Christianna Bagby never imagined a career as a solider even though she grew up as a "military brat." Toby McIntire, whose father served in the Marines for 27 years, knew as a teenager that she wanted to pursue a disciplined life in the service.
They and seven other McDaniel College seniors will be commissioned as U.S. Army second lieutenants tomorrow morning, marking their completion of the rigorous ROTC program, before receiving their diplomas at the college's afternoon commencement.
While their friends enjoy a summer break or start new jobs, these men and women face the possibility of being deployed to Iraq or other hot spots around the world. All nine have elected to serve four years of active duty instead of eight years in the National Guard or Army Reserves.
"This class graduating this year is the most unique class because it's almost guaranteed that we'll all be there [in Iraq] within a year and a half," said McIntire, 21, of Crofton, a member of the women's basketball team at McDaniel. "I'll be involved in a whole new lifestyle -- within a year and a half, knowing and assuming that I'll be in a sandbox somewhere."
In the weeks after graduation, the nine soldiers will head off to officer training courses for several months before they report for duty at stations throughout the country and overseas. The training will serve as their final rite of passage into military life.
Many of the nine McDaniel College cadets say they were lured into the ROTC program by tuition scholarships and chances to travel. They also were called to serve by a sense of patriotism.
"Service to country is definitely appealing," said Lt. Col. James Kraft Jr., who as head of McDaniel's military science and leadership department leads the ROTC cadets. "Those are the folks we're targeting. ... We're the best in the world. We need to fill it with leaders."
The nine McDaniel College seniors are among 44 cadets at Maryland's universities and colleges who are graduating from Army ROTC this year.
ROTC students take elective courses on military history and leadership and learn the skills of becoming soldiers. Cadets choose to commit to military service in their junior year.
Although his grandfather served in the Korean War and earned a Silver Star, Peter Christake, 22, of Bel Air didn't know about the Army training program until he got to McDaniel College. But after taking an ROTC course his freshmen year, he was offered a scholarship and decided to enroll in the program.
"I think it's the whole lifestyle," Christake said. "When you're an officer, you possess a higher caliber. You look at yourself, and you want to be proud of yourself."
Soon, Christake will spend 18 weeks at Fort Eustis, Va., for training in the Army transportation corps. He does not know his assignment -- but he knows deployment can come soon.
"There is a good chance one in four soldiers will be going over there," he said of Iraq. "When you're called to duty, you have to go."
Christake's mother has expressed concerns, but he tells her, "If it's not me, it's some other mother's son."
Going into combat has always been part of the military package. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which occurred when this year's ROTC graduates were college sophomores, deployment has seemed inevitable to the cadets.
"We have friends from previous years who graduated from ROTC, and a majority of them are over there already," said Bagby, 22, of Carlisle, Pa., who will become a member of the Army signal corps.
Kraft said he has been forthcoming about the possibility.
"We set the stage for them that they could find themselves deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, that it is very likely," Kraft said. "Certainly, not all will be. At least, I wanted to be honest with them."
McIntire, 21, has turned to her father, a retired Marine colonel, for advice and support on how to deal with combat situations. McIntire's father served in Vietnam.
"One of the primary things is being taken out of my comfort zone," McIntire said. But "everyone you're going to meet up with is in the same place, and have the same fears and thoughts as you."
McIntire, who grew up in Crofton, said she has always been drawn to a life of service, calling her father a "role model in the pursuit of my career."
"I've always wanted to protect those who have protected me," she said.
She considered seeking a spot at the West Point military academy but decided against it because she wanted a more typical college life. McIntire played women's basketball throughout her college career and served as a captain of the team.
In July, McIntire will travel to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for six months of training, then she heads off to Fort Benning, Ga., for her assignment as an engineer.
But first, she will be sworn in by her father tomorrow.
"He's really proud," McIntire said. "I know he's thrilled. ... I have two older brothers who didn't go this route."
McDaniel College's commencement for about 380 students is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Gill Center on the Westminster campus. Jim Lehrer, executive director and anchor of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," and Kate Lehrer, his wife and an author, will receive honorary degrees at the ceremony.