Mike Waters and Hunter Ware leapt into the air yesterday and slappedhigh fives, their open, fresh-out-of the box flight jackets flapping. Ware's whoop of jubilation echoed through the ornate, vaulted ceiling at Bancroft Hall.
This was what they had worked for through nearly four years at the Naval Academy. Flight school. The leather jackets with the fur collars, the aviator sunglasses. Navy air.
"This is so cool," Ware exulted, donning the shades on a dim, gray day. "This is the reason I came to the Naval Academy. This is the decision of a lifetime."
Ware, from Kennett Square, Pa., was among more than 1,000 senior midshipmen who chose the branch of the Navy from which they would launch their careers. It is the culmination of their work at the Academy, and many say it is even more exciting than graduation.
"This is the night you get to choose and decide what you're going to do the rest of your life," explained Steve Phillips, anOld Mill High School graduate who chose surface warfare.
"Now, itdoesn't matter what we do as long as we graduate," added Kimberly Walz, of Crownsville.
"At last you have some dates," concluded John Kennedy, who grew up in Annapolis. "You've been here for four years and you say you want to go to flight school, or you want to go to subs, or surface, and this is the day you get the date when you're going to go to that school."
Throughout the late afternoon and into the evening, mids milled about in the rotunda of Bancroft Hall, the midshipman dormitory, awaiting their opportunity to choose.
Many were certain they would get their first choice, based on their class ranking and the number of slots open. They proudly wore their newly issued flight jackets or the baseball caps with the insignias of the submarines to which they would be assigned.
Midshipmen 1st Class Frank J.Kochenas strode briskly through the lobby waving the $4,000 bonus check he won for choosing nuclear submarines. The Navy offers the moneyto entice its best engineers to the program.
"Guess you're buyingtonight," Walz, who was waiting for her turn, shouted after him.
In the weeks leading up to the selection day, Walz said she "had kindof a sick feeling" of tension. But after she checked her class standing and the number of surface warfare slots available, she knew she would get her first choice. Yesterday, she just wanted to get it done.
Others, however, had to reconcile themselves to second choices.
Lance Lesher, a 1985 graduate of Meade High School who spent two years as a Navy enlisted man before qualifying for the academy, knew the submarine slots would be gone long before his turn arrived, so he chose surface warfare.
"It's not my first choice, but I'm not disgruntled about it, either," he said. "There are opportunities."
Julianne Gallina, the first female brigade commander, had hoped for flight school, but learned she is too short by 1.1 inches for the contoured pilot seats. She's going into cryptology instead.
"Ever since I was 13, I wanted to fly. That's why I came here," she said. "So I waspretty disappointed at first. But the more I thought about it and explored my options, the more I liked cryptology. I'll learn languages and, you know, 'Join the Navy and see the world.' "