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by Cmdr. Andrew Jarrett

This year was no different. So how did we achieve our mission to meet the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP)’s accession goals for 2010? We did it with hard work, sharing the story of our nuclear submarine Navy with one midshipman at a time. This article is a discussion of that hard work and how the Naval Academy selected 127 midshipmen who are ready to lead and serve in our nuclear submarine Navy when they receive their commissions this May.

The Naval Academy’s professional development program begins educating midshipmen on career opportunities during their first summer in Annapolis. Some of our midshipmen have aspired to join certain communities since they were small children. Others are not familiar with the Navy and Marine Corps team outside of a few films they may have seen. Regardless of aspiration, midshipmen arrive at the Naval Academy with a willingness to serve and no guarantee about their community assignment.

By attending the Naval Academy, they have volunteered to earn a diploma and commission and to serve as leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps. Throughout their four years in Annapolis, we work to provide each midshipman with exposure to every community available. Resources and programs include junior officer mentors, summer training cruises with the Fleet, returning alumni, and other midshipmen who have served as enlisted Sailors before arriving in Annapolis.

At the beginning of their senior year, midshipmen submit their final preferences. Not surprisingly, some of the most requested communities are naval aviation (pilot), the Marine Corps, and special warfare, where demand has recently exceeded or at least equaled available billets. I believe part of the reason for the popularity of these communities is awareness. Aviation, the Marines and the SEALs all have a very public face.

Because of the secret nature of Submarine Force work, many midshipmen do not fully understand the opportunities a submarine career offers. To overcome this barrier, the submarine community needs to send its most inspirational junior officers and senior enlisted to Annapolis, even if it is only for an afternoon.

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All midshipmen considered for submarines must have academic and performance records that forecast a high likelihood of success in submarines. U.S. Naval Academy photo.

As the process continues, the Academy evaluates each midshipman’s preferences along with his or her academic and professional performance, physical qualifications and aptitude, and the CNP’s accession goals. This year, the Academy formed a Service Assignment Review Board (SARB), with senior post-command, warfare-qualified officers from four communities—surface warfare, naval aviation, submarines, and the Marines. The SARB conducted personal interviews with over 100 midshipmen to help mesh their talents, their aspirations and the needs of the service. It also reviewed academic and performance records, leadership responsibilities, and participation in extra-curricular activities to carefully select the best midshipmen for assignment in submarines.

All midshipmen considered for submarines must have academic and performance records that forecast a high likelihood of success in submarines, as well as a positive attitude about assignment to submarines, before they are sent for interviews at Naval Reactors. After technical interviews at Naval Reactors, each midshipman interviews with the Director, who questions them to determine, among other things, their attitude about serving in the Submarine Force. The Director selects only those who demonstrate a positive attitude about the assignment and a willingness to give it their best.

At the Naval Academy, service community leaders and midshipmen both responded positively to the SARB process. The following comments are from two Naval Academy midshipmen first class (seniors), Ryan Rager and Scott Carper, who were part of this process for the Class of 2010.

Midshipman Rager changed his first- choice service preference from naval aviation to submarines following a briefing by the Commandant of Midshipmen asking for additional volunteers to fill the needed numbers for submarine accessions. Midshipman Carper also listed naval aviation as his first choice preference and was interviewed by the SARB. After reviewing his academic and professional records, service preference (submarines was number two), and level of maturity (especially relating to service over self), the SARB decided that he would make an ideal candidate to interview for a submarine billet. The Director, Naval Reactors, ultimately accepted both midshipmen for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and assignment in submarines.

Midshipman Rager:
“As a first class midshipman, I am well aware of all the rumors that surround the service assignment process at the Naval Academy. Throughout the service assignment process I was never forced to make any decisions. I was given every opportunity to think about the consequences, both good and bad, of my decisions. I will say that after countless hours of reflection I have yet to find a bad consequence for my decision to volunteer for submarine service.

“After witnessing the previous three years of service selection, I was a bit unsure about the submarine selection process. Rumors about the ‘draft’ always cycle through the Brigade [of Midshipmen] and I was also a bit unsure of the process. However, once involved I was confronted with nothing but respect and honesty. Whenever I had questions or concerns, the submarine officers on the Yard were more than willing to take time out of their days to sit down and talk with me. When the Commandant held a meeting with the qualified members of my class expressing the Navy’s needs for submarine officers, I immediately considered volunteering—not because I did not want to be a pilot, but because at that moment I remembered why I came to the Naval Academy. It was not to be a pilot; rather it was to serve my country in whatever capacity it needs.

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By attending the Naval Academy, midshipmen have volunteered to serve as leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps. Throughout their four years at Annapolis, the Academy seeks to give each midshipman exposure to every available naval community. U.S. Naval Academy photo.

“Following the meeting, I spoke with both of my roommates (who had already been selected for the nuclear program) to see what they had experienced during summer training and their interaction with submarine officers on the Yard; they had nothing but good things to say. The next day, I spoke with the Academy’s nuclear programs accessions officer about the career opportunities within the submarine community. I asked him if it would be possible for me to digest the conversation I had with him and talk it over with my family over the weekend...and the following Monday, I volunteered to go to the Nuclear [Reactors] interview. I will say that the interactions I had with the submarine officers at the Naval Academy solidified my decision to volunteer for submarines.”

Midshipman Carper: “I feel that the service assignment process this year was handled better than it has been in any of the other years I have been here. Every fall, first class midshipmen are asked to input their service assignment preferences with little to no knowledge of exactly how each community will select its newest members. This year, the start of the process was no different, and my classmates and I submitted our preferences without knowing how we would be evaluated or what we would end up selecting. Obviously, it is impossible for every midshipman to get his or her first choice. All of us knew this, but most still had very high hopes and expectations.

“A few weeks after we entered our preferences, rumors started to circulate about the ‘Sub Draft.’ This was not a new phenomenon at the Naval Academy as the submarine community has not drawn enough interest from qualified midshipmen for the past few years. Naturally, the midshipman rumor mill ran away with outrageous stories such as decorated prior Marines being forced to go submarines against their will. However, what separated this year from the past years was the amount of effort put into making the service assignment process more transparent.

“Eligible candidates, many of whom had expressed interest in the submarine community in their time at the Academy, were called to a briefing where the situation was explained. The Naval Academy needed to supply 125 ensigns to the submarine community. After the first iteration of the service assignment process, there were about 95, leaving the community in need of 30 more midshipmen. The Commandant asked the group of about 100 of us for volunteers, with the mutual understanding that if not enough people volunteered, the remaining spots would be assigned to eligible midshipmen.

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The Academy evaluates the career preferences of midshipmen along with their academic and professional performance, their physical qualifications and aptitude, and Chief of Naval Personnel accession goals. U.S. Naval Academy photo.

“Several people volunteered at this point in the process, but not enough to fill the Academy’s quota. Here is where the process began to differ from years past. A Service Assignment Review Board was created that consisted of the highest ranking officers on the Yard from each of the four major communities: Marines, naval aviation, surface warfare, and submarines. Every midshipman eligible for submarines was called in one at a time and interviewed. This allowed the board to learn much more about each midshipman’s personality and better evaluate in which community the midshipman would best fit and succeed. At the same time, it allowed the midshipmen to better understand the thought process behind each assignment and the effort put into placing every single midshipman in the right community.

“The Service Assignment Review Board made the final decisions and notified the midshipmen that were being sent up for an interview at Naval Reactors in Washington, D.C. After the review board made its decisions, every single selected midshipman interviewed with the Academy’s nuclear programs accessions officer, [and] he explained the process even further and evaluated how each midshipman handled the news. Some were more disappointed than others, but the vast majority had already accepted the news and were excited about their new assignment.

“I went through the entire process. My first choice was naval aviation, but I had put submarines as second on my list of preferences. Upon hearing that I was selected, I was a little disappointed that I did not get my first choice. However, I had told the board that service meant more than anything to me, and that I would happily serve in any community they saw fit.

“The more that I thought about it, the more excited I got about the opportunities in the submarine community. By the time I was scheduled to go up for my interview in D.C., I had realized that the submarine community was actually a better fit for my strengths and interests. I could not be more pleased with my current selection, and if I had to go back, I would put submarines as my first choice. My roommate, as well as many of the others who went through the process, feel exactly the same way.”

Like Midshipman Carper, many other midshipmen who originally would have preferred to serve elsewhere came to see the submarine community as a good fit for them once they got more exposure to it.

The Naval Academy service assignment process is not perfect. We continue to adapt all of our professional programs in an effort to align the needs of the Navy and the aspirations of our midshipmen. Our challenge is to take the lessons of this year and improve our overall marketing of the submarine community. As we continue to educate the Brigade about the opportunities that a career in submarines offers, we will continue to meet our accession goals with midshipmen who are excited to serve and are a good fit for the community, even if submarines was not their first choice.

Overall, this year’s service assignment has been a success. Most midshipmen (75%) were assigned to their top choice, and almost all (90%) were assigned one of their top two choices. I am proud of our USNA Class of 2010 for putting service above self to meet CNP’s accession goals. These young officers are selfless, inspirational, articulate, proficient, adaptable, innovative, professional, and ready to serve.

Cmdr. Jarrett is the 5th Battalion Officer at the U.S. Naval Academy and a former commanding officer of USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720).