Midshipmen 1st Class Mari and Ashley Eves, identical twins, had a plan for ship selection night: Go for Japan.
Ashley went first, selecting the destroyer Stethem. When Mari's turn came around, there was only one Yokosuka billet left on the board as an audience of hundreds of future SWOs looked on: Stethem.
"It was not on purpose," Mari told Navy Times Thursday at the Naval Academy's annual surface warfare ship selection night in Annapolis, Maryland. Selection night is a unique tradition at Annapolis, where graduates headed for the surface fleet get to pick their first set of orders in a draft-style event. No detailer needed.
The mids are ranked by their academic performance and in that order, they cross the stage at Mahan Hall to pull a placard with a ship's name off boards organized by home port.
The Eves, 23, were not planning on picking the same ship, but were excited about the idea.
"It'll be easier for our parents to come visit us," Ashley said.
"You never have the fear of not knowing anyone," Mari said. "I’ll always have her — 23 years and two more years together."
The big choice
Mids often consult with their friends about ship and homeport choices to be stationed together, sometimes setting their sights on a specific ship well in advance.
Other times, it all happens in the heat of the moment. That's how it went for Midshipman 1st Class Daniel Gartrell, 22, who had Mayport in mind but was undecided.
"When I was on the stairs, I was stuck between a cruiser or a destroyer," he said. "And I thought, you know, I don’t know who else picked the cruisers, but I know that if I pick this destroyer, I’ll have a better chance of working with people that I enjoy."
The once-in-a-career opportunity had a lot of last-minute course changes, even for the top-ranked mid, who had hundreds of options.
"I picked the Zumwalt because I thought it was a great ship, a new ship, that’s going to have a lot of new challenges, and I wanted to be at the forefront of things that the surface Navy is doing," Midshipman 1st Class Richard Kuzma, 21, told Navy Times.
He'd had his eye on the destroyer Spruance, he said, but made a game-time decision.
"It actually just came up [on the list] today, which was, I thought, pretty incredible," he said of the DDG 1000 stealth destroyer, which is undergoing pre-commissioning tests in Bath, Maine.
Zumwalt finished a series of sea trials earlier this month, and shipbuilder Bath Iron Works is aiming to deliver it to the Navy this year.
'Zero-defect' is out
As has become customary, Naval Surface Forces boss Vice Adm. Tom Rowden gave Kuzma his gold SWO pin, to be added to Kuzma's uniform when he earns his insignia.
In his pep talk before the ship picks, Rowden welcomed them to the "SWOhana" — "ohana" is Hawaiian for family.
"It's an opportunity after having all this schooling and all this training and all this talk about our leadership responsibilities," he told Navy Times, of the choice to go surface, "and a very short time after they graduate, they’re going to be standing in front of their division. That's a real attractive thing to them."
The surface force is the face of the Navy, he added, and young officers like that. Of concerns over recent firings for navigational mistakes and other errors, Rowden said junior leaders must be empowered to make judgment calls.
"We need to push the zero-defect mentality right into the wake," he said. "I encourage our young men and women to take smart risks. We have to. We have to engender that culture."
The Navy teaches safe operating, he added, but the culture needs to support a certain amount of risk-taking.
"As John Paul Jones said: He will who not risk will not win," he said. "When the fur starts to fly, it’s the folks who are kind of willing to lay it on the line — they’re the ones who are going to come out on top, and they have to take smart risks."
That chance to lead is what motivated Midshipman 1st Class Jessica Carrillo, a former fire controlman, who's going to the destroyer Sampson in Everett, Washington.
"I’m excited to make changes that I would have liked to see," she said.