CASTINE — World War II thrust American communication and commerce to new levels. But even before we were thrown into the war by the Japanese attack, the U.S. was supplying the Allies with means to fight.

In the war years, tanks, torpedoes, men and material moved across the North Atlantic, come hell or high seas. The need for officers to command these cargo vessels increased dramatically, and Maine Maritime Academy was created to supply the war with these less-known heroes called merchant marines.

The war days are long over, but MMA still trains officers to work in the bustling private sector of merchant sailing. A few go to work for the Military Sealift Command, the new face of the Merchant Marine, but most take their training to the high seas (and high salaries) of private merchant service.

As has been the case for ages, the world moves most of its goods by sea, and the responsibility of maritime officers reflects this massive form of commerce. At MMA, cadets (now called midshipmen) learn this responsibility and they learn the skills required to meet it and fulfill their duties.

What sort of a world do these midshipmen enter? How does one transform a group of (mostly) recent high school graduates with varied backgrounds and values and beliefs into a regiment of midshipmen with discipline and responsibility? It all begins at the end of August each year with the infamous week of Regimental Preparatory Training, or RPT.

Freshmen regimental students are herded aboard the ship and rushed about in a week of high-stress, intensive activities designed to test their commitment to their chosen profession and their ability to operate under pressure as an officer must. In this week alone, that recent high school graduate will find himself or herself transformed into a sharper-minded, quicker-thinking person.

But MMA is not just about forging sharp-minded robots; it is a place where leadership is practiced and taught and practiced some more by the students.

The regiment of midshipmen is not just about wearing a uniform and looking pretty for an employer. It is about learning the principles of leadership and putting them to practice with one’s peers, superiors and juniors. The people who graduate from MMA are not just sailors; they are leaders who often go on to be business executives, politicians, naval officers and parents.

Four or more years of regimental training and intense academic study culminates in this incredibly valuable product.

Some of my peers and I were discussing how some people see MMA as an easy way to make a lot of money. This is an incorrect assumption. MMA is relatively easy to apply to, but you must apply yourself in order to succeed.

The classes are challenging, the regiment is demanding and the hours are long. Some get through the program with minimal effort and manage to earn acceptable salaries, but the midshipmen who put forth their finest efforts are the ones who go on to the finest things.

This week is the first week of classes in the 2013-2014 academic year and the students returning are prepared to grind the grist required to continue on with their education. The muster call has been sent out to the regiment and the uniforms hang ready to show themselves off once again.

Hoo-rah, Mariners.

Benjamin Stevens is a student at MMA and hails from Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).