Words of Wisdom - for Plebe Summer (Parts I and II)

Discussion in 'Naval Academy - USNA' started by Memphis9489, Jun 14, 2010.

  1. Memphis9489

    Memphis9489 Parent

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    Before my sons went off to the Naval Academy, I imparted a few "Words of Wisdom".

    I didn't tell them everything they needed to know because the Naval Academy has changed over the years. Today's Naval Academy isn't the same as it was in the 70's, just as the the Naval Academy of my day was not the same as it was in the 40's. (We were the first class to use calculators and not a slide rule -and- we were also the last all-male class.) Needless to say, I don't know everything about how it operates today. My sons had to learn on their own - just as the members of the Class of 2014 will have to learn on their own.

    But some things are universal. There are some fundamentals that are thematic to the Plebe Summer experience. That's what I shared with them.

    I "jotted" down some of my thoughts. You may find them useful.

    This discussion is limited to the Plebe Summer experience and is not intended to be an all-exclusive Naval Academy tutorial.

    _________________________________________________________________


    These are just a few words of wisdom for those getting ready to embark on Plebe Summer. An entire book could be written on this subject. These are just my off-the-cuff thoughts. I am not a Blue & Gold Officer. I am not a representative of the United States Naval Academy. I’m just a grad (’79) and father of two midshipmen. You can take what I have to say for what it’s worth.

    * * * * *

    It is not necessary, nor particularly helpful, to try to anticipate and understand every aspect of the Plebe Summer experience. Some of it just has to be experienced and handled in your own way. There is always a little something different for each class. But there are some generalities that are universal.

    First of all, you do not need to be concerned that you grew up in the cornfields of Nebraska and have no intimate knowledge of the Navy. The Naval Academy has been doing this since 1845 and they have had all types enter the gates on Induction Day (I-Day). They have had sons/daughters of Admirals and sons/daughters of insurance salesmen. Some inductees have had a parent who won the Medal of Honor and some appointees have had a parent who served time in jail. Your pedigree, or lack thereof, is going to be of little concern (or knowledge) of the upperclassmen who will be responsible for your training. They will teach you everything you need to know. They will assume you know nothing; nor will they care about who your mother or father was.

    Don't be intimidated by classmates who have a background that seemingly gives them an advantage. Remember, those who were prior enlisted have been out of academic circulation for at least a year and those who attended NAPS needed to attend a preparatory school for a reason. If you are showing up on I-Day, directly from high school, that means the Admissions Board thought very highly of you. Whether you know it or not – you're ready and you have what it takes. Everybody who is admitted, regardless of their background, has what it takes to succeed.

    You are no longer competing with other candidates for admission. You've made it! You are all classmates now. You are not trying to outdo or outshine each other. The classmate who shows you some tips on how to keep your shoes shiny, later on, may need your help in solving a problem in Calculus. Everybody will have something to contribute.

    Learning how to properly stand at attention, salute, march, handle a rifle, and make your bunk are mastered very quickly. It's not rocket science. Those with prior enlisted service, or who attended NAPS, may already know these things but, quite frankly, these are very easily mastered by anybody. By no means are these the most challenging aspects of the Plebe Summer experience. You'll be shown how to do it. You may need a little help to perfect it. You'll catch on and nobody will know the difference between your salute and that of a 22-yr-old, former Marine Corporal.

    Here's what I call the “H's of Plebe Summer”

    Heat & Humidity

    Maryland summers can be brutal. It's almost as if God turns up the thermostat just to add to the Plebes' misery.

    There was a time when Bancroft Hall was not air-conditioned. Now it is. But that's not going to do you much good as the sun beats down on you while you are marching around on Farragut and Dewey Field. Also, once the temperature gets above 90-degrees, the air-conditioning in individual rooms can be woefully inadequate.

    I strongly recommended that you build-up some heat tolerance prior to reporting for I-Day. Don't just jog in the coolness of the evening. Get out there and jog at 2pm, in the heat of the day. Mow your lawn when it's blistering hot.

    If you are from a state that has mild temperatures and low humidity (like Colorado), you may be in for a surprise.

    The Academy has rules about when it is too hot to march. They call it a “black flag.” They will cancel marching. All that means is that you will be marching around the Yard late at night. Believe me, one way or the other, you're going to learn to march during Plebe Summer.

    Do not underestimate how the heat can chisel away at your resolve. It does not affect everybody equally.

    Ironically, the Class of 2013 was fortunate enough to have one of the mildest summers in decades. It didn't even get above 90-degrees until the Sunday of Plebe Parents Weekend. The humidity was low and, for the most part, it was in the 70's. Very unusual.

    On the other hand, the Class of 2011 was cooked alive. It was beyond miserable.

    Be prepared for the “Class of 2011” experience – which is far more common.

    Humbleness

    Most midshipmen were very successful in their pre-academy life. They were the captains of their varsity sports team. They were class presidents. They graduated in the top 10%. They worked at the local soup kitchen every weekend. They had newspaper articles written about them. They've won awards. They have been successful at everything they have ever done. They have obtained all their goals. They were community superstars. Some have never known failure.

    When you get to the Naval Academy, nobody cares about your past achievements. Nobody even wants to hear it. Nobody cares that you got an LOA (Letter of Assurance), that you've been recruited for lacrosse because you're such a stud, that you got a perfect score on your ACT, that your father works at the Pentagon, or that you got a presidential nomination.

    Which brings me to the next “H” ...

    Help

    If you find yourself excelling at Plebedom – instead of basking in your success and trying to win Plebe-of-the-Year, try to assist those who are not fairing as well. Instead of being the first person to finish the obstacle course, stop and help a classmate struggling to get over the wall or climb a rope.

    The upperclassmen will notice your effort. Try to be selfless – maybe for the first time in your life.

    Humility

    Be prepared to fail at something.

    Be prepared to not-be-the-best at everything you do.

    Some aspects of Plebe Summer can be very boot camp-like. You are making the transition from the civilian to the military world. This has to be accomplished in about 6 weeks. One way to expedite this process is to knock the pins out from everybody, break them down, make them all equal, and then build them back up.

    Accept these mini-failures with grace. Don't let it get you down. It's all part of the process.

    Some will experience failure for the first time in their life.

    As I think back to my experience as a 1st set Plebe Detailer during the summer of 1978, I recall we were instructed to insure every Plebe fails at something. If one particular Plebe keeps succeeding at everything, we just kept pushing him until he failed.

    I was a squad leader. I recall one particular Plebe who was a former Marine. He was outstanding in everything. I could not get that guy to stumble in anything. So I decided to overload him. I taught him, alone, how all the clothing was to be folded and stowed. I taught him, alone, how the racks were to be made. And then I told him to teach his squadmates everything I just taught him. I told him that he was responsible for their failures. That worked! :shake:

    I know this is not related to Plebe Summer; but keep this in mind: By definition, half of everybody in your class will graduate in the bottom half of the class. Nobody enters the academy thinking it will be them.

    Addressing the entire plebe class on I-Day, superintendent, Vice Admiral Fowler, once said, “The level of excellence that got you here today is not good enough to get you through the next four years of the Naval Academy.” Some will learn the truth of those words.

    Humor

    There will be times to laugh during Plebe Summer. If you're the only one not laughing – if you're the only one who doesn't think it's funny – you may be taking things too seriously.

    Learn to laugh – even if you have to laugh at your own failures.

    It's not 100% serious 100% of the time. The key is to know when it's time to be serious and when it's time to laugh.

    Homesickness

    It's normal to get homesick. You will miss your parents, your brother/sister, your friends, your dog, your boyfriend/girlfriend, and the comfort of sleeping in your own bed. That's only normal.

    The key is to not allow this to cloud your new objective in life. You knew you had to leave home sooner or later, didn't you? Well, that time has come sooner rather than later. Do not allow this to become debilitating.

    I have a personal theory. I believe the underlying reason for most of those who quit during Plebe Summer is homesickness. Although the individual may never articulate it (or realize it) – I think it frequently plays a role.

    Realize that pangs of homesickness are normal. Deal with it and put it behind you. Do not dwell on it.

    Even Mother Teresa had her “Dark Night of the Soul.” Who would imagine that Mother Teresa, of all people, once secretly questioned the existence of God? You may have your own, personal “Dark Night of the Soul”. You may question why you ever came to the Naval Academy. That moment frequently occurs while you’re lying in your rack exhausted, after a particularly bad day.

    “What the hell was I thinking?”

    It will pass.
     
  2. Memphis9489

    Memphis9489 Parent

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    Words of Wisdom - for Plebe Summer (Part II)

    Hazing

    The type of silly, pointless, demeaning, and sometimes dangerous, hazing you hear about that goes on at civilian universities, contrary to popular opinion, is very rare at the Naval Academy. Technically, it’s not even allowed.

    Remember these important three points:

    1. They can’t hit you.
    2. They can’t stop the clock. They can’t add more hours in the day or more days in the week. Every day you get by is one less day of Plebe Summer. Think of it as an hour glass. Sand is constantly falling to the bottom. They can’t flip the hour glass over and they can’t turn it on its side. When the last grain of sand hits the bottom – Plebe Summer is over! And if you’re still there – then you made it.
    3. Remember that the individuals training you are also being trained themselves. They haven’t graduated from the Naval Academy yet. They’re students! Some will be better leaders than others. Some will make mistakes. Don’t expect them to be perfect. Someday you’ll get your chance to be the “perfect” Plebe Summer Detailer. The firsties are being evaluated on how well they train you. They are honing their leadership skills whereas you are learning good followership skills – a stepping stone and an essential ingredient of good leadership.

    Health

    Stay healthy between now and I-Day. Certain injuries can disqualify you for admission even though you have an appointment. You can’t report to I-Day with your leg in a cast, for instance.

    But you also need to work to stay healthy during Plebe Summer.

    Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it, but you don’t want to be “the guy” who spent his entire Plebe Summer on a “chit” (approval to miss events like PEP, marching, swimming, obstacle courses, etc.)

    Hunger

    There may be a few dissenting opinions, but the food at the Naval Academy is both plentiful and of good quality. Eat when you get the chance – even if it’s not your favorite meal. You’re going to need it for energy.

    Get used to the fact that you cannot make a midnight run to Taco Bell, Burger King, or KFC.

    There is no “chow line.” You are served family style, all at once, at tables that seat 12. The food is served to you. If you have bad table manners – it will be noticed and it will be corrected.

    If you are prone to late night munchies, you may want some healthy snacks included in a “care package.” PowerBars are sometimes a good option.

    One of my sons actually gained weight during Plebe Summer; so much so that his squad leader tried to curtail his eating by making him chew each bite 7-times before swallowing. He liked the food!

    FINAL THOUGHTS: No single thing during Plebe Summer is particularly difficult. But the overall experience is relentless. Sometimes that can start wearing you down. You can do it, though! Plebes have been doing it successfully for over 150 years; and so can you.

    For the most part, you will be out of communication with your friends. No computers – no Facebook – no email – no text messaging. You’ll get to briefly use your cellphone a few times, during designated times. But, for the most part, letter writing is the primary means of communication. Letter writing is a lost art in today’s society, so don’t expect all your friends to be writing you letters. You won’t have time to be writing many, either.

    You will feel uncomfortable, at first – like a fish out of water. You may even think that you’ve made an enormous mistake in deciding to attend the Naval Academy. However, in the very near future, there will come a day when Plebe Summer will be over … you’ll be strolling down Stribling Walk on a beautiful day while on your way to class … the flowers blooming … the grass will be freshly mowed … a squirrel will dart playfully at your feet … birds will be chirping … the fresh air will be blowing off the Chesapeake … tourists will be walking around taking your picture … There will be a banner hanging from a monument saying, “Beat the Terrapins!” … you’ll be surrounded by majestic buildings through which doors many great Americans have passed. You’ll take it all in and think, “This is awesome!” This is your school. You belong here. You won’t be able to imagine how you could have gone to any other school. It’s the best of everything.

    Good luck 2014!
     
  3. MIDNDAD

    MIDNDAD Member

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    Memphis, WOW the two posts are right on and the best advice I have ever seen on these boards. Simply awesome....

    Thanks for the shout out about the class of 2011. That was a brutal plebe summer as to the high heat and humidity. That was also the last class to not be under the new retention mandate for plebe summer.


    My advice To the incoming class of 2014:

    Re-read the last paragraph of Memphis's words of wisdom. Your cadre/detailers volunteered and competed for the plebe summer duty assignments because they are very important to the Brigade. The 1C Midshipman who will be your cadre are proud of their school, it's traditions, and the link in the chain they represent. In short they have earned their place. Your cadre will arrive back at the yard on the 25th and will spend a few days preparing for you. When you see them on July 1st, they will be ready for you with their game faces on, ready to start training you to be useful members of the Brigade and the next link in that 165 year old chain. Be prepared to start earning the right to stay and be a part of it.

    Good luck 2014
     
  4. usna1985

    usna1985 USNA Alumnus

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    I would agree with all that Memphis said and add one more thing . . . the only people who drop out during Plebe Summer are those who want to. The goal of the summer is NOT to attrite (get rid of) plebes. Thus, if you want to stay and make a concernted effort to do so, USNA will do all it can to help you. This was not always the case but it is today.
     
  5. jennyp

    jennyp Parent

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    Great post, Memphis. I feel sure my plebe-no-more son would echo your thoughts.

    The only thing I might add from him: Some plebes agonize over what they are going to be doing "this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow, next week." He said they cause themselves a lot of unnecessary grief worrying about what might be. His words were "Mom, if people would just realize that you don't need to clutter your mind with things you cannot control, things would be easier for them. Someone else makes all the decisions, we plebes just need to follow orders. No need to worry about what we might be doing. Someone else makes that decision!

    A simple, yet key concept.
     
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  6. DMeix

    DMeix Retired Staff Member

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    No. Firsties have to do a warfare cruise and some other training, usually attached to the Academy in some way, but it doesn't have to be PS.
     
  7. MIDNDAD

    MIDNDAD Member

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    No, Plebe Summer detail is just another Block 2 or Block 3 summer assignment. My mid really wanted to do it for the leadership experience but also to see life at the academy come full circle. As a parent I find it amazing that 3 years ago I watched my mid walk thru the Alumni Hall doors as an unsuspecting plebe. I will never forget that "deer in the headlights" look in the eyes as we said our goodbyes on Stribling Walk. Next week it comes full circle with an extreemly confident mid looking forward to being a Company XO for the 1st set of Plebe summer. My only regret is not being able to see that part of the experience.
     
  8. death_by_happiness

    death_by_happiness Member

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    Virtually the only way to get extra leave is to get 0 block training. So, ask for zero block training. Also, things like soaring, sailing, and maybe yp's are shorter training blocks and also yield more leave.
     
  9. ESLGuy

    ESLGuy Member

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    Most midshipmen were very successful in their pre-academy life. They were the captains of their varsity sports team. They were class presidents. They graduated in the top 10%. They worked at the local soup kitchen every weekend. They had newspaper articles written about them. They've won awards. They have been successful at everything they have ever done. They have obtained all their goals. They were community superstars. Some have never known failure.


    It's that. It lets me know I won't make it into the academy. I am not the captain, and a local newspaper hasn't written an article about me. My NAPSter friend told me that if I only thought about getting in I would be miserable. He was right, and now even he doesn't think I'll make it. Wow.
     
  10. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    Here's another truth about the feeling of I-want-to-quit: No newly graduated Firstie, after wildly throwing his hat in the air at graduation, has EVER turned to his buddy and said "This really was a horrible mistake. I should have never done this. I should have gone to Perdue."
     
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  11. Memphis9489

    Memphis9489 Parent

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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndL7y0MIRE4&t=1m14s
     
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  12. Memphis9489

    Memphis9489 Parent

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    You've quoted a generalization that is probably a bit of hyperbole. The point is that most of those who earn an appointment to a service academy have done pretty well in life up to that point - probably better than a majority of their peers.

    Many of those who earn an appointment are just intelligent, hard-working young men and women who are not particularly flashy.

    Don't use the fact that you are not some kind of superstar as an excuse to give up.
     
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  13. Hurricane12

    Hurricane12 USNA 2012

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    :rolleyes:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT0ofNU1NzA

    Stop putting midshipmen on a pedestal and making broad generalizations. You'd be surprised at the range of experiences midshipmen have before coming to the Naval Academy. My roommate had a relatively unremarkable academic career but managed a Waffle House at age 16. Guess what? She's finishing up TBS (where she kicked ***, by the way) and doing just as well as some of the class president types. Another guy in my company flunked out of college before enlisting in the Navy, and yet another graduated from a military-style reform school. The only remarkable thing on my resume (a rather unusual summer internship) had nothing to do with me being top 10% of my class (which I wasn't), class president (which I wasn't), a varsity team captain (which I wasn't), or selfless volunteer (which I wasn't). I was genuinely shocked when I received my appointment.
    There's first generation college students, vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, the children of immigrants, people who worked three jobs through high school, and people who overcame a whole host of strange hardships to get here. The Naval Academy is not solely composed of a bunch of preening, entitled, top-10% types who've "never failed at anything."

    But what all of these people have in common was that they believed in themselves enough to at least take a chance. Sure, everyone's worried that the Academy or whatever commissioning source will say no, but why should that stop you?

    If you don't even have the self-confidence to try doing something worth doing, then maybe it's not for you. No one here can buoy you up or give you that confidence. You have to do that yourself.
     
  14. COmom

    COmom Member

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    Very well said, Hurricane! My son wasn't a superstar athlete, class president, etc. and had nothing on his resume that made him stand out and yet there he is with all of the other 1200 plebes doing just fine. What he did have was the motivation to apply to USNA and then he worked hard to put himself in the best possible position when his application came up for review with the board.
     
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  15. k8zdad

    k8zdad Navy74

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    Outstanding observations and advice. I'm going to pass this to my daughter, class of 17.
    74 alum
     
  16. mom_of_a_candiate

    mom_of_a_candiate New Member

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    thanks

    thank you for your words of wisdom. Very helpful for parents as well as plebes!
     
  17. Glebon

    Glebon New Member

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    Great thread, helped so much
     
  18. Rocket17

    Rocket17 Member

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    Great thread indeed! And I'm late to it... Just joined the forum and I'm finding lots of good reading.

    I wasn't sure, as a newly-recruited BGO candidate (yes we are screened, tested and evaluated), I was ready to re-live the memories. But sure, why not? Especially if I can help a deserving applicant succeed!
     
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  19. F15DOC

    F15DOC Member

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    This is awesome, just read it to my son as we are laying in our beds at the hotel in Annapolis after a day of exploring the Academy...
     
  20. MWM2016

    MWM2016 Member

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    Quick question about plebe summer:

    I currently wear an ankle brace to support my left ankle. I sprained it when I was little and find the support helpful when I run.

    Am I allowed to wear it during plebe summer? If so, do I need a doctors note?
     

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