While there are many milestones throughout a midshipman’s time at USNA, few are quite as exciting and woo-hoo worthy as the Annual Ship Selection Night. This special ceremony for Firsties (or midshipmen seniors) occurs near the end of January/beginning of February (this year it was February 2nd). It’s a time when midshipmen can start to see how all of their hard work at the Academy is paying off. Friends and family come watch from the seats of the auditorium. On stage, there is a large board that lists all of the ships for midshipmen to pick the one they want to join after graduation and commissioning in May.
Picking and Choosing Your Ship
It’s not exactly that simple though. Midshipmen must earn the right to pick, and the order in which they are able to approach that big board is determined by their overall order of merit (OOM), their rank within the Brigade and a number derived from several factors: academics, conduct, aptitude and physical readiness. Since each Firstie goes in order of this OOH number, they can only choose from the ships that remain during their turn. Once their name is called, they head up to the stage and pluck the placard from the large board showing all of the billeted positions.
The U.S. Navy ship lists are organized by homeport. First Tour Division Officers can pick from stateside homeports or Forward Deployed Fleets, which are international ports. There are many things midshipmen consider when selecting a ship. In addition to deciding the location of port, midshipmen must determine which type of ship they want to pursue; there are Guided Missile Cruisers (CG), Guided Missile Destroyers (DDG), Amphibious Assault Ships (LHA/LHD), Landing Platforms Docks (LPD), Dock Landing Ships (LSD) and Amphibious Command Ships (LCC).
To help make this decision easier, midshipmen weigh different factors, including the newness of a ship, the platform’s mission and a number of other factors. The size of the ship matters too. Some opt for a smaller CG or DDG instead of an LHD at first. Since they’re not guaranteed their first spot, the midshipmen must be ready to accept their second or third choices.
Related: Ship Selection Night
Service Assignments First
In November of their final year, Firsties receive their service assignments in Bancroft Hall (the dorm) from a range of 24 career choices in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. They can enter up to six service assignment preferences, and about 93 percent of first class midshipmen in the Class of 2023 received their first or second assignment preference. The USNA website notes, “Assignments are based on specific requirements provided to the Naval Academy by Department of the Navy leadership and consider both a midshipman’s aptitude and preference for a particular assignment. The Naval Academy endeavors to match personal preferences with aptitude and ability, placing midshipmen in the community best suited to their strengths to set them up for successful careers of naval service.” This year, 1,000 plus first class midshipmen received their service assignments. Of these, 300 were assigned to become surface warfare officers (SWO).
Back to the Board
The board is a mix of colors, representing different commissions, based on the selections midshipmen made in November. There are red, white, blue, green, and yellow placards. The white placards are for conventional SWO, and SWO engineering duty officer (EDO) selectees only. A yellow placard can be picked by a Conventional SWO, SWO (nuclear) and SWO EDO selectees. A green placard is available to those assigned to the information warfare community. Only SWO (nuclear) selectees, who will attend Navy nuclear power training after earning their surface warfare pin, can pick a red placard. Blue placards, called “blue chips,” are highly coveted; they represent a direct invitation from a ship’s commanding officer for those that did well during Summer Cruise to join that command after graduation.
There are some selections that are especially celebrated. For instance, when the first midshipman chooses a ship that’s in the international homeport of either Japan or Spain, they receive ceremonial tokens from the visiting officers who cover those areas.
One midshipman said, "It's an opportunity for us to pick our future family and the culture we want to be a part of as every ship has a different community.” Another notes, "Ship Selection is one of the only chances where a naval officer of any community can guarantee for themselves their future duty station with all the options laid out before them and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity that requires a lot of research, planning, and comes with a huge reward!”
Related: Want to watch the USNA Ship Selection from 2022? View the video here.
Reporting for Duty
After graduation and commissioning, the midshipmen report to their selected ship and begin work at their first command that will set the trajectory for their naval careers.
Midshipmen can take pride in the time that led them to this point in February. They’re not ready to rest on any laurels, though. They can now prepare to join their assigned ship and heed the next call to serve. While it may be the end of their USNA career, it’s just the beginning of their U.S. Navy career.
Help Them Take the Helm
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