Looking back from USNA


New Member
Mar 20, 2017
I am currently a Plebe at USNA. It took me a while to get here. Out of high school, I was motivated to go, but got denied and went to NROTC at a great engineering school. Long story short, I met my really amazing girlfriend and I was content with the school and NROTC, where I was doing well. But I still had a desire to go to USNA even though I knew I had a good gig. At the time, I didn't mind spending that extra year to retake many of the same classes and repeat a 4/C year. I said what the heck, and reapplied to see if I would get in. And I did. I was faced with a hard decision of leaving my school and NROTC program and primarily my girlfriend or staying to give up a dream. Well, I choose what my older self would tell my younger self. I didn't want to make a decision primarily based on a girl. After all, I could have stayed for her and then it might not have worked out, and then I would have regretted staying. Or I could stay and possibly have it work out but regret leaving her. Presently, we are still together, but we have really tough days sometimes.

Fast forward through an emotionally brutal summer and I still cannot find out why I thought it was worth it to leave. I disconnected our relationship and put us through turmoil just because I wanted USNA. Well, I have been here for a while, and to be honest, it is not what I thought it would be like. Maybe it is, but the decision I made has clouded my thoughts. People ask me how I had the guts to leave, and that they would have stayed. My SO and I go through emotional times, and we still want each other. And I wake up everyday feeling bad about what I did, and the life I walked away from.

My question is, is this place worth it over NROTC? Was my decision rash? My NROTC company officers didn't have nice things to say about my decision of leaving. The bottom line is that I cannot go back, I would never get another scholarship, and frankly, I still don't think I would give up this place even though I have not found out why I wanted it yet. Sure there are great opportunities here, and we do cool things, but is that worth it over my quality of life? There is a very negative atmosphere here at times... Some people say they wish they went to ROTC, and others see their friends at civilian schools and wish they would have done that also. Meanwhile, I see my friends at my old school doing ROTC and living a civilian life, and at the end of the day, they will end up in the same place that I am.

I want to be a Naval Aviator... It is something I have wanted since I was young. I just need help finding out why giving up everything to go this route was worth it.
Well, first, your decision is made. There is absolutely no point to looking back.

It's possible things might still work out with your significant other, OTOH it may not.

My DS who did NROTC dated a gal from the middle of his sophomore year all the way through college. She pinned one of his bars on when he commissioned into the Corps. The entire extended family thought she was "the one". While he was at his first school (TBS) we set him and his girlfriend up for a long Martin Luther King day in a suite at an exclusive posh DC hotel. On that Saturday she broke up with him. He was devastated for a while.

Even had you stayed in NROTC there is no guarantee it would work out. Eventually you would go through a separation period when you deployed. Best to find out now how the relationship stands up to that separation.

DS met a gal while stationed in California. He shipped to Okinawa a year ago. She flew out to see him this summer. They communicate... a lot... or as much as time differences and their respective responsibilities allow. They even arranged for us to meet her family this past summer while DS was still in Oki. Distance and separation doesn't have to wreck a relationship. It presents it's own set of challenges but it's not insurmountable. People in the military do it all the time.

Again, you have to live your own life and follow your dream. Move forward, don't look back.
Live one day at a time, or even an hour, if that's what it takes to get through. The ac year has just started. Set a goal in your mind to get to - spring break, winter holiday, Thanksgiving, this coming weekend - and promise yourself a good think about things then, including making a deal with yourself you will do your best to examine things thoughtfully.
In the meantime, work on what you can control - academics, making friends, taking care of yourself physically, executing the mission at hand - your duty as a Mid to stay sat in all areas. Life as a plebe is not supposed to be great. Take a look at the firsties and 2/c - do they look like they are handling things, got the hang of the place despite the stress, are having some fun, looking forward to some things, even have lovelives? That is YOU in a few years.

You made a huge decision at a relatively young age, and you went after a dream you wanted. Do your best to take the long view - you want to be a Navy or Marine officer, and USNA believed in you enough to bring you onboard. Now, it's up to you to put the work in. You are living your dream, but it doesn't feel magical. This is life as an adult! Feelings of unease and looking backward are normal. VADM Stockdale got himself through his time in Hanoi by disciplining himself to only worry about things he could control, such as his thoughts and actions.

There are many times in my career and life I have thought "what the heck have I done?" A couple of quotes, always stuck in my wallet, have helped over the years; I put them below.

And - try looking at this road as not "having given up everything." What are you GAINING? Why did you dream of USNA a year or so ago? You have your health, your brains, your will, your determination, a spot in USNA Class of 2021 and everything that brings, the bonds of your classmates, a shot at naval aviation, and the opportunity to find out if the relationship with your SO is rooted in solid feelings, respect for each other's path and maturity to deal with the challenges of distance. Better now than when you head off to flight school, deployments, etc.

And, compartmentalization is a key skill for any warfare officer, the ability to stick the things worrying you in a mental box so you can concentrate on the job at hand.

"Be grateful for each new day, a new day that you have never lived before. Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably. We can squander, neglect or use them. Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

And no author to this one was listed in my original clipping, though someone here on SAF may recognize it, and I will finally know:

"Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow"
There are two days in a week that we should not worry about, two days that should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One is YESTERDAY, with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders. Yesterday has passed; it is forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed. Nor can we erase a single word we said - yesterday is gone.
The other day we shouldn't worry about is TOMORROW, with its impossible adversaries, its burden, its hopeful promise and poor performance. TOMORROW is beyond our control.
Tomorrow's sun will rise either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. And until it does, we have no stake in tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.
This leaves us only one day - TODAY. Any person can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when we add the burdens of yesterday and tomorrow that we break down.
It is not the experience of today that drives people mad; it is the remorse and bitterness for something that happened yesterday, and the dread of what tomorrow may bring.
Let us, therefore, live one day at a time."
DS has interviewed 20 veterans about their experiences. The common thread was a young man saying "I think I've made a big mistake."

All 20 saw it through. All 20 have phenomenol stories. When asked what message they leave to the next generation- they all said to be yourself. Don't get hung up on other people. Do YOUR best.

I share this to only point out that your journey has just started. Follow that instinct and goal yiu have followed and realize you're not alone.
Nothing lasts forever, not even the struggle.

My plebe dreamed of being at USNA from the age of 11. This was a goal that never wavered once. ever. My words of advice on I-day were to Go ALL In. Give Everything You've Got and have no regrets. Our first phone call was not great, my last words that day were, at one time this was your dream, you've been blessed to have it, even if it doesn't look like what you expected give it everything YOU have.

You can't move forward if you are looking back. Give yourself a chance. Get involved and change the negative vibe you are feeling.

I agree talking to a chaplain is a great idea. They have heard it all!

Best of luck!
Yes to chaplains from me too - they are trained counselors, specifically chosen for USNA duty. Their faith group doesn't matter in this role unless it's important to you. It's also confidential to speak with them, unless you pose a danger to yourself or others.
Make some Midi friends, they are what will get you through everything starting with Plebe year and everything else that follows. You have already made it too far to give up on yourself and your dream; when you graduate and look back you will be amazed by the great journey you have just begun..
Most plebes in Sept. of plebe year think they've made a BIG mistake. Or wonder what the heck they've gotten themselves into. Or are wishing they were anyplace else.

The above is not to minimize what you're going through but rather to say that you are not alone. The reasons for struggle vary from person to person (homesickness, struggling academically, missing freedom, missing SO, time management issues, etc.). But it's a struggle and even those who seem to be coasting probably are dealing with issues just the same.

I'd love to tell you it will get better right away, but it will probably take weeks or even months. And along the way, you'll have a series of good and bad days. Hopefully, over time, the good will outweigh the bad until the bad become a distant memory.

Romantic relationships are tough to sustain at any college and especially so at a SA. Many don't survive the four years of USNA -- some don't even last a summer. That said, I know of several friends who had GFs from h.s. and are still married to them 35 years later. Most of us older folks would say that, if it's meant to be, it will endure and, if it doesn't, you are probably better off with whomever you eventually find as a life partner.

For now, focus on being the best plebe you can be and doing the very best you can do. It's hard but it will be well worth it. Then check back in with us in 6 months or a year. I suspect your views, attitude and approach will evolve.
The SAs are not easy. They are not meant to be. Easy does not make you better, and the SAs are there to make you better. The Navy needs you to be better, so it will challenge you. Don't dread the challenge.

Your relationship may or may not last. Now may be a good time to talk about how you two intend to live your lives. Honest and sober discussion isn't always easy, but it does work. Military life often includes separation. Can you both deal with that?

Every decision we make has costs. You can only choose one path at a time. Looking forward, do you like the path you are on? If so, keep going! If you decide, in the most brutally honest and in-depth way, that the path you are on is not the right one, change it. Don't take that decision lightly, because some paths only present themselves once.
I'll try not to repeat what others have said but try and add a different perspective.

For one year you were part of a traditional college experience, you were in NROTC but at the same time had more freedom to explore college and all that life had to offer. The switch to the USNA is huge and probably a shock to your system. You no longer have that freedom and your now looking at another 4 years instead of just 3 more to commission. There is no more just hanging out with friends after classes, going where you want when you want and your free time is not really free anymore.

The above is probably what you're feeling right now and it's what is making you second guess your decision, and that's very understandable, but now for the upside.

The great thing about being young is that you tend to move on quicker and adjust faster to new challenges. You've just started your plebe year and it's tough but in time it will get better, not right away but it will. As others have said you're not the first to second guess your decision and you won't be the last. For you it's a little different because you had a taste of the other side, but that too will pass. Give it some time, soon you will get into a rhythm and before long you won't be able to imagine yourself anywhere else but where you're at, you will have moved on.

My sons looked long and hard at different schools before finally picking one, for the first couple months they would sometimes question whether they made the right choice. Once that passed and they were all in, they both said they knew they were where they belonged. That will happen to you as well, before long your first school will become a memory and you'll be so involved with the USNA that you won't give your decision a second thought.

As far as the girl friend, all I can say is that you're most likely 19 years old, you're just beginning your journey as an adult, and what a journey that will be. Don't let it effect your decisions.

We all try and make the best plans we can, fret over our decisions and second guess our choices, it's in the nature for those with goals. I saw a couple quotes that were posted above and would like to leave you with one of my favorites..

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” - Allen Saunders / Made famous by John Lennon
Interesting perspective, bn09. Thank you for sharing. My DS is on other side of the mirror - currently in the NROTC program while deciding whether to re-apply to USNA. Similar to yourself a year ago, he is happy where he is but still hears the call of a distant trumpet and wonders. It is a tough discernment process that only he can make.

I have the utmost respect for you after reading your post. Believe it or not, you present a degree of self awareness that eludes many folks twice your age. That alone offers reassurance that you possess an inner strength that will help you sort this out.

I want to think that you will be fine once you successfully complete plebe year; but that depends on your state of mind and inner peace over the next several months as you encounter the inevitable challenges ahead. I strongly agree with the suggestion that you consider a visit with one of the USNA chaplains. As wonderful as this forum is, you will feel better and in more control if you speak with someone trained for this. I have a feeling the USNA chaplains are well equipped to help you sort through your feelings. You are on a road previously traveled by many.

I pray for my DS every day. I'll add you to that list. Take good care of yourself and hang in there.
Thank you, everyone. Many would think it would be easier for me considering my loyalty to this place. But, because of the route I went, I had a small taste of another commissioning source, which many people here don't get. One thing that helps me come to terms with where I am is helping those people who are looking to re apply from ROTC. I know I would have liked to have that option when I re applied.

With that said, there are other ROTC kids here who have forfeited their scholarship. Specifically, about five from exactly the same place I came from. One who is also a Plebe. Most of them feel the same way, but also really love this place at the same time. Something we all agree on is that in another 20 years none of this stuff will matter. In fact, we may look at this and realize we did something that was worthwhile. Something that a college kid wouldn't typically do: give up fun and a "comfier" life. I know it is definitely worth it, no matter how cynical or negative people at this school get. USNA opens doors and develops you in ways no ROTC program can. The opposite argument is that USNA kids lose that 'real life' aspect, and have a hard time learning how to transition to normal life. In my opinion, I have the rest of my life to figure out that 'real life' aspect. In fact, I lived it for a year, and I had zero problems, it was actually pretty easy simply because I remained disciplined. I thrived. That's not to say that last year I had it easier. I was just as busy but in a different way. I said, "I got this down, I should go somewhere where I will be challenged." I never really once questioned my quality of life. Although it is nothing major, it really sucks being at a school you are unsure about, especially coming from a place you liked better.

Truenorth, if your DS would like to talk to me I would encourage him to. People like me are hard to seek out. I know it is something I would have liked. In general, something I did was not look at the prestige of USNA. Often times the prestige is actually questionable, and it's kind of pointless. But rather look at how this place can benefit you. For instance, you will be light years ahead of your college friends or NROTC peers in terms of maturity, character development, etiquette, naval knowledge, and how you carry yourself. You will get much more summer training, which I like. You WILL travel to tons of different countries, even during your first summer cruise. You will meet a bunch of truly amazing people. For instance, we talked to the MCPON, the commander of the USS Cole, the CNO, and tons of other great leaders. Everyone here is on the same schedule and has the same goals, which is truly a sight to see. It is an experience no one but us will have. These are all things you won't get at ROTC. But, it is a big price to pay if you love where you are. If I had to go back and make the same decision, I still have no idea what I would do. It is hard to see my NROTC peers move on to be 3/C and continue their college careers at a school I enjoyed, most of the time. On the flip side, this is a once and a lifetime opportunity, and I am glad I captured it.

Also, I would tell him not to meet an amazing girl ;) That is part of the reason I struggle a little. If I didn't know her, I would have been over this weeks ago. But, she has changed me.
Look forward ...not back... the decision was made, and there is little if anything you do that can reverse it. (This holds true with so many decision in life )

I will try to avoid repeating what others have said, but a couple thoughts ---

1) Being a Plebe sucks...no matter how you look at it. Plebe year is long and emotionally draining. However it is rite of passage that many of us have made it through, and you will look back and remember all the good times, and quickly forget the bad. (As a Corollary, there are times that the remaining 3 years at USNA suck...but not so bad, and you will really forget the bad times when they are outnumbered by the good).

2) Keep an eye on the objective , earning a commission and getting your wings. Attending USNA will not make you a better Naval Officer --but it does give you some great experiences and perhaps a better chance of getting flight training than you would have at NROTC.

3) Probably the most important thing you can get from USNA is your Classmates -- might be hard to understand now, but you will recognize it 30 years from now. The bonds formed as a Plebe (primarily because of comment 1 above) run forever, and I have seen numerous intstances where my classmates have stepped up and helped others through some trying times. I don't think you will see that level of bond and loyalty anywhere else.

4) WRT relationships --it will work or not work, regardless of where you are. Long distance relationships are difficult...I met my wife when I was at NAPS , we dated through 4 years at USNA, married a week later, and celebrated our 32nd Anniversary this summer. If she's a keeper (and more importantly, if she feels the same way about you ..it can work.

Good luck....keep driving forward.
Also, I would tell him not to meet an amazing girl ;)That is part of the reason I struggle a little. If I didn't know her, I would have been over this weeks ago. But, she has changed me.

This may come off as cynical, but those of us who've lived many years have see "amazing" SOs come and go. In some cases, as with Old Navy BGO and some of my friends, the relationship does indeed last a lifetime. Sadly, for about 75% who fall in love before or during USNA, it doesn't last long. And I can promise you that, at the time, each of those thought he/she had found a lifetime partner.

When you're 19 and in love, four years seems like forever. However, in terms of an 80-year-old life, it's a blip. You and your GF will both mature and change in the coming years. That will either solidify your bond or destroy it. Either way, best to find out.
I tell our USNA sponsor mids "these are your shopping years" in the late teens and early to mid-twenties. Look around, be open to new people, understand that your tastes and needs change, just being you single is absolutely fine and you don't need to be joined to another person at hip and device to confirm your own worth.

We have many great laughs here at the house when grads come back to visit at the ancient age of 26, and I ask them about BF/GF from the SA or HS. They often say they are totally different people now they are out in the Fleet or Corps, and they mostly say they don't regret those relationships, because they learned a lot. Many comment they hung on far too long to that first serious relationship because they thought there might never be anyone else. They also have a more realistic idea of everyday relationships as a working adult.

Of the 120 or so mids we have sponsored since 1996, here are the stats:
- 1 is married to HS GF, happily so with 3 kids
- 1 prior enlisted is married to the GF he had before going to NAPS and USNA
- 24 have married classmates or other USNA grads
- 100% of the women who are married, married another officer
- 8 have divorced, almost all of whom got married within a year after USNA graduation, staying married about 2-3 years.

Just culled those from the Contacts file.
Plebe year is hardest, each day will be better!

You have your entire life to attend civilian colleges but only one chance to attend USNA!

If she is meant to be, the relationship will work out. If she can't understand the demands of Plebe year & don't support you? Let her go:)