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03-02-09, 07:22 AM
Marines Gaining Annapolis Grads
Dedication, Needs in Middle East Drive Naval Academy Trend

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009; B04

More than a quarter of this year's U.S. Naval Academy graduates will be commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps, the highest number in a decade and a reflection of the need for ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The number of graduates sought by the Marine Corps has grown steadily since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks sent Marines into combat in the two countries. The academy had no trouble finding 273 graduating midshipmen eager to meet the Corps' request.

"Marines are involved in the fight, and a lot of these people are very desirous of being in the fight," said Lt. Col. Bill Tosick, head of officers plans for the Marines at Quantico, Va. "People join the Marine Corps to fight. We have a whole lot of that going on now."

The sense of purpose among Marines, and not simply the prospect of combat, seemed foremost to Michael Gaona, a midshipman from Rockville.

"I saw the Marines on the [academy's] Yard and how they had such a high physical standard," Gaona said. "They're mostly doing something physical."

Gaona said his parents grew up under a repressive regime in Paraguay.

"They're always talking to me about how great this country is," he said. "I know this is going to sound corny or cliched, but I'm honored to serve my country in any way possible."

Gaona said his choice was influenced by a month-long summer training program known as Leatherneck, where midshipman are introduced to Marine life.

"Leatherneck was a big part of it for me, too," said Nikhil Kesireddy, a senior midshipman from Bethesda. "It's kind of where I knew I'd fit in."

The Marine Corps is under a congressional directive to expand its overall force from about 180,000 to 202,000 Marines and has consistently exceeded recruiting goals. Tosick said that growth would include adding more than 2,000 officers.

The number of Naval Academy graduates assigned to the Marine Corps each year has been stipulated under an agreement with the Navy; both the Marine Corps and the Navy come under the Department of the Navy. As the number of Marine officers has increased, they have become a larger percentage of the combined Marine-Navy officer corps. The Marines, accordingly, are entitled to a larger share of academy graduates.

"It's just our fair share," Tosick said. "We [now] make up roughly 30 percent of the Navy Department's officers. We're getting 25 to 26 percent [of the graduates]. We're happy with that."

There are 21,000 Marines deployed in Iraq and 2,400 in Afghanistan. An additional 8,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade are to arrive in Afghanistan in late May, part of an overall effort to increase U.S. forces there by nearly 50 percent by midsummer, to a total of 55,000.

Academy graduates choosing the Marine Corps are commissioned as second lieutenants. Twenty-eight of the 1,010 Marines killed in Iraq have been lieutenants, and three lieutenants were among the 75 Marines who have died in Afghanistan. Thirteen Naval Academy graduates have died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Ten of them were serving as Marine officers.

Tosick said retaining officers when their commitments end has not been an issue.

"We have had an increase in retention and a decrease in attrition," he said, with 85 percent of officers renewing their contracts.

"To be honest with you, that's actually more than we need," Tosick said.

To date, he said, all qualified officers who choose to remain in the service have been kept on, but it's likely that "starting next year, we're going to add a little more competitiveness."

Of the 1,085 midshipmen expected to graduate in May, the Marines' request for 273 officers was second in number only to surface warfare, the assignment for 277 graduates. Navy flight school came third, with 234 men and women. Those who go into surface warfare and Marine ground forces have a minimum five-year commitment to the service. Those who go to flight school, receive nuclear training or attend other advanced training schools must commit to a longer commission.

The midshipmen who graduate as Marine officers will spend six months in an officer training course at Quantico.

Staff research editor Alice Crites and researchers Madonna Lebling and Meg Smith contributed to this report.


03-03-09, 06:05 AM
More Mids becoming Marines
Interest rises as Corps' Afghanistan role grows
By David Wood
March 3, 2009

Midshipman William Selby surveyed the options for graduates of the Naval Academy and passed over ship officer, aircraft pilot and submariner for arguably the most dangerous selection of all: a career in the Marine Corps.

"An easy choice," the Frederick native said. "I wanted to be where the action is."

Selby, 21, is one of 273 first classmen, or "firsties," who will receive commissions in the Marine Corps this year. It is the highest number in recent Naval Academy history, accounting for more than 25 percent of the graduating class of just over 1,000.

The surge comes even as U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan deepens, with 8,000 Marines being rushed into an increasingly deadly fight.

U.S. commanders believe the Afghanistan war will last five years or longer, and midshipmen headed for the Marine Corps acknowledge the likelihood of experiencing close combat.

"That was a selling point for me - a big test of your leadership and character," Selby said.

Traditionally, the Marine Corps has taken about 17 percent of each year's graduating class. But in 2004, with the war in Afghanistan under way and a new conflict launched with the invasion of Iraq, the Navy and Marine Corps negotiated an agreement to allow 20 percent of the class to choose a commission in the Marine Corps.

A new agreement this year allows the Marines to select even more - one of every four midshipmen.

Despite the demands and danger, getting into a slot as a Marine officer remains highly competitive.

"We have always had more who were clamoring to come in than could," said Thomas L. Wilkerson, a retired Marine major general and member of the academy's Class of 1967.

There is a mystery in how the crowd of Marine-oriented midshipmen is narrowed down to those who are chosen.

Veterans point out that academic standing alone doesn't guarantee selection; some midshipmen with lackluster academic records went on to become legendary Marine heroes. Demonstrated leadership and other capabilities count, said Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, an academy spokesman. Marine instructors and advisers at the academy serve as talent scouts.

"It's a magical process," said Warren Kurz, a 23-year-old midshipman from Millersville who was selected to be commissioned a Marine second lieutenant.

Kurz was set on enlisting in the Marines right out of high school. "I grew up watching John Wayne movies," he said. "My brother joined the Marines and is a jet pilot." But his father talked him into going to college. He was accepted into the academy but first he was sent away to prep school for a year.

The admissions board "thought I would benefit from a little more maturity - and I'm still working on that," Kurz said.

In October 2006, his buddy from Severna Park High School, Eric. W. Herzberg, a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal, was killed in combat in Fallujah, Iraq

"If anything, that motivated me even more" to succeed at the academy and as a Marine officer, Kurz said. "I want to pick up where he left off."

Kurz, Selby and their classmates who made similar choices will head to Quantico, Va., in May for six months of grueling training to be ground combat commanders.

Many could land on the front lines soon afterward.

Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, has urged that Marines take the major ground combat role in Afghanistan, which could send tens of thousands of additional Marines into the fight.

The 8,000 Marines ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama will join 2,000 Marines already fighting in southern Afghanistan, part of an overall force of about 38,000 American military personnel.

The Marine Corps' growing demand for midshipmen is being driven in part by its expansion from about 180,000 to 202,000 Marines. That increase of 22,000 is almost complete and includes a requirement for about 2,400 new officers.

The Corps is competing for those officers with the Army, which is adding 74,200 soldiers to its ranks to reach 547,000.

The number of mids accepted into the Marines and Navy communities such as submarines, aviation and surface ships depends on the needs of the services and, in the case of the Marines, negotiated agreement.

The growth of the Corps and the shrinkage of the Navy - from about 592,600 in 1989 to 331,500 today - has required a readjustment.

"We thought we should be getting our fair share, although the Navy might call it something else, to reflect our greater percentage within the Department of the Navy," said Lt. Col. Bill Tosick, a Marine Corps manpower planner.

This year's class of 1,085 graduating midshipmen includes 277 who will become surface ship officers, 319 who will train as Navy pilots or flight crew, 120 submariners, 41 SEALs and other special operations officers, 15 in the medical corps, and others in intelligence, oceanography, information warfare and other specialties.

Overall, academy graduates make up about 13 percent of Marine Corps officers. Most of the others are commissioned after college and officer candidate school, according to Marine Corps data.

The other military services harvest an even higher proportion of their officers from the service academies: about 20 percent of Navy and Air Force officers graduated from their respective academies. Fifteen percent of Army officers are graduates of West Point.

Whether that distinction helps in their careers is a matter of stiff debate within the military.

"In the Marine Corps, we have not seen any indicator that academy people do better in promotions or necessarily stay longer" in the service, said Tosick.

"Pretty much, wherever you come from, the Basic School brings you down to parade rest and you become a leader of Marines."

Being an academy graduate, he said, "is not something that puts an asterisk by your name."