One of America's premier institutions of higher learning is the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There, young men and women grow from teenagers into naval officers. The Academy tests students both in and out of the classroom, in a series of grueling but necessary exercises, to turn out future leaders of the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Naval Academy, established in 1845, creates officers from its student body of more than 4,000. For men and women who will one day serve aboard nuclear submarines and in the cockpits of sophisticated aircraft, it all starts here on small boats in the Severn River. The Academy's director of sailing, Commander Chris Tomassy, says the centuries-old skills of sailing teach valuable lessons for the modern day.
"We're a part of the Professional Development Department and sailing is a big part of that because there you're going to learn character and leadership attributes," noted Tomassy.
These students are the best and brightest that the country has to offer. But even after four years, an ocean of knowledge awaits. Laura Martindale, 22, is one of the first women ever chosen to serve aboard a submarine. She says the Academy has prepared her for the challenges ahead.
"This place teaches you how to follow and lead," said Martindale. "And when you're going out into the Navy and you're going to be in charge of 40 sailors and marines, a really important piece of your identity is knowing who you are and where you want to go. This place really changes you. "
While Laura Martindale plans a career below the waves, Midshipman Jaclyn Jordan is preparing to shoot for the skies.
"Yes sir, I'm going to be a Naval officer. [I'm] going to Pensacola for flight school," said Martindale.
But, over and above technical training, being a member of the United States Navy means being ready for war. Marksmanship training coach Bill Karditzas says the rules are simple.
"In order to carry a pistol in the navy, a person will have to go through a qualification process," noted Karditzas.
Midshipmen must also maintain peak physical condition. At nearly any time of day across the campus people work out… practice a sport… or just play with their classmates.
Among the many qualities students learn at Annapolis, perhaps the most important is that of leadership through honor and integrity, something these students seem well aware of.
MIDSHIPMAN 1ST CLASS LAURA MARTINDALE: "Honor, courage and commitment isn't something that we just put on a poster and think about later. It is something that we are expected to live and participate in actively every day."
MIDSHIPMAN 1ST CLASS MATTHEW EVANS: "Knowing that we are going to be in charge of people's lives, some of my classmates are going to Iraq within a year after getting out of here. And they are going to be in harm's way leading platoons. I have a lot of respect for that. I don't know how many other 22-year-olds are going to be doing that."
MIDSHIPMAN 1ST CLASS JACLYN JORDAN: "I just try every day to do my very best and make my classmates proud, my parents proud and most importantly the nation proud, because in the end we are working for America."
Their individual experiences vary, but graduates agree that the Naval Academy prepares them all for the life and death decisions that officers are called upon to make.