Monday, December 9, 2013


For generations, the Army-Navy football game occurred on the first weekend in December. This was a good time slot for the Brigade. It was normally a week after Thanksgiving break. Often the last week of school before finals. For this reason, emails, facebook and You Tube are populated with the latest spirit spots already.

Since the game is now held the second Saturday in December, today is the real start of Army-Navy Week. As it begins, please enjoy this section of The Recipient's Son that describes the meaning behind this game.

"Every Army-Navy game is momentous. Many suggest it remains the last remnant of purity in college football.  Perhaps it is the recognition that the players are only in it only for the game. Many used their skills on the gridiron as a vehicle to get into college, but it was with an ultimate goal of service, not scholarship. Such a choice is fully embraced by the two student bodies, and all alums. Thus, like no other athletic team, the mids and cadets truly represent their respective schools. Then, this extends even beyond the alums as any veteran can lay claim to the game as they see future leaders darting down the field with the ‘Screaming Eagle’ of the 101st Airborne or the ‘Jolly Roger’ of Fighter Squadron 84 sewn on their shoulder, a reminder that those on the field will soon rely on each other in battle.
            The sibling rivalry between young men in such circumstances is simply unequaled."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Service Selection for USNA '14

There are many important days, key milestones at the U.S. Naval Academy. Induction Day, Herndon, Ring Dance, and Graduation all come to mind. There is another that is not as visible, not as iconic...yet, it may be the most important of all. It is Service Selection.

Today, I congratulate the Class of 2014. Whatever your selection, I know you will all do well in the fleet.

The process for Service Selection is different now than "back in the day." In the early 1990's the former system of selection by class rank was still in practice. The Recipient's Son opens with Chapter 1: Service Selection Night.

He tried to study, though there no longer seemed to be a point to it. The stereo blared, plus the commotion in the passageway distracted him. More importantly the young man knew most of his classmates were now out in town celebrating. He stared at a book on political philosophy, waiting for his number to be called.
            It was service selection night for the Class of 1992 at the United States Naval Academy. Midshipman Lieutenant Donald Durago would soon take a momentous walk from his room on the fourth floor of Bancroft Hall’s seventh wing down into Smoke Hall to select the ship he would serve aboard following graduation and commissioning.
            The public address system drowned out all other noise as it reverberated across the thirty-three acres comprising the eight wings of the world’s largest dormitory.
            “Brigade, attention to announcements. Midshipmen with class rank numbers seven hundred to seven seventy five report to four-one for service selection, I say again, midshipmen with class rank numbers seven hundred to seven seventy five report to four-one for service selection.”
            The mids jokingly referred the last hour of this auspicious evening as “Surface Selection” because the only assignments available were for surface ships or Marine Corps ground billets. The coveted aviation billets and nuclear power slots had all been selected by classmates with better academic and military standing hours ago. Durago imagined the top half of the class whooping it up at all the various watering holes in Annapolis, the submarine selectees buying drinks with their nuclear-power bonus money. He surmised the last remnants of those high enough in the class to select naval aviation were donning their newly-issued leather flight jackets before heading into town.
            There would be no money or leather for a mid of Durago’s standing. Still, there was something he hoped for, orders to a very specific ship - a destroyer still under construction in Pascagula, Mississippi. Unlike those who selected a ship already in the fleet, the mid who picked Durago’s ship would not even receive a ship’s ballcap.  
            Looking at the clock again, Durago reminded himself that its availability this late in the evening was a long shot.
             I’ll probably get a ‘food ship,’ he thought to himself.
            The Academy’s radio club disc jockey interrupted a tune by Def Leppard with some color commentary.
            “Hey there, Brigade, just got a call from Midshipman First Class Mark Moore. Marky can’t decide what to select so he wants us to have a call-in vote! That’s right call in your votes and we’ll all decide his destiny! Now for those of you left in the hall, realize Mark has but two choices left, Surface or Marine ground. Caller, state your name.”
            “Tony, from Third Company. Mark, go Marine. You’ll like the haircuts.”
            “Okay, one vote for Marine Corps. Keep’em coming, Brigade.”
            The public address bellowed again.
            “Brigade, attention to announcements. Midshipmen with class rank numbers seven seventy-five to eight fifty report to four-one for service selection. I say again, midshipmen with class rank numbers seven seventy-five to eight fifty to four-one for service selection.”
            Durago got up from his desk, retucked his dress shirt and donned his service dress blue jacket. He put on his cover, the hat worn by midshipmen that was similar to that of a naval officer. Then, by habit, he checked himself in the mirror.
            As he clicked open the heavy wood door to his room, Durago looked at the black nametags fixed at eye level.

14th Company Commander

J. D. WARREN ’92
3rd Battalion Drill Officer

            He smiled to himself briefly.
            The passageways were charged with excitement. Talk of “who selected what” reverberated off the polished tile floors and the hospital-white walls. The Brigade realized that Service Selection Night was as important as graduation and commissioning. It marked what each midshipman would graduate to, what they would become.
            Three Plebes, freshman midshipmen, were affixing warfare devices next to the names of the first class midshipmen, the “Firsties,” or seniors in 14th Company who already selected. Thompson, Hall, and Ritter had the wings of a naval aviator next to their names. Potok had an atom symbol and a surface warfare pin for nuclear-surface. Mann had the “Budweiser” eagle, trident, and flintlock pistol designating him as a SEAL-select. Nguyen, Kohl, Lagasse, McClure, and Wilson, all future Marines, had the Marine Corps’ eagle, globe and anchor, or “EGA” next to their names. James “Slim” Warren, Durago’s roommate, had both wings of a naval aviator and the EGA designating him as a Marine Aviation selectee. Other companymates would have the devices denoting submarines, surface, supply, intelligence, and naval flight officer placed next to their names.
            As Durago strode down the passage several underclassmen gave words of encouragement.
            “Get some, Donny boy.”
            “West coast, man, think of Subic.”
            “Don’t take anything in Earle, New Jersey.”
            Captain Robert Oberly, United States Marine Corps, the 14th Company Officer, was standing outside his office in the main passageway on the top floor of seventh wing. The hallway was wide enough for the whole company – three platoons with three squads each, totaling approximately 110 midshipmen - to stand in formation.
            Durago noted as he made his way toward the captain that few of his classmates were left in company area. It was another reminder that chances of getting his ship were slim.
            Oberly was in his greens. Though he did not have any campaign ribbons above his left breast pocket, an anomoly of assignments and deployments on the west coast, all of the mids thought he was a great leader. 14th Company would have more than its fair share of Marine selectees because of Captain Oberly’s mentoring.
            “Don, would you give me one more chance to convince you to join the Corps?” Oberly called out as Durago approached.
            “Sir, you know I admire the Marine Corps, but I’ve realized it’s not for me.”
            “Well, that’s too bad. You’re the only one that got away then. Still, I bought EGA tie clips for all my charges who go Marine Corps. I bought an extra one with you in mind.”
            “I am flattered, sir.”
            “The decision is not made until you sign on the line.”
            “I’ll think on it all the way down to Smoke Hall, sir.”
            “You do that.”
            When he stepped onto the deck a floor below, the Mate of the Deck looked up from his post. He smiled and nodded at Durago. Sensing recognition, Durago nodded back. Then he strolled down the hallway, past another set of Plebes marking the warfare selection of the Firsties in 13th Company. Finally he stopped outside room 7312. He knew he could not pause too long, so he garnered one last look before continuing on.
            The service selection process actually began in the offices of the Commandant of Midshipmen on the first deck of the fourth wing of Bancroft Hall, commonly called “four-one.” Only the desks labeled “Surface” and “Marine Corps” still had officers sitting behind them. Durago signed the required forms at the “Surface” desk then walked toward Smoke Hall.
            On the way there, he stopped in the rotunda, a cathedral to naval service where Smoke Hall, Bancroft, and Memorial Hall all join. Durago emerged from 4-0 just as two classmates stepped through the leftmost of three bronze doors at the main entrance of Bancroft Hall. The largest, center pair were verboten. By tradition only Naval Academy alumni were authorized to use that portal. Though his two classmates had just selected their ships and were heading to the officer’s club to celebrate, they would never brazenly break tradition.
            Turning from the entrance to his left, Durago stopped a moment where the marble floor met a wide granite staircase rising to Memorial Hall set between its twins that descend to Smoke Hall below. Looking up toward Memorial Hall, Durago thought of all the names enshrined there, names belonging to young men who once lived in Bancroft, who were part of the Brigade. Memorial Hall was always a reminder, a symbol of why the Naval Academy was different from Harvard, or Stanford, or Duke.

            Some of you are going to die. Heroically, tragically, slowly, or quickly...Some of you are going to die in the service of your country.

            Down in Smoke Hall the line moved slowly toward a vast tote board covered with placards displaying the names of all the ships available for selection. Each mid approached the board in order and removed the name of the ship he or she wanted to serve aboard. Some chose based on ship type, some on geographic location, still others based on the date that they had to report aboard.
             From the end of the line, Durago could see most of the remaining ships were auxiliaries and amphibious ships. Midshipmen with a higher academic standing selected orders to most of the coveted Aegis cruisers and destroyers hours ago. The workhorse auxiliaries and the troop carrying amphibious ships were less glamorous, less desirable. Durago remained silent as the line moved. He strained to see if his ship was still there.