ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The audience, packed into Mahan Hall, roared like Madison Square Garden on fight night Thursday as the Navy's next crop of surface warfare officers took their fates into their own hands Thursday for the Naval Academy's storied ship selection night.

For the first and only time in their naval careers, the 243 midshipmen were given their choice of 255 billets on more than a hundred ships, walking across the stage one at a time — based on their class ranking — to claim what was left from the board.

But Before the draft began, the auditorium shook with cheers and applause as the Navy's surface warfare boss took the stage to motivate the graduating seniorstroops.

"I take a look around, and I say to myself, there is not a bad ship on this entire board," said Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, a nuclear-trained SWO and 1982 academy grad.

Midshipman 1st Class Michael Lemonick, 21, got first pick, striding confidently to the Rota, Spain, section of the board and snapping up the placard for the destroyer Donald Cook, before turning to the crowd and holding it up in triumph.

After Lemonick donned his new command ball cap and shook Rowden's hand, the admiral kept the mid on stage for one last gesture: Rowden removed the gold SWO pin from his uniform and handed it to Lemonick, as a good luck charm for his future qualification board.

"I thought that I would, at this point, be going submarines, until I had a great experience this past summer on [the destroyer Milius]," Lemonick told Navy Times afterwards. He chose a destroyer because of for the tight-knit community, he added, and Spain for the opportunity to live in Europe.

Rota was the hottest duty station of the night, as the destroyer Ross got second pick and the last two Spain billets were taken quicklyshortly quickly chosensnapped up. Yokosuka, Japan, was the next base to fill up its dance cardempty out, followed by San Diego. After graduation, the ensigns will head to a two-month intro course before they start their fleet careers.

It was a big night for the littoral combat ship as well, with all 15 billets snapped up early in ther processon. Lt. Carleigh Gregory, a seamanship and navigation instructor at the academy, let out a big cheer for each selection, sweeping up the mids in a bear hug as they left the stage.

Gregory told Navy Times that because she's the only officer on the yard who's served on an LCS, she was lobbying hard for the new and controversial ship class during the weeks before ship selection night, when mids get together with instructors to learn more about each platform.

"Those that read some stories that maybe haven't portrayed LCS in such a positive light, I'm here to dispel that," she said.

"It's a brand new ship type, so they get to be involved with a lot of testing that they may not necessarily get to be involved with if they go to a cruiser or destroyer," she said. "As a very junior officer, you have a lot more input on instituting policy and training. Because it's so new, everybody's input matters."

Norfolk billets are usuallytraditionally the last left on the board. This year, five ships of those won't get a single new ensign from the academy: the cruiser San Jacinto and the destroyers Oscar Austin, Bulkeley, Ramage and McFaul.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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