By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Was it worth it?
McKenzie Eshleman – 2017 Rim High graduate and current midshipman third-class at the U.S. Naval Academy – considered the question.
“The Academy is challenging,” she acknowledged. “I struggled with whether or not I really wanted to be in the Navy and was ready to leave a couple of times.”
But she talked with family, friends and officers at Annapolis. “Those conversations helped me realign my sights on what I want to do. I want to be in the Navy. So, yes, it has been worth it.”
Eshleman’s struggle has not only been at Annapolis. Her struggle began long before, with her fight to get into the prestigious program. Despite a stellar career at Rim High and multiple nominations to the country’s military service academies, she was not accepted into any of them directly out of Rim.
Rather than give up and settle for a lesser dream, Eshleman came up with a plan. She attended Northwestern Preparatory School, held annually at Camp Paivika in Crestline. There she and the other students prepared academically and physically to apply to the academies.
The program, Eshleman said, “was great. Everything about me as a candidate improved drastically.”
With her nominations again in hand, Eshleman sat back and waited. She first received an appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, then the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. She was placed on the wait list at the U.S. Naval Academy and was ready to sign with the Coast Guard when she received word she had been appointed to Annapolis.
For her plebe summer, Eshleman was assigned a roommate, Gabby Shepherd of Philadelphia. The two have chosen to remain roommates since and have visited one another’s homes.
Each summer the midshipmen spend time exploring which service they will choose upon graduation. Last summer, Eshleman was on a ship with enlisted personnel for a month. The challenge was staying with the enlisted women, following them around, learning from them when she will eventually be an officer who will be leading them.
“It was a good training opportunity,” Eshleman said. “I developed empathy
She did not have much interaction with the officers on board – that will happen this coming summer. But, while underway on the ship, Eshleman and the other “youngsters,” as the rising third-class midshipmen are called, had to sweep water off the deck.
“The lieutenant and lieutenant commander helped out,” she said. “It makes you feel good when you see the brass doing the grunt work with everyone else.”
Eshleman and her peers did a lot of maintenance: chipping paint, painting, sanding.
For the last year and a half, Eshleman has been playing ice hockey for the Navy. While she has really enjoyed it – and found it to be fun – she has decided to drop off the team and transfer to an intermural sport. All midshipmen are required to play a sport while at Annapolis.
Hockey, she noted, required a lot of travel. She spent hours every afternoon, traveling by bus to the rink, practicing and then traveling back.
“I was struggling with my academics,” Eshleman said. “I had to find a way to do better in school and feel happier.” She again talked with her family and her teammates.
“Leaving the hockey team is the best decision I could have made,” Eshleman said. “I need to focus on my education – that’s what will get me the service selection I want.” That selection is based on class rank, a physical fitness test and recommendations.
Eshleman’s main focus is on cryptological warfare. As part of her cyber warfare major, Eshleman learned how to program in Python last semester. This next semester she will learn a new language in code and learn about cyber laws.
Next year, Eshleman said, she will sign her “2 for 7” – a commitment after two years at the Academy to finish out the final two years and then devote five years to either the Navy or the Marines.
She has signed up to be a detailer for plebe summer this year. As such she would be in charge of a squad and make them midshipmen. “It’s one of the best leadership opportunities at the Academy,” Eshleman said. “You are shaping the next generation.” If she isn’t given the opportunity this summer, she’ll try again for the following one.
“I’m proud of where I am and want to continue,” Eshleman said. “I feel proud when I put on my uniform.”