USMMA ceremony for Navy's newest midshipmen
After nearly 300 young men and women, clad in white Navy garb and standing in rows on a football field in Kings Point, swore an allegiance to their school -- and their country -- the crowd broke into thunderous applause.
Moms and dads, brothers and sisters, alumni and admirals gathered Saturday at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to witness the class become regimented midshipmen and join the ranks of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
"I've been really impressed," said Brian Calkins, who traveled from outside Vancouver, Wash., to see his son Reed, 18, be accepted. "I didn't know what to expect when we got here."
The ceremony caps off a summer of schooling and training, the most exhausting of it being a three-week indoctrination -- or "Indoc" as the students call it.
"Indoc wasn't easy by a long shot," said Emily Bull, 18, of Glen Rock, Pa.
The training involved sporadic sleep schedules, instruction in military technique, and a primer in the history and traditions of the school. The class was forbidden from wearing watches.
"They're kept totally in the dark," explained Ben Baitcher, 21, an upperclassmen who helps monitor the incoming students' training. "They never know what time they get up and what time they go to sleep."
Despite the intensity of the training, the lessons were not lost on the students.
"I didn't mind it at all," Bull said. "If you come physically fit and mentally prepared, the little things shouldn't bother you."
Director of External Affairs Marcie Katcher said the percentage of women in the academy is steadily growing, with women making up 15 percent of the Class of 2016 -- up from 10 percent three years ago.
The ceremony offered the midshipmen a respite from a rigorous training schedule.
"They didn't get the summer off like a lot of other high school graduates," said Maritime Administrator David Matsuda. "They came right here and got to work."