Friday, December 1, 2006

Tyler Tidwell was in his company’s ward room when he found out his request for service selection with the Marine Corps was granted.

It is tradition at the Naval Academy for newly minted Marines to get a haircut. When he tried to leave the room, some people were waiting for him.

“I open the door — I am in my dress uniform — and there are about 40 plebes waiting for me,” Tidwell said, running his hand over his clean-shaven head. “I took off my coat and tie, and they kind of surrounded me, and I was like, ‘Listen guys, I don’t want …’ and then I just took off running. They just mobbed me, picked me up and carried me sideways into the room and shaved my head.”

Tidwell, a linebacker, is one of 11 seniors on Navy’s roster who will join the Corps after graduation. Nine of them chose Marine Corps Ground and will become commissioned officers to lead small groups of like-minded soldiers.

While Navy’s team is a tight knit group, the Marine Corps-bound seniors are almost all particularly close.

“We’re all always getting into the same stuff and hanging out together. Those are my guys, and I want to spend the next five years with them,” senior defensive captain Rob Caldwell said. “I think it is the type of people that we are. We like small units, keep it close. It is kind of like a football team. That is how Capt. [Ryan] Hamilton [the team’s military liaison] described it. Except now we will be the coaches instead of the players.”

After they graduate in May, the future Marines will have about a month of leave. Some have requested first to be stationed in Annapolis on a temporary assignment duty (TAD). Every year a few of the former players are granted this request and become volunteer assistant coaches for the football team.

Those who are not rewarded the TAD will report to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia for several months of training. While there, they will select a military occupational specialty and, depending on that, could be in for more training or be deployed.

Many of their former teammates who chose this path were the first from their graduating classes to see action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two seasons ago that reality hit home when two former football players — 1st Lt. Ron Winchester and 2nd Lt. J.P. Blecksmith — died while serving in the Corps in Iraq.

“I would say they epitomize that they are doing this for a greater purpose. They are about something greater than themselves,” said senior defensive back Jeremy McGown, who chose surface warfare. “Those guys can’t wait to go over to Iraq and serve their country. They can’t wait to get dirty and run around with guns. All of those guys are going to be incredible leaders over there.”

A few of the players took preliminary steps toward the Navy SEAL program, but the logistics of football interfered. During the summer, many of them had an opportunity to spend two weeks with a Marine Corps unit — kind of like Navy’s version of an internship.

Linebacker Anthony Piccioni and defensive end Tye Adams spent their time with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion at MCB Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. The battalion was sent to Iraq for a seven-month deployment in September.

“They took us out in the field for 10 days. It was awesome to be around those guys,” Piccioni said. “They have a totally different mentality. The one thing I’ve learned from this whole experience is that those guys are fighting for the right reasons and they do make a difference.

“It is one big team. You work in small units toward one common goal, and that is to get the job done. I think we see that out here at football practice every day. We want to be around men like ourselves, and we want a chance to lead those men.”

Adams was another member of the team who was a little reluctant to lose his hair.

“Tye was trying to hold out because his girlfriend was coming into town,” Tidwell said. “We jumped him in the locker room and took out just enough that he had to shave it anyway. He kept trying to comb it over to cover it up, but he couldn’t.”

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