Miriam Ewall-Wice was pretty sure she wanted to be a flight officer when she entered the U.S. Naval Academy last summer as a plebe — an incoming freshman. But all that changed after she spent two weeks aboard an Ohio class nuclear-powered submarine last month.
Now, the 2015 Allderdice High School grad is all about subs.
“Being on the sub was so cool,” said Ewall-Wice, back home in Squirrel Hill for a few weeks to catch up with friends and family. “I had free reign to learn and follow the enlisted personnel around and see the level of intellect. Those are the people I want to lead someday.”
The self-assured and amiable Ewall-Wice is well on her way to doing just that. She finished her first year at the USNA at the top of her class with a 4.0 GPA.
Ewall-Wice has known since eighth grade that she wanted to attend the Naval Academy. But, unlike many others who join the armed forces, Ewall-Wice was not motivated to enroll at the highly competitive school by any particular familial role models; no one in her family has served in the military except her two grandfathers, who died before she was born.
Rather, it was an Internet search that got her thinking about the Navy.
“I was curious about the military as a way to pay for school,” Ewall-Wice said. “I did a Google search, and that’s how I learned about the Naval Academy.”
She was drawn also by a desire to “do something bigger” than herself, she said, and was intrigued by the challenges the Annapolis, Md., institution promised.
“The uniqueness of the Academy was appealing,” she said. “I like hard things and the level of reward that comes from that.”
That Ewall-Wice was accepted into the Academy is a laudable feat; the acceptance rate is only around 8 percent. The application process includes being recommended by a local congressman, senator or other select official, as well as the standard battery of essays and aptitude tests that all American high schoolers face when applying to college.
Ewall-Wice, who played lacrosse and fenced while at Allderdice, plans to graduate in three more years as an ensign, with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering. Motivated by her excursion in the submarine, following graduation she hopes to go to “nuclear power school, follow up with prototype
training, then serve on a submarine.”
In Ewall-Wice’s class of 1,100, about 27 percent are women. Across the Navy, about 50 female officers serve on submarines since the reversal of the branch’s male-only policy in 2010.
Despite being confined underwater for two weeks, Ewall-Wice said she did not suffer from cabin fever while on the sub.
“There is so much to do, and so much to explore,” she said. “The level of knowledge the people on the subs have is amazing.”
Ewall-Wice’s family generally has been supportive of her decision to join the Navy, she said, although her older sister and her brother “were a bit nervous.”
“It was understandable,” she said. “You know, the baby of the family wants to go to the military. Now they see I haven’t changed.”
But she has been challenged.
During the traditional plebe summer, Ewall-Wice trained for seven weeks prior to her start as a freshman. She found the experience “pretty chaotic, with lots of physical activity and lots of yelling.”
Ewall-Wice, who participated in the Orthodox Jewish youth group NCSY while in high school, has found other Jewish cadets in the Academy — including about 10 other women in her class — and is a regular at the weekly Tuesday meetings of the Jewish Midshipmen Club led by the Academy’s Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Yoni Warren. On Friday nights, the group celebrates Shabbat with a service and an oneg. About 10 to 20 people usually show up for the gathering in the “beautiful” Miller Chapel at the Commodore Uriah Levy Center, Ewall-Wice said.
Through the club, Ewall-Wice became connected to a Jewish family in the area that has become her “sponsor family.”
“They have become a home away from home,” she said, adding that she was able to join that family for a Passover seder.
Her entire class was taken to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, she said, and met with a survivor to hear a firsthand account of the atrocities of the Shoah.
The Navy is respectful of Jewish holidays, Ewall-Wice added, and she has had no trouble being excused from classes to observe them.
While there have been times when Ewall-Wice has felt exhausted, physically and mentally, from the training — including from strenuous workouts twice a week — she has never regretted her decision to enroll at the Naval Academy.
“I really love it,” she said.
Ewall-Wice is happy to cut her summer break short and head back to Annapolis at the end of July for “voluntary summer school,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to get ahead in coursework.”
Her father, Rick Wice, who serves as president of Young Israel in Squirrel Hill, said he “was a little surprised” when his daughter first announced she wanted to join the Navy.
“But I was pretty proud of her,” he said. “And our friends are proud of her. I have a lot of nachas from my daughter.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.