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USS SIOUX CITY COMMISSIONING: The challenges at the U.S. Naval Academy

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (KTIV) – For the last week, KTIV has brought you coverage of the historic commissioning of the USS Sioux City from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Naval Academy is also home to 45-hundred midshipmen… including two Sioux City-natives.

Founded in 1845, the U.S Naval Academy covered 10 acres in Annapolis, Maryland… that’s good because the academy’s first class was made up of just 50 students, called midshipmen

Today, the academy covers 338 acres and hosts 4,500 mids. Bob Cepek was a member of the class of 1964.

“The Navy means an awful lot to me, and that started here at the Naval Academy,” said Cepek, U.S. Navy (Ret.).

Cepek served 30-years as a surface warfare officer and commanded two ships. Today, he guides tours of the Naval Academy and offers to students life lessons he learned in the Navy.

“The challenges are there,” Cepek said. “But, one learns the value of duty, honor and loyalty.”

Sioux City-natives Sam McGowan and Natalie Wender learn those lessons, every day.

“You learn so much about yourself when you’re put in certain situations,” said Natalie Wender, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman.

Wender is a first class, or “firstie”– a senior. McGowan is a fourth class– a freshman, or “plebe”.

Both agree their expectation of the Naval Academy, and their actual experience is very different.

“It’s definitely different than what I was expecting,” said Sam McGowan, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman.

Wender says it’s even more challenging than she expected.

“Being physically fit, getting really good grades, being involved in all sorts of things,” said Natalie Wender, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman. “And, while those are really challenging aspects of the Naval Academy, that’s not what makes it challenging. It’s been really hard not having a separation between your professional and social life because they all exist under one roof.”

For midshipmen, their lives are lived here: Bancroft Hall, the world’s largest dorm housing all 4,500 midshipmen at the U.S Naval Academy.

“We live here, we eat here, we sleep here, but we also work here. There’s no separation, there’s no divide. You’re always kind of turned on in that sense, so you’re always keeping up appearances.”

Wender says that sacrifice serves as a teaching tool, too.

“You learn so much about yourself when you’re put in certain situations,” said Wender.

After just five months at the Naval Academy, McGowan knows that she made the right choice.

“I love it,” said Sam McGowan, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman. “I’ve met a lot of amazing people, and I think I’ve grown a lot in these past few months.”

And, McGowan is already looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead, and how they’ll shape her going forward.

“By the time I’m a “firstie”, hopefully with my service assignment that she got today, I’m ready to enter the fleet and be respected as an officer,” said Sam McGowan, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman.

It’s the hope shared by so many midshipmen. Naval Academy graduates, like Cepek, already know these students are well on their way.

“Yes, there have been changes,” said Cepek”But, what has remained the same is that young men and women come here, and they have an opportunity to graduate and become officers in the Navy and the Marine Corps.”

Last week, Natalie– and the other “firsties”– received their service assignments in a special ceremony at the Naval Academy.

Her assignment?

Surface warfare officer.

She’s hoping for an assignment aboard the USS Sioux City, but would welcome an assignment aboard any surface vessel.

Matt Breen

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