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.
"The first meal is hilarious because everyone is so terrified that they can't eat," said Rajiv with an empathetic laugh. "But I always tell the plebes, 'You're going to want to eat that.' "
"Some kids quit the first day before they take their oath of office," Shanti said. "That way they can just turn around and leave with their parents. It's stressful, but parents must be supportive."
Sanjay added, "If you don't want to be there, it's better to realize that early on. Once you're in, there's a real drive to stay in because the academy tells you you're the best and the brightest and you want to prove you belong."
Arvind took the recent kitchen-table discussion in stride, saying he's pretty confident about his readiness to meet academy expectations — which focus on mental, moral and physical strength — especially since he's learned from his brothers' experience.
A Hall of Fame wrestler at River Hill High School, he's driven to be in top shape physically, he said. He has his mind set on joining the Navy SEALs, an elite force that's named for its skill in operating at sea, in the air and on land. To that end, he's been running a mile four days a week, and swimming and lifting weights five days a week.
"I want to max out on all the standards because SEALs are ultra-physical," Arvind said, to which Rajiv quickly inserted, "and highly selective."
"They have to be in top shape to deal with al-Qaida," Herman added.
Cummings said he couldn't help but think of his 20-year-old nephew Christopher Cummings, who was shot to death in a June 10 incident in Virginia. His nephew had a mantra that fits the Stone brothers, Cummings said.
"He lived by this: 'Speak my mind, pour out my heart, and love my soul,' " the congressman said. "The Stone brothers give everything they have to their country and family, and love who they are."
While the academy sets high standards, Rajiv prefers to view them as challenges worth mastering no matter what it takes. He has set his sights on flying for the military where he "can make a difference," and that translates to being out front. Arvind simply states that he wants to "do something important" with his life.
"If you really work at it, then you're going to make it at the academy," Rajiv said. "And that's something worth aspiring to."
It's always difficult to leave a child on Induction Day, Shanti said, but once parents drop off their plebes "the Navy thanks you for raising the top 10 percent of the nation and then adds, 'Now they belong to the Navy.' "
"And they mean it," Herman added. He knows that not many parents have gone through the same drill at the academy three times or can boast they have more taken more than 5,000 photos of USNA events over a period of eight years.
"The Navy makes it clear that you can't be hovering parents anymore," he said.