By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 27, 2011 – Thomas Yuhaniak knew when he was just 5 years old what he wanted in life: to become a pilot, then ultimately, an astronaut. But it was when he was in fourth grade, and his family visited the U.S. Naval Academy here during a vacation to Washington, D.C., that Yuhaniak laid eyes on the Freedom 7 space capsule at the academy’s visitor center and sealed his decision to go Navy.
Today, Yahaniak moved a step closer to his dream as he joined 1,005 other Naval Academy graduates who received commissions in the Navy and Marine Corps. As a new Navy ensign, Yahaniak is among 225 graduates headed to Naval Flight School at Pensacola, Fla. “This is always what I have wanted to do,” he said as he prepared to march onto the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to receive his commission and degree in aerospace engineering. Now, he said, his task is to build on the education and leadership experience gained during four years at Annapolis.
“I am going to take it to the fleet and be the best officer I can,” he said.
Nicholas Hanson of Monmouth, N.J., is among 260 members of the Class of 2011 commissioned today into the Marine Corps. It’s a decision Hanson said came easily; his brother is an Army Ranger deployed to Afghanistan’s Logar province, and Hanson hopes to follow his example as a Marine Corps officer.
It’s a calling he said he’s been preparing for, academically as well as mentally. He majored in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies and studied Arabic for the past four years at the Naval Academy. Now, he plans to continue those language studies in Morocco under a State Department scholarship program before deploying to the combat theater.
The biggest lesson Hanson said he learned at the Naval Academy, and that he plans to take to the Corps, is the importance of the unit over self. Individual achievements -- being first in his high school graduating class and its football team’s most valuable player, among them -- fade in importance at the academy, he said.
“After graduation, nobody cares about you as an individual,” he said. “It’s not about you. It never is and never will be about you. It is about those above you and under you and around you.”
Joe Kurtenbach of Nevada, Iowa, is among 30 academy graduates destined for the elite Navy Special Warfare field. And although the SEAL community has received a lot of attention, particularly since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Kurtenbach said he always knew he wanted to be a SEAL.
Attracted by the caliber of the men in the Special Warfare community and the challenges their mission entails, he said, he started intensive preparations after his junior year. While at the academy, he got the opportunity to train with a SEAL team during a summer cruise at Little Creek, Va.
“I had high expectations going in, but that exceeded everything,” Kurtenbach said.
Already an overachiever, Kurtenbach attended graduate school at Georgetown University while at the Naval Academy and undergoing SEAL preparation training. After receiving his master’s degree in national security studies in December, he will head to Coronado, Calif., to begin his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Today, Kurtenbach savored the accomplishments made so far as his brother, Army Capt. Dan Kurtenbach, a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, administered the oath of office.
“This is just a beginning,” he said of his graduation and commissioning. “I feel honored to be here, and I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead.”