte said she’ll take important lessons to the Corps she gained during her four years in Annapolis.

The most challenging, she said, was “trying to find my own leadership style,” particularly when leading her own peers at the academy. She said she’s a firm believer in “leadership by example,” and that she hopes to bring a sense of balance to the mission and the people under her leadership who will carry it out.

“I’m focused and driven and kind of squared away,” she said. “But I’ve also got a softer side – one that’s caring. And that’s the mix I want to bring with me.”

Navy Ensign Katherine Adler and Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Clare McKenna

Katherine Adler and Clare McKenna grew up swimming together on the same teams on Long Island, N.Y.

Both were deeply affected by the 9/11 terror attacks. Adler had friends whose parents died in the attacks. McKenna, the daughter of a New York City police officer, and her uncle was driving to work at the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 careened into the building.

“Nine-11 hit close to home,” McKenna said. “That really solidified it for me. …It made me want to go out there and give back to my country and protect the people I love.”

“It wanted me to be part of protecting this country so another 9/11 never happens,” echoed Adler.

Their shared sense of duty led both women to the Naval Academy. Now, after four years together in the Class of 2009, the best friends are now headed on separate paths: Adler to the Navy and McKenna to the Marine Corps. Both said they’ll take valuable lessons from their Annapolis experience.

“I’ve learned to take care of your friends and your people, because you never know when you will need them to be there for you,” said McKenna.

“Never quit at anything, ever,” Adler chimed in. “And try to have fun always.”

Navy Ensign Ben Zintak

Ben Zintak, one of the 2009 class’s distinguished graduates, grew up in Chicago loving University of Notre Dame football. When he realized that the Fighting Irish played Navy every year, he began to wonder, “Who’s Navy?”

The more Zintak started to learn about the Naval Academy, the more drawn he was to going there.

“I think service is important,” he said. “And this is an opportunity to get an education and to serve.”

Zintak is quick to credit the huge network of supporters he said helped him through the academy: instructors, fellow classmates and the family that provided never-ending support and care packages of granola bars. “I just can’t say enough about the people here,” he said.

Before filing onto the field for this year’s graduating and commissioning ceremonies, Zintak was pinching himself so it would all sink in. “I don’t even really believe this is happening,” he said.

He’s headed to flight school, following a dream that started when he got to take a jet ride during summer training. “There is really nothing like it in the world,” he said. “It beats the heck out of sitting behind a desk.”

As he goes to the fleet, Zintak said he hopes to “look for new ways to do old things better, faster and with more finesse.”

But he said he’s got a deeper, more personal commitment to the calling he’s about to assume. “I just want to be someone my enlisted people trust with their lives and careers,” he said.

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Related Sites:
Photo Essay: Naval Academy Graduation 2009
U.S. Naval Academy

Related Articles:
Troops Serve as Worldwide Examples, Obama Tells Naval Academy Grads

Click photo for screen-resolution imageIt took three attempts before he got accepted into the Naval Academy, but newly commissioned Navy Ens. Will Arnest persisted to follow his dream, and is now headed to become a submariner with hopes for a long Navy career. DoD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNewly commissioned Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Stephanie LaLiberte said she hopes to bring a blend of tough, mission-mindedness and a softer, people-focused sense of caring to the Marine Corps, along with important lessons she learned at the U.S. Naval Academy. DoD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Ensign Katherine Adler and Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Clare McKenna grew up swimming together in New York, became best friends at the U.S. Naval Academy, and are now setting out on separate paths: Adler to the Navy, and McKenna, to the Marine Corps after their May 22, 2009, graduation and commissioning. DoD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Ensign Ben Zintak, center, first learned about the U.S. Navy Academy by following University of Notre Dame football. After his May 22, 2009, graduation from the academy, he’s headed to flight school with a commitment to winning the trust of the people he leads. DoD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the 2009 graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy raise their arms in excitement as the Blue Angels storm over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., kicking off graduation and commissioning ceremonies, May 22, 2009. DoD photo by Donna Miles   
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