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Talking with Sailors

Youngster Cruise

Midshipmen get their first taste of the fleet

When learning to swim, you have to get in the water.



It's a new experience. It can be scary or exciting, but each moment you stay above the water makes you more confident in your own abilities - and it makes the next time that much easier.

This first-step moment takes many forms in life. Every baseball player has his first time at bat, every mother picks up her baby for the first time and every student has his first day at school.

For midshipmen starting their second year at the United States Naval Academy (USNA), the summer of their "Youngster" year affords one such moment.

"I have never been to a 'regular' college, but I think almost everything is different," said Midshipman 3rd Class Sofia DiAntonio. "There's a saying at the school that 'it's not college.' It's a lot of hard work, but I think the payoffs are well worth it - I would definitely do it again."

DiAntonio and five of her classmates got underway aboard guided-missile destroyer USS O'Kane (DDG 77) this summer for the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. The three-week embark was part of a long-standing tradition known as the "Youngster Cruise," in which second-year students are given the chance to experience life at sea.

"Honestly, I was kind of scared at first," said Midshipman 3rd Class Triston Marasco, who said that leaving the classroom was somewhat challenging. "It's my first time being underway and seeing the actual fleet. I wondered how the Sailors would react to me being there while they're trying to do their job - it was a learning experience at first."

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But it was a learning experience the midshipmen embraced.

"It's the first cruise that we get sent on as midshipmen," said Midshipman 3rd Class Collin DiPietro. "It's to get a taste of the fleet and of enlisted life - we get to follow around a running mate and see what they do and how they operate on a daily basis."

When they arrived aboard the ship, each midshipman was assigned an enlisted running mate - someone to shadow around the clock on the job, someone to ease the youngsters into life at sea.

"We've been following our running mates to their watches and anything else they may have to go to, like morning quarters and sweepers," said DiPietro. "So we've gotten a taste of what their daily routine is, both when they are in port, and, now that we're underway, when they are on a ship 24 hours out of the day. RIMPAC is the largest naval exercise in the world, so it's been a really good experience to be out here for that. ... We get to see the meat and potatoes of the Navy."

The cruise certainly made a lasting impression on the midshipmen.

"It's just the daily life, wake up, do your job and go to your watches," said Marasco. "It's cool, it's a tightknit atmosphere in there. Everybody knows each other. They joke around with each other, have a good time with each other and they also are really respectful of each other. I can honestly say that being in there and seeing their interaction is awesome."

The underway also serves an important role in preparing future officers for their time in the fleet. DiPietro said living and working with fellow Sailors before being commissioned allows midshipmen to experience a wider range of military lifestyles.

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"I haven't been on a fleet cruise before, so it's new to me," DiPietro explained. "It's been interesting to see how the enlisted members live, so far, and what they do each day. We get to see a lot of exercises going on, a lot of flight operations and underway replenishments."

"So far RIMPAC has been really cool," agreed Midshipman 3rd Class Lindsay Tanner. "We got to see a missile get launched and a [close-in weapons system] fire. We got to watch vertical replenishments and underway replenishments - really cool things that you would not normally get to see during any other kind of cruise. ... It's cool that we get to be here and witness things that some officers don't get to until almost halfway through their careers."

It's only natural for the midshipmen's thoughts to then turn to their own future careers. Marasco is now interested in becoming an electrical officer.

"I think it's just a unique job," he said. "You wouldn't think of wires and all that stuff as a part of an actual division with people looking over them, but they're a key part to stopping electrical fires that could really damage the ship. I think ELECTRO would be a cool job for a first-time division officer."

The summer has since ended, and these midshipmen are well into their second year of classes and rigorous study. Traditions will continue, however, and DiAntonio had some words of advice to future midshipmen on their own Youngster cruises.

"Talk to people and don't be afraid to ask questions," she said. "Sometimes I'm afraid to step forward and put myself out there, but there aren't any stupid questions. Everyone will take your questions seriously, and they just want to help - so don't be afraid to ask."