1st Class Antionne Winston selects the frigate Taylor at the Naval Academy's Ship Selection night Thursday in Mahan Hall on the Annapolis, Md., campus. (MC1 Chad Runge / Navy)
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Stride across the stage and pick your ship off the big board as admirals, captains and classmates watch on. The Naval Academy seniors set to join the surface Navy passed through that annual rite Jan. 31. After years of study and following orders, each midshipman had the choice of where to start their naval career — and it felt momentous for them.
"This is my life's dream," beamed Midshipman 1st Class Michael Foster moments after he picked the placard for Sasebo, Japan-based minesweeper Avenger off the magnetic board in Mahan Hall's auditorium. Foster, a Japanese minor from Bronx, N.Y., confessed that he had been nervous when each classmate before him went to the board, hoping they would leave him a billet on a ship based in Japan.
"I looked up every ship and the minesweepers were a really good choice for me," he said of the Japan-based ships, as he held his placard proudly and hugged classmates. "It's really, really good."
Foster was one of the 251 future surface warfare officers to pick their first ship, a privilege that doesn't extend to the mids joining other branches of the Navy and Marine Corps. This tradition, which goes back generations, proceeds by class rank and for many it will be the only time in their naval career that they can detail themselves.
"There are no bad choices on this board," said Adm. Mark Ferguson, the vice chief of naval operations and a surface warfare officer, in a short speech before the mids made their picks. "As you join them and go forward into this adventure, I would tell you that the fleet is looking to your leadership, your energy, your enthusiasm, the innovation that you bring."
With hundreds of ship billets from Little Creek, Va. to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii up for grabs, the choices can be daunting. Once onstage, some mids made a B-line for their choice. Others lingered, wrestling with their options as the audience roared its advice and the classmates behind them anxiously watched their options narrow. Some ships and homeports proved more popular than others. San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks went fast. So did the newest destroyers.
The fourth to pick was Midshipman 1st Class Jennifer Jones, the brigade commander. The Alexandria, Va.-native choose destroyer Donald Cook because it is one of the two ships scheduled to shift homeport from Norfolk, Va. to Rota, Spain in fiscal year 2014.
"There was just a ton of ships there and hard to pick from," Jones said with a laugh afterwards.
But the big favorite of the night was not a ship at all; it was sunny San Diego.
"I got San Diego! I'm shaking I'm so excited," said Midshipman 1st Class Kimberly Muirhead only seconds after she made her pick and shook hands with the row of nine admirals who congratulated each of the soon-to-be SWOs and told them that their choice was "a fantastic ship." Towards the end of the night, Muirhead had selected amphibious assault ship Boxer.
"These moments are why you're so happy to be at the Naval Academy," she added in the hallway outside the boisterous auditorium. "Every doubt in my mind is gone. I made the right choice and I'm ready to go."