Brothers at sea

Left to right, Arvind Stone, 19, follows in the footsteps of his brothers, 1st class midshipman Rajiv Stone, 21, and Lt. Sanjay Stone, 27, as he prepares for induction into the United States Naval Academy. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / July 1, 2011)

For the past 18 months, Sanjay Stone has served as a navigator aboard the USS Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer whose home port is Norfolk, Va.

But the former Columbia resident happened to be in training at Navy Information Operations Command in San Diego when the USS Carl Vinson returned to nearby Coronado from a seven-month deployment that included the at-sea burial of Osama bin Laden.

Just another day in the life of a sailor and Naval Academy graduate? Yes and no.

Sanjay, 27, has aspired to a Navy career since he was 7 years old and listened raptly to his paternal grandfather's stories of his days as a submariner in World War II. The lieutenant has already carried out some choice assignments around the world and has signed on for two more tours of duty.

Yet as he watched the aircraft carrier dock June 15 after its historic role in capping off the Navy SEALs' operation to kill the al-Qaida leader, Sanjay felt that familiar surge of pride and awe — feelings he's passed down to his two younger brothers.

So influential has Sanjay been as a role model that if all goes as planned, all three sons of Herman and Shanti Stone of River Hill will be able to count themselves as alumni of the Naval Academy by 2015.

Rajiv, 21, is majoring in mechanical engineering and will be a senior in the fall. Arvind, 19, was just inducted Thursday along with 1,231 other midshipmen selected from more than 19,000 applicants, an increase of nearly 10 percent over last year's 17,000-plus hopefuls.

It has not been uncommon for multiple siblings to attend the Naval Academy across the school's 157-year history, according to the media relations office. There are six other candidates for the Class of 2015 who are also the third siblings in their families to attend the prestigious institution, and records show that several families have sent more than three children there.

But what distinguishes the Stone brothers is their devotion to family and country, said Rep. Elijah E, Cummings, who nominated the two younger men and is a member of the Naval Academy Board of Visitors.

"They have had a tremendous, positive peer pressure on each other, and I do believe with all my heart that each of them will make a mark on the world," he said. "You can tell their parents have nurtured them carefully by their high level of discipline, and because they are very well-rounded and intelligent."

As a graduate of State University of New York Maritime College, Herman P. Stone II has played a large role in shaping his sons' perspective on the long-term benefits and rewards of being educated at a service academy. A year after graduating, he'd already been around the world, he said.

"You're out there serving your country and seeing the world, and the work is very interesting," said Herman, a nuclear engineer who heads Fossil Consulting Services, a Columbia firm that provides training and technical services to the electric power industry.

"Our boys are well aware that the academy is developing them as warrior leaders who have a responsibility and commitment to defend our nation to the death," he said. "This is not sugar-coated at the academy and the boys are very committed to their patriotic responsibilities."

Sanjay shares his father's outlook, since his ship recently conducted anti-piracy operations near the Horn of Africa and before that he served for two years as electrical officer in charge of maintaining power aboard the USS Juneau and, in a crew swap, the USS Denver, both stationed in Sasebo, Japan.

But the Navy means more to him than travel and rigorous leadership development.

"We've manned heavy-lift helicopters to get bulldozers into countries suffering from major natural disasters, and no other country in the world is as capable of responding so quickly," he said. "That's huge for me and really makes me feel good to be an American."

Rajiv is looking forward to his senior year and beyond, when he'll likely be a squad leader in charge of 11 people or a platoon leader with 40 serving under him. He recently spent a month at Quantico, Va., training with the Marine Corps.

"I like the challenge of being in charge of their welfare and helping them develop in areas where they're lacking," he said. "You're preparing to be an officer and lead the enlisted."

Though the two eldest Stone brothers obviously survived plebe summer years ago, neither has given Arvind a rough time about what's in store for him in coming weeks — at least not directly.