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Midshipmen find ways to celebrate new assignments despite Naval Academy pandemic restrictions

The United States Naval Academy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita Y. Chebahtah/Released)

Catie Hawkes, a 1st class midshipman, started the morning of selection day by reading her grandfather’s memoir.

Hawkes’ grandfather served in the Navy during World War II and was stationed on a carrier in the Pacific Ocean. It was her grandfather, as well as a high school mentor, that pushed Hawkes to apply and attend the Naval Academy.

Now, Hawkes is one step closer to following in her grandfather’s footsteps. On Thursday, Hawkes learned that she was one of the 279 midshipmen assigned to surface warfare upon commissioning.

Hawkes does not yet know where she will be stationed, and ship selection, which usually happens in January, has been postponed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But the firstie said she hopes that she gets to go to Japan because of the connection to her grandfather and the chance to get out of her east coast comfort zone.

“And I just think going out on the same waters my granddad sailed would definitely mean a lot to me,” Hawkes said.

Thursday’s selection assignment saw the 1089 1st class midshipmen find out where they would serve after graduation,

Just over a quarter of the firsties were assigned surface warfare. The largest group, 27%, were assigned Naval aviation.

That included Midshipman 1st Class Quinn Schneider, who will go on to serve as a Navy pilot.

Like Hawkes, Schneider received his first-choice assignment. It has been his goal since he was in high school to become a Navy pilot, he said, which means he is one step closer to the accomplishment.

Each assignment had its own qualifications, and for Navy pilot, Schneider needed to pass a basic flight qualification test and a medical test. Those deciding his assignment also would have looked at his grades and physical readiness, among other measures, he said.

“Becoming a pilot is very competitive,” he said. “A lot of people are striving to try and earn that spot here […] It’s something that you have to really work hard the whole time you’re at the academy to be able to earn some of these spots.”

Under COVID-19 restrictions, which most recently saw Thanksgiving liberty reverted to yard liberty, service assignment celebrations were different than normal.

Each company had its own way of announcing assignments. The 24th company, which Schneider is in, had each of the firsties in the hallway. One by one they went up to grab their names from a board, and one the back of their names was their assignments.

Hawkes’ company, the 29th company, also brought the midshipmen into a hallway. Instead of names on a board, the company leaders had a television with names and pictures of each midshipman. When Hawkes’ name came up, she went up to the front and learned her service assignment.

There were still some traditions upheld, with midshipmen commissioning into the Marine Corps still getting their heads shaved. King Hall put out a more special meal, although people were limited to small group seating in the tent or their rooms.

Midshipmen still took pictures, posting them on social media to be able to celebrate. There was a lot of excitement, Hawkes said. For herself and for her friends that were finding out their assignments.

Schneider’s first call after finding out his assignment was to his brother, a current plebe. Since only firsties participated in his ceremony, Schneider’s brother could not attend.

Then he got to call his parents to share the news.

“I think they were more nervous than I was,” he said. “The whole morning, my dad was just texting me, wondering have they announced it yet? [Had I] heard anything yet? So being able to go on FaceTime and call my mom and dad, that was just a special moment to share with them.”

With the fall semester wrapping up, the midshipmen now have only a couple months left before they will commission and go to their new assignments. But that does not mean there is any relaxing at the academy, Schneider said.

Instead, having the assignment helps to refocus and prepare for the next steps after graduation.

“And the most important thing is what all of us are about to do when we go out into the fleet,” he said. ” So really having a focus on what I’m going to do, and just making the most of the last few months here at the academy to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be to do that job as best as I can.”


(c) 2020 The Capital

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