Allison Pavlansky knows the challenges facing the military: Questions about mission after two long wars; budget pressures and spending cuts; rising reports of sexual assaults, and the scrutiny they have drawn.
As she prepared to take her oath at the U.S. Naval Academy on Thursday, she expressed optimism for the future.
"I'm just as confident now as when I made my decision," said Pavlansky, 18, of Youngstown, Ohio. "And I know that over the next nine years, everything will be taken care of. It won't be easy, but we'll get through everything."
The 1,200 members of the academy's Class of 2017 landed in Annapolis on Thursday for Induction Day, the start of the mental and physical ordeal known as plebe summer.
The young men and women received new uniforms, had their hair cut to regulation length, took their first lesson in rendering a proper salute, bid goodbye to teary parents and began studying Reef Points, the compendium of Navy information they will be expected to memorize over the summer.
All aged from 17 to 23, they commit the next nine years of their lives to a military undergoing unprecedented change.
After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders are balancing continued operations against terrorism with a strategic shift toward the rising nations of the Pacific Rim, a process that will be led by the Navy and Marine Corps.
The across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester already are being felt at the academy, where furloughs could lead some civilian faculty members to call off classes and the traditional Induction Day flyover was canceled. The Pentagon is preparing for additional belt-tightening.
The military has lifted the ban on openly gay members and is preparing to open all jobs to women.
And rising reports of sexual assaults within the ranks — including the highly publicized case of three academy football players accused of having sex with a female midshipman while she was incapacitated — have led to calls from lawmakers to overhaul the military justice system.
Cmdr. Scott Erb, the assistant officer-in-charge of plebe summer, said the academy will begin discussing these challenges with the newest midshipmen in the weeks ahead.
"We do talk about many of those issues in terms of bringing the class together and having them approach their profession with dignity and respect for everybody in the service," he said. "And with a sense of teamwork that this is all one team, and we value everybody's contributions for what they bring to the team, what they bring to the mission."
Erb said plebe summer is "meant to be positive pressure with a purpose."
"It's designed really to be a first step in their moral, mental and physical education for the Naval Academy," he said. "So it takes them from being a civilian to being a full midshipman ready for the following four years of training."
On completing four years of undergraduate course work, professional development and physical training, the midshipmen are awarded a bachelor's degree and commissioned ensigns in the Navy or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. They then leave Annapolis to join their branches for five more years of service.
The Class of 2017 includes 932 men and 274 women. Sixty-three have already served as enlisted members of the Navy or Marine Corps. There are 392 minorities, and 18 foreign nationals who will serve in the armed forces of their own countries.
Chris Panuski, an 18-year-old from Davidson, N.C., expressed confidence that he and his classmates would be prepared to take on the challenges ahead.
"We live in a changing world," he said. "People who are going to these schools, they're going to have the leadership potential to shape it to what we want it to be."
His parents, Louis and Becky Panuski, beamed.
"We need the best people," Becky Panuski said. "We want the best and the brightest, and that's where I feel good. He's a true leader. That's the kind of person I feel safe going to bed at night, knowing that this is the future."
As Eric Wolf waited for a haircut, he said he was looking forward to his four years by the bay.
"I've been waiting for this for a really long time," said Wolf, 18, from Chattanooga, Tenn. "I'm more excited than nervous right now. It's a really fantastic opportunity, and I know it's going to be one of the best times of my life.
"Probably not this summer, though."
Naval Academy Class of 2017
•932 men (77 percent)
•274 women (23 percent)
•392 minorities (33 percent)
•348 with previous college or post-high school experience
•63 with previous military experience
•18 international students
Source: U.S. Naval AcademyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun