Some people may tell you that your son/daughter has to be completely focused and never question their SA Academy decision -
I happen to disagree.
I think it is great that your son is wondering and questioning. Better to wonder now than in August when he is finishing a challenging summer and getting ready to begin a challenging academic year.
He and you may want to read some books - there are some excellent one about the academy experience. Some highlight cadets who have the same concerns as your son and are remarkably candid.
I happen to be reading "Soldier's Heart" by Elizabeth Samet. She has been an English professor at West Point for 10 years and is a Harvard and Yale graduate. Anyway - she talks about how plebes talk about their friends when they come back from break - negatively. Hair a mess, clothes a mess, the perception that all college students are drunken party goers who never study etc...... It is all kind of hilarious in a way but I think it is a defense mechanism. Kind of a way to justify the regimented lifestyle they have chosen for themselves.
When you think about it - what 18 year old chooses to give up so many freedoms in their lifestyle for 4 years?
Keep the lines of communication open, be supportive and understanding and allow your son to express his concerns and even mourn his loss of a "normal" college experience - whatever that is!
I think every kid going to college whether it is an SA or university has 2nd thoughts, the SA is compounded by the thought of committment for the next 9 yrs...think about it, you're 17 and realize that what if I hate it, now I can''t get out until I am 27...very scary, however, what I believe it is called is "buyer's remorse".
I remember when DH was going through ROTC and as time passed his hs friendships started to dissappear. The further you go into a military career, the more your life changes...The 1st time I came home after marrying him I went out with my gf from college and was speaking in acronyms, she couldn't follow the conversation. 20 yrs later we are still friends, but her life is something I have problems conversing with and vise a versa...OMG I can't believe you live without your car for 6 weeks (that's how long it takes to ship it overseas), I am like try living without your clothes I can't understand how she freaks out over her child going to middle school and she can't believe my s will have gone to 9 schools b4 graduation.
Just remember that the military is a very close knit family and that the relationships built at the SA will be lifelong, understanding that might have him feel more comfortable with his choice.
Having gone through this with my daughter last year, I'll say that he's going to be nervous about his decision until he gets there - and maybe after he gets there, too. It's a huge decision for one so young to make. But as JAM suggested, get the books, do the research. It will help him understand the environment that he is choosing to become a part of.
One of the things that d and I discussed was that she wasn't just making the decision to go into the Army, after all she could just enlist or join ROTC. Her decision was between two extremely different college experiences. Once she realized that, she was able to really compare what her expectations and preferences were, and I stayed out of it.
Just to add a little drama. Once my d received her appointment, she started training and ended up inflaming her knee and was subsequently medically disqualified last Spring. While trying to figure out the waiver process, (Big Thanks to RetNavyHM) her going to physical therapy 3 times a week and doing exercises in between sessions, doing all the other pre-graduation and graduation activities, she was one hard-to-live-with kid. The closer we got to R-Day the more on edge she became. I think her being unsure of whether she'd actually be able to go to WP helped her solidify her own doubts as to whether she really wanted to go.
She did receive her waiver the middle of June, so she could report on July 2nd, but she was feeling that she was really out of shape and started to doubt whether she could succeed when she got there. Wasn't sure she could still measure up. I asked her, "Have you ever failed at anything that you've set your mind to doing?" (knowing that she hadn't). The light went on, and the "grumpies" faded away.
She had a really tough "Beast" physically, but when I asked her at Plebe-Parent Weekend (in Oct.), how she was feeling about WP, her response was, "I love it, I belong there."
So, if your son has done his research, and thought through all the implications, and has decided to accept his appointment, then he'll be better able to handle the "challenges" that he'll encounter when he's there.
I have two sons older than my cadet, and they were just as nervous going away to regular universities. They were also wondering if they were making the right decision for them.
Be prepared that the next 6 months are going to be an emotional roller-coaster for him and for you. Then the roller-coaster changes directions and another wild ride starts.
wpmom2011: Thanks for the insight. My D has her appt for AFA and, while she never seems to doubt her belonging there, her Mother and I fret. I am sure it is purely selfish on our part. D has decided that she will travel to the AFA by herself and we will say our good byes at the airport. That should be a day! Did you attend I-day? Anyway. its good to here from a Mom who has been through all of this.
I agree it's perfectly normal for an appointee to have second thoughts at times. Our son had his days when he was very quiet, leading up to I-day. He never really talked about it, but now, 7 months later when I asked him about it, he admits that he was unsure about what he was doing. He now is sure that USAFA is where he belongs, but at the time it must weigh on the kids minds.
We didn't go to I-day with our son. We said goodbye at the airport (his choice). The AFA has a great program called Bed and Breakfast where a sponsor (usually an active-duty or retired officer) picks your appointee up the the COS airport, takes them home and feeds them dinner, gives them a nice place to sleep, and feeds them breakfast before taking them to the Academy for inprocessing. Our sons B&B sponsor also ended up being his permanent sponsor family, and they have been wonderful to him. He is a retired colonel with grown kids and our son goes to their house on weekends when he can. He is like a member of their family, and they even invited our whole family to their house for a barbecue during Parents Weekend.
I did not go to R-Day (Reception Day) for several reasons.
1. The expense of a trip for a 90 second good-by didn't seem to be warranted.
2. I knew I was going to be a mess, so I opted not to "inflict" myself (lol) on my D for any longer than necessary. (She was appreciative of not having to deal with all my emotions while she was dealing with hers.)
3. WP offered a great travel package through their affiliated travel agency. They furnished the plane ticket and flew the kids into Newark. The kids were then put up in the Airport Sheraton overnight (2 to a room), and provided a bus in the morning to take them to West Point. The room and bus were $135, some of which was reimbursed to my cadet. We thought that her using this travel package would give her the opportunity to meet some of the other kids before the rigors of Beast started.
Of course, the next time I was able to talk to her, we didn't talk about her travel arrangements in depth, but I did get a, "It was fine," when I asked.
Being nervous is very normal throughout the process. At first I was very excited, but as the days flew by in the summer, the prospect dawned on me, that my summer in Connecticut would not be fun at all. I have family in CT, so my parents and I visited them for the week, but the day or two before we, we got a hotel room in New London. We didn't want to be distracted by some of the extended family business, but wanted to have some family times to ourselves. My parents tried to keep my mind off of the next morning, but there was little they could do. To compound the nerves, my mother thought it would be a good idea to drive onto the campus and see what it looked like the day before. I wasn't thrilled, but we did it anyway. Driving past Chase Hall at a very slow speed, we crawled by a large group of mean looking people in red shirts with "CADRE" spelled out on the back. We drove slow enought to for them to see my face.
There was plenty of time for doubt, plenty of time for the butterflies to take over, and it won't end on the first day. Throughout the summer you say to yourselve "Do I really want to do this to myself?" During the next four years you will have those days and weeks where that question comes back up. Another question you can ask yourself "Why am I doing this?" When that first question comes up, you can answer it with the second question. For the people who don't have an answer for the second question, they have a hard time.
There were plenty of times I wanted to quit. There were many angry phone calls home, plenty of raised voices and "bad" words (a sailor's mouth), but in the end, I could answer that question.
It's good for your son to keep in mind, there are no super heroes at any federal service academy. They are young men and women, just like your son, who want to serve their country. They all have strengths, and they all have weaknesses. They can use those strengths to negate the weaknesses of classmates. You can't get through in on your own, but you learn to rely and be relied on, to make it to the end.
I remember during that summer we double-timed in formation up this one especially daunting hill, between Waesche and Chase Hall, and the cadence always started midway up that hill, when people wanted to vomit and were gasping for air "We started...together....we're going to finish....together".
That rang true throughout my time at the Academy.
Your son can do it, thousands have before him, and thousands more will after him.
Thank you Line in the Sand and others. Son is already feeling better. Like any major decision in one's life, there is a tendency to wonder if you are making the right decision. He says that he absolutely understands why he wants to attend the Academy - just sometimes hopes he has what it takes to succeed.
I don't know about the other service academies, but West Point continually tells the candidates that if they receive an appointment, then they do have the ability to succeed. After that then it's up to the candidate cadet/new cadet/cadet as to whether they will succeed or not.
I've been very impressed with the "system" that West Point has in place to provide support to each cadet, in whatever area that cadet is struggling with. In academics there is AI (Additional Instruction). The professors actually give out their home phone numbers, each company has an academic officer and tutors, and there is a center that offers classes in such subjects as study skills and speed reading or just extra tutoring. In athletics, it's one of the responsibilities of the upperclassmen to make sure that the cadets are able to meet necessary standards, even if they are the ones to get them up and out for PT. I'm assuming that the other service academies have similar systems.
When talking to my d's NCO at PPW, it was very clear that he knew the status (grades, sports, etc.) of each of the approx. 140 cadets in his company. And the updates he receives are on an almost daily basis. (They are even informed when a cadet is late to class.) Unlike high school where the kids can get lost in the crowd, the cadets are very closely monitored and are very quickly counseled to get them back on course.
The cadet just needs to be willing to ask for and accept help. The mantra from the time they report is, "Cooperate and Graduate," which is what Line in the Sand wrote about. Help others when they need it, and accept help when you need it.
If kids don’t have doubts at one time or another that they can pull this off, they are probably living in fairy land. Maybe they see too much of the short term when they see their college to be pals talking up a “normal” life. Then they make it through their summer training & start doing the coolest things they’ve ever done and begin to see their college counter-parts in a different light. It’s a wild ride to sit back & witness all the changes that take place with an Academy education.
An Academy kid told me that kids at academies are all “freakin’ Einstein’s” while he is not & feels sure the Academy made a mistake in offering an appointment. That kid said this a week ago and is into his third year holding a 3.4 this trimester. Not sure the self-doubt ever goes away. Let your son know that he can do this thing. Its tough but if he commits himself, all things are possible. There is a saying I’ve heard over & over again from kids at my son’s academy: No one makes it through alone. I think that the kids at all the academies pull each other through with the help of some really awesome facility.