The senior midshipmen of the Naval Academy's 19th Company piled into their wardroom in Bancroft Hall on Thursday, cramming four or five abreast on brown couches. After nearly four years of study, they were about to learn whether they would get their dream jobs.
Some held out hopes of piloting aircraft or serving on a ship, while others sought assignments in the Marines or in the Navy's special forces.
Midshipmen don't have to look for work like their peers at other colleges, who have been sending out dozens of resumes and trying to land interviews. After four years at the nation's elite training ground for Navy and Marine Corps officers, they're guaranteed a job.
It's during the yearly ritual known as Service Selection Day that they learn what that job will be.
"There's going to be certain days of your career you're going to remember," Lt. Matthew Harmon told the midshipmen of the 19th Company. "This is one of them."
Academy officials say more than nine of 10 get their first or second choice, but the day is still filled with tension for the midshipmen. For some, it is the culmination of a dream held since childhood.
Assignments are determined by senior commanders, based on current and future needs.
The Class of 2015 will be the first to graduate after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military they enter is bombarding the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, supporting U.S. efforts to combat Ebola in West Africa, and countering electronic threats from several quarters.
After more than a decade of war in the Middle East, U.S. commanders are trying to shift the nation's strategic focus to Asia and the Pacific, while expanding the military's capabilities in cybersecurity.
Consequently, while some academy graduates are headed for familiar roles in aviation, surface warfare and the submarine service, others are destined for emerging fields such as information warfare.
Of the 1076 midshipmen who received assignments Thursday, 251 are headed for surface warfare and 243 will train as pilots. Two hundred and seventy-one will become Marine officers, and the rest are slated for jobs in intelligence, medicine, explosives disposal and other fields.
Before the ceremony, Jordan Webster, 22, said he had long wanted to be a pilot but had kept his options open during his studies at the academy. It was when he went on a solo flight last summer that he knew his instincts were right.
"I fell in love with flying," he said.
He listed flight officer as his backup plan. Webster cited the popular 1986 film "Top Gun." He would be either "Maverick" or "Goose."
As Webster spoke, midshipmen who wanted to become surface warfare officers — who hold responsibility for commanding, navigating and maintaining the Navy's ships — started to chant: "SWO!" "SWO!" "SWO!"
When everyone was settled in the wardroom, Harmon began announcing assignments. He began with the submariners. Because their training begins earlier, they already knew they had been picked.
Harmon called the midshipmen, one by one, to the front of the room. His or her name and assignment would appear on a television screen, over a background of goofy pictures of the midshipman.
The 19th Company cheered and clapped as members received their news and a certificate.
The future aviators left the room to the beginning bars of Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone," from the "Top Gun" soundtrack; those on the surface warfare officer track resumed their chant: "SWO!" "SWO!" "SWO!"
In the corridor, younger midshipmen placed pins on the seniors' chests. Webster and his roommate Alexander W. Vogel got tiny wings. They'll receive full-size versions if they complete flight school.
For all of the "Top Gun" fandom at the academy, Vogel said he has never seen the movie and doesn't want to. That way he can honestly say he wasn't influenced by Tom Cruise's portray of a Navy pilot when choosing his career, he said.
Vogel said he will fly whatever the Navy tells him to, but is excited by the possibility of piloting the new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter — "a very cool aircraft."
Looking to the future, Vogel said he expects his skills as a pilot to remain in demand in the Navy.
"I don't foresee our role getting any less important," he said.
Others are heading into emerging professions in the Navy.
Anton Ekman is bound for information warfare. He is to prepare for battle in cyberspace — war waged across computer networks. Commanders consider cyberspace the fifth domain of warfare, after land, sea, air and space.
"It's a very technologically oriented sphere," Ekman said. He is an English major, but said he has had a passion for building computers since he was little.
The numbers of midshipmen in the corridors continued to swell, filling the halls with young men and women in the black uniforms they call "blues."
Outside the 19th Company wardroom, someone set up stools and was shaving the heads of seniors, another tradition.
Around campus, midshipmen gathered in excited clusters, but there wasn't much time to celebrate. As Kahra Kelty, a midshipman from Odenton, explained, she had to get back to work — she had a paper due.