ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Naval Academy Class of 2014 received their service assignments Dec. 4, a milestone that puts them one step closer to joining the fleet and Marine Corps as commissioned officers.
But the military they're entering isn't the same as it was when they first came to the Naval Academy in the summer of 2009.
With budgetary constraints and the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Class of 2014 is the first group of Naval Academy graduates in more than a decade who aren't sure exactly what they will be facing after graduation.
"These young men and women are on the cusp of entering the fleet and Marine Corps during very uncertain times. A volatile budget environment and longer deployments await many of these future officers," said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller. "But just like in years past, they will take the education and training from the Naval Academy and make us very proud defending our nation's freedom and serving as America's 911 force."
Overall, the midshipmen share Miller's positive outlook.
"While my class is one of the first since 9/11 not to go immediately into war, I still feel as though I will be able to have an impact on the operations that the U.S military participates in daily," said Midshipman 1st Class Colleen Randolph, of Annapolis, Md., who selected Marine Corps ground officer.
"Regardless of what types of engagements the military is involved in, whether it's combat, taking part in humanitarian assistance or helping establish our constant forward presence, I am excited for the opportunity to contribute."
Randolph's reference to Navy and Marine Corps peacetime missions echoes a recent interview with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus published in "The Diplomat," in which Mabus said that "the job for the Navy and Marine Corps is to be flexible."
That flexibility is what attracted Randolph to the Marine Corps, along with Marines' commitment to serving each other and the nation, she said.
"It is my hope that the drawdown and budget cuts will not severely deter my ability to carry out that commitment in the future," she said.
Midshipman 1st Class Julia Zook, of Seattle, Wash., feels the same determination to serve.
"I think at this point I'm willing to do anything for my country," she said. "It's all about the dedication."
Zook comes from a family of naval aviators and has wanted to fly since high school. During her company's service assignment ceremony, she got her wish.
"To be able to carry on their legacy is incredible," said Zook. "This is a moment in your Naval Academy career when you remember thinking as a plebe, 'Am I ever going to get to that spot? I can't wait to feel what they feel.' You can't put it into words."