Naval Academy Midshipmen and standout former LHS Tigers, earn their Naval Academy commissions during worldwide 'Pandemic'

By Ed Martin, Editor
U.S. Naval Academy 2020 grad Roman Benitez
U.S. Naval Academy 2020 grad Roman Benitez

The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Maryland officials and the United States Navy to alter its annual graduation and commissioning ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy. Instead, the U.S. Navy will “virtually” commission its outgoing Naval and Marine Corps officers. It turns out that a pair of midshipmen – familiar to Lemoore – earned their degrees this year.

Roman Benitez, a 2015 Lemoore High School grad bound for the U.S. Marine Corps and 2016 Lemoore High School graduate Jake Hansen, both earned degrees and will continue their military careers – but on very different paths.

Benítez, and fellow LHS Tiger, Hansen (LHS Class of 2016), will officially earn their commissions on May 22 and then report to their first duty station. “On May 22, they’re sending a video out, and that’s when we’re officially second lieutenants and ensigns,” said Benítez.

Hansen, according to Benitez, is expected to attend pilot school once he’s officially designated a U.S. naval ensign. If he makes it through flight school, he could very well end up right back in Lemoore.

In the decades before the coronavirus, the historic U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, has welcomed presidents and high-ranking dignitaries to its annual graduation ceremony.

U.S. Naval Academy 2020 grad Jake Hansen
U.S. Naval Academy 2020 grad Jake Hansen

Unfortunately, it’s not happening this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. In late April, after consulting with Gov. Larry Hogan, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, the Chief of Naval Operations and Acting Secretary of the Navy, it was mutually decided to forego the traditional ceremony and instead conduct a virtual ceremony.

“I report to TBS (Tango, Bravo, Sierra) School on Sept. 8 in Quantico, Virginia, “All Marine Corps officers have to go there for “basic school,” said Benitez. “All Marine Corps officers have to do an evaluation. It teaches you how to be a Marine Corps officer. I definitely want to do something in the combat arms area of the Corps.”

Benitez earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in quantitative economics, and while attending the challenging Annapolis school can be demanding, it eventually becomes rewarding. “It’s short weeks, long days. It’s a grind while you’re there, but you meet the best people you could serve with, and it was a gift for me to go there.”

As a midshipman, Benitez played water polo, among other activities.

Benítez, 23, was a standout student while at Lemoore High School. He was a water polo player, wrestler, and dabbled in golf and tennis. “While I was at (LHS), I was involved with the Academic Decathlon team, International Club, and CSF.”

He was also an Eagle Scout and a Hanford Police Explorer among several extra-curricular activities.

“I was always going to be a Marine, whether or not it was as an officer or as enlisted. I’ve always wanted to serve in the Marine Corps, (and) my father brought up the idea of the U.S. Naval Academy as a high school sophomore.”

And he had plenty of support at home. “We support Roman’s goals and aspirations ever since he was 12 years old,” said his father, Roman Benitez, Sr. “We supported him 100 percent.”

Hanson, 22, was also a standout student and athlete at LHS.  His interest in a Navy flying career was sparked when a naval aviator friend of his mother, Julie, invited him to fly a jet simulator at Naval Air Station Lemoore. “I flew the simulator and loved it – and I started the application,” he recalled.

He earned his degree in quantitative economics, the “perfect” prelude to flying navy jets.

Like Benitez, he will receive his official commission on May 22, and then shortly after that will report to Pensacola for flight training. “With the pandemic, we’re going to take two weeks at first and then report.”

“Ultimately, I want to fly jets – FA-18s or the F-25. Nothing is set in stone,” said Hansen.  Since Naval Air Station Lemoore is home to both jets, it’s highly likely Hanson could return to Lemoore.

“Lemoore is the largest jet base on the west coast.” That will be great for me because I used to watch them fly overhead.”


Naval Academy Midshipmen and standout former LHS Tigers, earn their Naval Academy commissions during worldwide 'Pandemic'

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