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Life After the Naval Academy: What Happens Next?

Jun 15, 2022 10:30:00 AM

After four long years of hustle, heart and hard work, the women and men who entered the Naval Academy as plebes graduate as commissioned junior officers. The change is astonishing — anyone comparing the “before” on I-Day to the “after” on graduation day can see a complete transformation. Gone are the rhythms of civilian life. Instead, young naval leaders take command with confidence and pride. 

Yet in many ways their journeys are just beginning anew. This next chapter brings opportunities to hone and refine their naval leadership skills through real-world hands-on experience, along with chances for travel and excitement. They’ll carry the full responsibility of leading enlisted sailors and Marines using the most state-of-the-art military equipment. They’ll lead SEAL teams, Marine units, squadrons and more.

Early during their senior year, first class (senior) midshipmen state their preferences, which are considered in conjunction with Navy and Marine Corps needs, as well as the midshipmen’s performance at the Naval Academy and their personal and physical state. Most take their first steps right on graduation day, as they are officially commissioned either as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps or an ensign in the Navy, into the unrestricted line of either branch. Some take the reins of a restricted line or staff corps specialty like Civil Engineer Corps, Medical Service Corps, Supply Corps or Information Dominance Corps.

What Will They Be? What Happens After Graduating From the Naval Academy?

At the Naval Academy, we’re fortunate to have the broadest number of service assignments offered by any of the nation’s service academies. New officers, women and men, may be part of the following groups:

Surface Warfare Officer

Surface warfare officers (SWO) serve in every type of surface ship in the Navy, ranging from guided missile destroyers to amphibious ships in expeditionary strike groups. SWOs can pick the type of ship and home port for their first duty assignment and will report to the ship after graduation. The first tour of duty lasts about 24 months, and new ensigns are usually division officers—they serve as anti-submarine warfare officers, gunnery officers, communications officers and damage control assistants. They lead 12-50 enlisted personnel and are also responsible for overseeing some of the ship’s equipment and operations. SWOs work to become combat information center watch officers and officers of the deck, eventually earning the right to wear the Navy Surface Warfare Officer insignia.

Nuclear Power: Surface

The Navy is well-known for its nuclear power training program, and the positions here are very selective; midshipmen must have a solid education in scientific and technical courses and rank high in their class. Those chosen for surface warfare can join those choosing submarines in pursuing a sub-specialty in nuclear propulsion systems. Graduates accepted into the nuclear power program must report to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina for six months of training after their first division officer tour. Then they train for an additional six months at one of two nuclear reactor prototype sites before reporting to their second ship. SWOs will usually serve on aircraft carriers (which are nuclear powered) and conventionally powered ships as they pursue their naval careers. 

Submarine Warfare

All Navy’s submarines are nuclear powered. Junior officers will study Navy nuclear propulsion at Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina for six months and then complete six months of training at one of two nuclear reactor prototype sites in Charleston and Ballston Spa, New York. Next, they’ll take a 10-week submarine officers basic course at Navy Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. Their first tour of duty with an attack, ballistic missile or guided missile submarine lasts about 36 months.

Here, junior officers lead divisions of 10-20 sailors and oversee critical operations areas like engineering, weapons or communications. They stand watches and work to qualify as engineering officer of the watch, diving officer of the watch and officer of the deck, as they strive to earn the gold dolphins and Navy submarine officer title.

Naval Aviation

Junior officers train as either a pilot or a naval flight officer (NFO). Pilots will fly aircraft and naval flight officers serve in the cockpit as weapons systems officers, electronic countermeasures officers and tactical coordinators. After graduation, junior officers report to Pensacola, Florida for Aviation Preflight Indoctrination. Then they can stay in Pensacola or move to Corpus Christi, Texas for basic flight training. Based on their assigned aircraft, pilots can finish their advanced training at several bases across the Gulf Coast. NFOs perform all of their flight training in Pensacola or at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. Aviators then receive their ‘wings of gold.” For pilots, this happens after 18-24 months, and for NFOs, after 12-18 months. Then, after six to nine months of aircraft and mission-specific training in a fleet replacement squadron, they are assigned to their first squadron. 

Not only do naval aviators fly a variety of aircraft, from helicopters and shore-based patrol planes to supersonic, jet fighters aboard aircraft carriers, but they also have important leadership and management responsibilities that start with their first duty assignment leading a group of aviation enlisted personnel and overseeing their squadron’s operations, administration, personnel management and aircraft maintenance.

Marine Corps

Almost 30% of each graduating class will become second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. They will head to the Basic School, a 26-week course for officers in Quantico, Virginia, where they will engage in the tactical study of land warfare. Then they’ll progress to advanced training in an occupational specialty. These include two basic categories of ground and air. Ground career choices are infantry, armor, artillery, logistics, engineering, communications-information systems, financial management and military police. Aviation choices are pilot, naval flight officer, air command and control, anti-air warfare, aviation maintenance and aviation supply.

Second lieutenants will be assigned as platoon commanders with leadership responsibilities for 35-43 enlisted Marines in their first assignments. They usually have a role in a Marine air/ground task force, with Marine light infantry able to oppose much more heavily equipped forces. By combining air and ground officers in these task forces and individual units, officers gain the experience to command combined units. Marine officers will work worldwide.

Naval Special Warfare (NSW)

Some graduates become part of one of the world's elite fighting forces, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, a branch of the U.S. Special Operations Forces we know as the Navy SEALs. They are the maritime component of United States Special Operations Command, with eight SEAL teams, one SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) team, three special boat teams and supporting commands that deploy forces worldwide. 

Restricted Line and Staff Corps Specialties

Those not physically qualified to serve in the unrestricted line but who can still be commissioned as active duty officers can pursue careers in intelligence, information warfare, information professional, oceanography, medicine, civil engineering, supply and aviation maintenance. They’ll serve aboard ships, with aircraft squadrons and at shore bases around the world. Graduates accepted to medical school may be commissioned in the Medical Corps even if physically qualified to serve in the unrestricted line.

The Navy and Marine Corps provide a wealth of opportunities for all graduating midshipmen. Whether these junior officers forge their naval career in the Navy or the Marine Corps, they will assuredly bring to their role the same hustle, heart and hard work that they’ve shown in their four years here. We’ve supported them every step of the way through their journey as midshipmen, and we wish them fair winds and following seas. When you visit the Yard, dine in our restaurants, shop at Navyonline and in our stores, you’re helping them too. Every bit goes back to the Brigade, so visit soon and support them in their journey onward.

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Bill the Goat
Written by Bill the Goat

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