When A.J. Beal of Edgewater was inducted into the Naval Academy three-and-a-half years ago, his head was shaved bald.
It's standard practice on I-Day.
Beal's head was shaved again Thursday, this time to mark his entrance into the U.S. Marine Corps. On Thursday 1,053 seniors at the academy received their service assignments -- Beal was assigned to the Marine Corps' ground combat element.
In a few minutes his brown-blonde hair was gone, and he had the same bald head he started his time at the academy with. Behind him, a display on the wall showed a sunset over a placid sea.
"Unlike this submarine, hard work shows," the display read.
That's how many midshipmen from the class of 2018 felt in Bancroft Hall Thursday. In late August, senior midshipmen submitted preferences for 24 different career paths within the Navy, and nearly all of them were assigned to their first or second choice Thursday.
Beal got his first.
"I'm excited that a lot of the leadership tools that we learned here, I'll get a very direct application of that really soon after I graduate, and a chance to hit the fleet and hopefully make a difference in the lives of the Marines I'll be leading," he said.
The 21-year-old said he would like to become a ground intelligence officer-- he wants to collect information that will help his fellow Marines.
Beal was introduced to the academy at a young age. His family sponsored eight midshipmen when he was growing up, men and women that became like brothers and sisters to him, he said. They treated him like an adult, and impressed him with their sense of humility, he said -- a characteristic he said they picked up at the school.
They inspired him to join the academy. When he was a plebe, he struggled quite a lot, he said. He had trouble adjusting to the atmosphere at the academy, but he overcame that and decided he wanted to be a Marine junior year.
The Marine Corps will get 251 new officers from the academy, including Beal, who is one of 183 midshipmen headed to the Corps' ground combat element.
Three dozen members of the 12th Company gathered in a common room in Bancroft Hall Thursday to listen for their assignments. The room shook with applause and cheers as names were called in alphabetical order. Company Officer Lt. Sean Heenan called out each name, followed by assignments like Navy Pilot, Surface Warfare Officer, Marine Corps Aviation amd Marine Corps Ground.
There were big hugs, some jumping and spinning, fist pumps and a few tears -- for many it showed that years of hard work paid off. Many turned around and smiled and waved to a web camera after they got their assignment, as loved ones were eagerly watching remotely.
Midshipman First Class McKenna Niemer, also of the 12th Company, is going to be a Marine Corps pilot. The Seattle native said she'd like to become an astronaut some day. Over the years 54 academy graduates have been selected for NASA's astronaut program, and 2010 graduate Lt. Kayla Barron is the most recent candidate.
Niemer said she came to the academy because her parents couldn't pay for college, and she was an accomplished rower. When she arrived, she fell in love with everything about it, she said.
When thinking about possible manned missions to Mars, Niemer said it doesn't bother her that there might not be a return trip to Earth.
"I'm OK with that. It's creating a future for people, whether I see that future or not," she said. "I think that translates to what I do here, and what I'll do in the Marine Corps. I want to make a difference, whether I see that difference being made or not, I just want to help people who can't help themselves, and I want to make a difference in peoples' lives for the better."
She said she wants to be a Marine for as long as she can -- if that's ultimately her path, and not one to the stars, she'll be happy.
She was nervous before she got her assignment Thursday.
"This means everything that I've worked for and everything that I've tried has been enough," she said.
Becoming a Marine Corps pilot was her first choice.
"Getting something else wouldn't be nothing, but this is everything," she said.
--This article is written by Rachael Pacella from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.