The grim reality of that career path is hitting home for the officers-to-be in the student body at Norwich University with the deaths of two former students in Iraq, within three days of each other.
"It's kind of like surreal now because before I heard names, you know, and I saw pictures and I didn't know them so it was kind of removed," said senior Cadet Jonathan Pride, 21, who graduates next month and will be commissioned an Army lieutenant. "Now, it's somebody I know. It's kind of like â€˜Wow, there really is a war out there.'"
Norwich, founded in 1819, has been training officers for battle on its picturesque hilltop campus since before the Civil War.
The school lost at least 52 graduates in the Civil War, 16 in World War I, 86 in World War II, three in Korea and 22 in Vietnam, although college officials say the numbers are imprecise.
And since the war began in Iraq, it has lost four graduates, including two this month:
â€¢ Army Capt. Anthony Palermo Jr., 27, of Brockton, Mass., was killed April 6 by an improvised explosive device that detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad. He attended Norwich for four years before graduating from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts in 2003.
â€¢ Army Sgt. Adam Kennedy of Norfolk, Mass., was killed April 8 when he was hit while on patrol near Diwaniyah, Iraq. He graduated from Norwich in 2004.
"For the last three or four days, almost every senior I've talked to that's going to be commissioning in the Army had some kind of different temperance about them," said junior Kim Sorber, of Dallas, Pa., who is due to receive her commission in just over a year. "They've got some kind of, not even hesitance, but just a different, lower, more modest temperance about them."
Last year, Norwich produced more second lieutenants for the Army than any other college except the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Not every student is headed for a military career. Of the 1,950 who attend, 1,150 are members of the Corps of Cadets and only a portion of those are seeking officers' commissions.
It is an "awesome responsibility to prepare them, to guide them," said Commandant of Cadets Michael Kelley, a 1974 graduate and retired Army colonel. "The group that's here today came post 9/11. Every one of them knew the world order had changed."
During his student years at Norwich, five alumni died in Vietnam. But Kelley couldn't remember anything being done for any of them. Today, however, "our students take so proudly the service of others," he said.
Fallen Norwich graduates are remembered on the Harmon Wall, a granite monument on which are inscribed the names of graduates and others who have contributed to the community, not just those killed in action. It is named for former Norwich President Gen. Ernest Harmon.
Kennedy and Palermo, whose names will be on the wall's yet-to-be inscribed 2007 section, also will be remembered by the Corps of Cadets at a May 3 ceremony known as "echo taps."
The entire Corps of Cadets will gather in full dress uniform just before 11 p.m. and be called to attention with whispered orders. Following a salute of 21 shots by a firing party, two buglers at different locations on campus will play taps, a beat apart, just enough to make the sound appear to echo.
Pride and Sorber attended echo taps for 1st Lt. Mark Dooley, a 2001 graduate killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in September 2005.
Pride was a member of the firing party.
"I was crying on the platform," Pride said. "It can be anybody. It can be him, it can be Kim, it can be anybody. We are all connected in this. We are at a small school. We are all connected in some way. It was almost as if part of me died."