Battleland

Navy Brains…and Heart

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DoD photo / Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Sure, it gives one pause when the top graduate among the 1,099 midshipmen to be graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy this week isn’t — for the first time in the academy’s 158-year history — an American. Here, Defense Secretary Leon  Panetta congratulates Midshipman Sam Tan Wei Shen of Singapore on his feat.

“I was surprised because the guys I was training with were Navy SEALs and some were even going to be astronauts,” he told the Strait Times newspaper back home in a telephone interview from his Annapolis hotel. “To be training with the best and brightest, and still come up tops is pretty amazing.” It no doubt strikes the average American as grimly amazing, as well. Luckily, what the academy’s class of 2012 may have lacked in brains, it made up for in heart:

(PHOTOS: The Fascinating History of America’s Secret Warriors)

Navy photo / MSC 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor

Kevin Hillery of Massachusetts became the first paraplegic to be graduated from the academy after a tree fell on him, breaking his back, during a freak storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley just over a year ago. Although he had to give up his dream of becoming a SEAL, he plans to attend law school, instead.

After creeping up a ramp to get his diploma, Hillery pulled a wheelie on the way down afterward.

Congrats to both graduates, and their 1,097 classmates.

MORE: Building a True 21st Century U.S. Military

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