While many graduating Notre Dame and Saint Mary's students have dedicated the next year of their lives to service, a select group of young men and women will be undertaking four or more years of a completely different kind of service after graduation - military service.
Eighty senior members of the Notre Dame Air Force, Army and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps units will be commissioned as Second Lieutenants or ensigns Saturday in a public, tri-military ceremony. Air Force Major William Zimmerman said the ceremony is "steeped in tradition."
"It's a great ceremony for family and friends to recognize all the hard work they have done for the last four years," he said.
Air Force ROTC will commission 35 new Lieutenants, while Army ROTC will commission 19 and Navy ROTC will commission 24 ensigns, the first officer rank. The Marine Corps plans to commission two Second Lieutenants Saturday. Their names have not yet been released.
During the joint ceremony, seniors entering all four branches of the military will take their oath of office together, which Naval Lieutenant Tim Joyce said will firmly place the responsibility of protecting the nation on their shoulders.
"A commission is a commission of an office conferred upon the individual," Joyce said. "[It's] not accepting an honor, but freely accepting the responsibility of that office. You're serving the greater good of the [military] itself."
Four-star General Gregory S. Martin, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, will swear in the new officers. Martin graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970 and earned his master's degree in business management from Central Michigan University.
During his extensive military education, Martin completed Air Command and Staff College, National Security Management and the National War College. He is a master parachutist and command pilot, having flown in 161 combat missions and commanded the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 479th Tactical Training Wing and 33rd and 1st fighter wings.
Before assuming his command at Wright-Patterson, Martin served as commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Allied Air Forces in Northern Europe. He is highly decorated, having earned the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Distinguished and Superior Service Medals, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Medal of Commander of Order and Valor, Gold Medal of Merit, Legion of Honor, Cross of Merit and NATO Meritorious Service Medal.
"[Martin] will officiate over the ceremony," Army Major Gary Masapollo said. "The general will raise his right hand and swear all four service branches in together."
Cadets and midshipmen will then walk across the stage individually to shake Martin's hand and have their branches and first assignments announ-ced.
According to Masapollo and Zimmerman, assignments could include everything from pilot training to reserve duty, sending graduates to climes as varied as Hawaii, South Carolina, Kansas, Alaska, England and Japan.
Graduating Notre Dame senior Midshipman Chris Heck said he is eagerly anticipating beginning his assignment at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida for flight school.
"I am looking forward to serving my country, as well as starting my aviation career," he said. "All I've ever wanted to do was to fly, and what better way than through the Navy, where you get the world's best training while making a positive difference in the world?"
Saint Mary's senior Michelle Stanforth, also in Navy ROTC, will train at Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer school in San Diego in June before heading to her first station in Pearl Harbor. She called the commissioning ceremony a "transition" for graduating seniors and said she understands the responsibility it will confer upon her classmates.
"It's honestly overwhelming. I think the best word for it is anxious," she said. "I am excited to move on, to be a commissioned officer, to be able to head on into new and exciting experiences, yet I'm nervous for all that awaits in this transition - the reality that we are at war, that my job is one that greatly affects the lives of others, and that it means moving away from all that I have been familiar with."
Stanforth also said she feels that attending Saint Mary's for the past four years will have a significant positive impact on her new role as a military officer.
"It has been at Saint Mary's that I have better developed confidence in myself - not just as a person, but as a woman. I have come to better know who I am, what I stand for and in what direction I want to continue to grow in," she said. "I have been blessed here with the Saint Mary's/Notre Dame community in that I have been surrounded by not just fellow students, but a family, one that has inspired me to discover myself and grow through relationships with others. It is this confidence, these relationships and this sense of family that will stay with me and make me a stronger leader."
Stanforth, ranked third female midshipman in the nation, is just one example of the Notre Dame ROTC program's stellar servicemember production.
"[Notre Dame is] one of the top 15 percent of the nation," Masapollo said. "Our individual students are a reflection of the figures."
Joyce, a 1999 Notre Dame graduate, said Notre Dame students possess the qualities necessary to become excellent military leaders and that they are taught the idea of service extends to the military.
"From all the schools around here [Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, Valparaiso, IUSB and Bethel], we obviously get the best and the brightest, and it leads that our cadets are going to do great things," Zimmerman said. "I could see some of these people reaching stars."