Reflections of a Firstie

Discussion in 'Naval Academy - USNA' started by MiddyB, May 4, 2019.

  1. MiddyB

    MiddyB 5-Year Member

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    I have been on this site for some time now. Most of my activity could be classified as simply lingering. I have made some posts when I thought information lacking or certain perspective needed, but for the most part there are great people here with a lot of good insight, thus my posting has been rare. I remember this forum being a great resource during my two year journey trying to get into the Academy. I want to thank those members that helped.

    As my time at the Academy is coming to a close, I think it proper that my time on this forum also come to a close. This post is a brief reflection of my own experiences. In its words, I hope to provide some insight to whomever cares to read it at length and ponder its messages. At times it may seem graphic, other times cynical, and sometimes unbelievable, but it is my naked truth laid bare for all willing to witness.

    The Beginning
    I hail from the Midwest. I grew up on a small cattle farm twenty minutes from a one stoplight town. Service has been a part of my family since the founding of this country (or so I've been told). What I know for certain is that I had a great grandfather in the Pacific, two others in Europe. My paternal grandfather served on an LSD in the Southeast. My maternal great uncle served in Vietnam. My father served as an enlisted man in the first Gulf War, and continues to serve as an officer. My mother claims I came from the womb with a purpose, and that has never changed. It was always my desire to go into the naval service as nearly all the men in my family had. All my efforts in school were driven towards the purpose of going to the Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the Marine Corps.

    The Two Year Struggle
    The summer going into my senior year of high school I began my application to the Academy. I had the 4.0, the test scores, the hundreds of volunteer hours, I was the Captain of two varsity teams, and I was the class president. I was young, confident (perhaps even cocky), and naive. The nominations came easy, so I just waited...and waited...and waited. On April 15, the day of my senior prom, my mother entered my room as I was getting ready with tears in her eyes with that TWE. I was crushed and I was mad. I had sat out my shot at the state tournament in wrestling out of fear of exacerbating a serious muscle injury that might have prevented me from attending the Academy. The countless hours I had spent studying, working out, doing the 'extras' seemed fruitless and pointless. I reluctantly accepted my scholarship to a very good in-state university (my parents' alma mater). Something in me changed. There was a new fire, and a few realizations. I came to realize that all can be done right, and still the outcomes will not be the ones desired. I reflected and came to the conclusion that my goals were out of line. My goal had always been to go to the Academy to serve. In my mind, the rejection translated to my inadequacy, my unworthiness, to serve. I realized my goal should have been service the primary goal all along, with the means by which to enter that service as a secondary concern. It was fuel to the new fire that burned inside me. I worked harder than I ever had before. During orientation, I visited the Marine Corps Officer Recruiting office on campus and expressed my desire to enroll in Platoon Leaders Class. I began classes and began working out with the other candidates every morning. I decided somewhat late in the game that I would attempt to re-apply to the Academy. I opened a new application, though with little hope. I filled out the application in my spare time, and from what I remember, with half-hearted effort. I loved the people I was with, the life I was living, I was determined to go through PLC and prove I was worthy of serving. I contracted Marine-Ground in October of my freshman year. My first semester (18 credit hours) ended fairly well. In late January I was notified that I had been selected to go to PLC Juniors. I was ecstatic, finally all my hard work had been realized to a certain degree.
    February 8, 2015 rolled around. I was at my then girlfriend's house taking a nap, when I woke up I checked my phone and had a missed call. I called it back and a secretary from one of my senators' office answered. She told me to wait. Suddenly the Senator himself came on the phone and said, "I just wanted to inform and congratulate you on your appointment to the United States Naval Academy." I was rocked to the core. I had not followed up on my application since turning in my first semester college grades a month and a half previous. I had written the Academy off and was preparing for OCS. I informed my parents of course, but then I sat on the appointment. For weeks. I loved where I was at, I was on the fast track to what I wanted to do. The Academy, though?! It was what I had always wanted. The Academy, though... an institution that had denied me before, an institution where I'd have to start all over, wait at least another three years before I had any hope of being guaranteed Marine-Ground, something I had attained already. Plus, my reapplication had been a secret to my OSO. The only person I had told was my immediate recruiter, a Gunny. I decided that was who I had to talk to. We were in his truck, driving to a trail where I was to run a PFT. I told him about my appointment. There was momentary silence, then he said something I will never forget. Something that, as I look back, was apparent but I needed to hear nonetheless. Gunny said, "It doesn't matter how you get your commission, what matters is that you commission and lead Marines and serve this country. You just have to look within yourself and figure out which path will best prepare you for that."

    Plebe Summer
    June 1, 2015. There I was, head shaved and being yelled at and berated by detailers. I was ready for it. Who were the detailers to the sergeant instructors my PLC buddies were facing at that moment? I-Day passed in a blur of yells, heat, and absurdity. It was all surreal. "Plebe Summer never ends," they told me. I began to believe them. I was convinced I was trapped in a hellish time warp that would truly have no end. No single evolution was hard. What was hard was the seemingly endless continuity. Even in sleep I would dream I was on the bulkhead or in the front leaning rest or chopping around, only to be woken up to do it in reality. Then, in weak and desperate moments I would think of home, and friends, and family. Those thoughts, though they would eventually strengthen my resolve in later years, were poison on my mind. Just quit, I thought. Go back to that place you know and love. You can take six weeks of OCS in Quantico every other summer, but four years of this? I stayed, if not out of fear of what others would think of me, then out of pure stubbornness and hatred towards myself for having such thoughts of quitting. Luckily, though, Plebe Summer did end...and the true beast arrived.

    Plebe Year
    First day of classes. My classmates and I mustered in the p-way in full NWUs. It was nearing 0500. The ominous company training staff emerged. We sprinted down stairs and continued on to Hospital Point...
    0730. I sat in the head, still sweating bullets that my 30 second cold shower 45 minutes earlier could not subdue, excreting some mostly-liquid hazmat into the toilet. Wet and Sandy?! Surf torture?! On the first day?!! ... We had run back on deck in our filthy, wet, stinking NWUs at 0640. We were expected to be on our deckplates at 0645 ready for chowcalls and to be rated by our upperclass. Oh how I was rated. Useless I was for not knowing the President of Syria. I had devoured breakfast in the plebe fashion. The mix in my stomach with the Severn water I had also previously ingested made for a brew my body could not handle. I just sat there on the toilet dripping sweat. I had Calculus in twenty-five minutes. I needed to get a hold of myself. It's only the first day, I thought to myself.
    Plebe year has since been marked in my memory as segments of bizarre scenes. Doing homework in my rack and under the covers by flashlight because lights out was at 2300. A mouse crawling on my arm as I typed away on my computer late one night. A thousand burpees for a morning workout. Napping in closets behind dirty laundry or in dark, secluded classrooms lest be caught by upperclassmen. Twenty plebes piling into one room on a Friday night to watch a movie while the upperclassmen were out in DTA with the CMOD warning us when Youngsters were lurking about. My girl back home breaking up with me. My first plebe crush months later. Groundfighting, shaving cream bombs, and capturing other company guide-ons in the early hours of the morning during Air Force week. The food fights of Army week. The plebe pit during football games, where uniforms were ruined and noses bloodied all in the name of spirit. Being suffocated under a mass of sweaty, bare bodies as I linked arms with other guys to make the base of human footholds for Herndon. Then it all ended, so quickly and yet it seemed at the time to go by at a snails pace.

    Youngster Year
    I spent my first summer training with an Infantry unit down in Camp Lejeune. During the first weekend, the other mids and I with the unit were invited to a barracks party. It sounded fun. It was different than what we expected, but still fun...until it was broken up by the OOD and we had to sprint to our own barracks in the chaos that ensued. Next was an LHD out of San Diego. Our initial brief made it clear we were an unwelcome presence to be used for menial tasks typically reserved for freshly arrived seamen. While mids on other ships woke up at 0800, went on liberty at 12, and lounged on the beach everyday, we cleaned bulkheads, swept the roughdeck, and turned wrenches. We made up for it all on the weekends, though, in ways one might expect of college aged people in a city such as San Diego.
    First day of reform. A new CO and SEL. The CO was a man of little stature and gave a brief introduction. He was a sub guy who had graduated from another institution. My chemistry instructor was sub guy and he was pretty cool this guy probably will be too, I thought. A week of classes goes by and I saw nothing of our new LT. One night as I was doing homework an email from him appeared addressed to the whole company. I opened the email to see what appeared to be a full introduction to a novel. Something something "not upholding the standard" something something "I will drag this company kicking and screaming to greatness" something something "not deserving the rank of Midshipman" something something "not ready to be officers". Then I came across the final line. That damned line. "You are disappointing me and you are disappointing the Marines and Sailors you are going to get killed." What a thing to say to your brand new company in the first week of being in command and having only talked to them once. The following week consisted of daily uniform inspections at 0530, meticulous room inspections, and full on conduct offenses for things that had previously been resolved with a word of caution by a fellow Midshipman. Hatred burned through the company. Upperclassmen that had previously been the good-for-nothings saw their chance and imitated our new COs leadership to finally garner favor in his eyes. Those who resisted became the objects of special attention. My roommates and I hated what had become of the company we came to love through our trials and triumphs of plebe year. We had finally earned our spot and now it was being turned on our heads. We resisted. And we paid dearly when it came to the COs ranking of us at the end of each semester. I had been in the top ten of my classmates in company throughout plebe summer and plebe year. I was placed in the bottom ten all of youngster year by our CO. I resented him and his form of leadership. He would smile at your face and try to make light hearted conversation with you in person, then you'd go back to your room to find a strongly worded email from him with an e-fry attached for something you had done or said while talking with him but he neglected to correct in person (my roomie's experience, not mine).
    I turned 21 in the spring semester. My grades were great, my physical fitness was good, but the stresses of the institution combined with the toxicity of our company climate led me to the sweet releases of Fleet, Acme, and Buddys most Saturday nights. Even though I experienced it in SDBs, those evenings were the closest I could come to imitating my civilian college counterparts. For whatever reason I felt cheated of those experiences I may have otherwise had, and I desperately tried to attain them. I'm not sure why.
    I look back at Youngster year and I am somewhat ashamed of how I handled things. I felt I had no purpose, I hated my academic major despite doing well in it, and having a leader that I did not agree with (as he certainly did not agree with me) led to a sense of being lost. Depression set in and my chosen way of coping was self-medication by binge drinking. I was irritable and let my emotions get the better of me which drove nearly all but my closest friends away. Luckily, I have long since repaired those friendships, stopped binge drinking, and refound my purpose. However, Youngster year was a long, dark road. It took time and no small amount of concerted effort to get back on track. By the end of Youngster year, I took measure of where I was and was determined to make things right.

    Second Class Year
    The summer was fun. I did a lot of professional reading: classical philosophy, memoirs, histories, etc. 2/C year was going to be my year to shine. PROTRAMID was a blast. I got to fly, climb the side of a ship as it bobbed in the ocean, have a small taste of the rush of battle as I kicked down doors in a MOUT town to the blaring sound of machine guns, helicopters, and prayer music. The weekends were spent lying on the beach and at AirBnB house parties. One weekend, a friend and I rented a yacht. It was late Friday night (or perhaps early Saturday morning) and I was helping him back to the boat from the bar. He was hardly sober enough to stand. He was given the gate code to get into the marina of the yacht, but he couldn't remember it. I had to Colonel Ripley my way under the walk bridge to open the gate from the other side.
    The Ac Year began and I was the Company Training Sergeant. I was ready to get to work with the new batch of plebes. I trained them hard. They were ranked the best in the Brigade. I developed a method of working with leaders (and one in particular) that I did not agree with, I simply did things the right way, not necessarily their(his) way. All was well as I kept my head down, my room clean, and did what I needed to do. My grades were good and my fitness was great due to working out with the plebes every morning. I entered the second semester feeling on top of the world.
    It was spring semester reform and I was working out in the 7th wing meat locker when I got a text from my SEL to come by his office. It was not uncommon, I enjoyed talking to him. He was truly a man of great character and leadership. However, when I entered his office I quickly realized we were not there to chat about ProDev. He informed me that there had been an anonymous report made over winter break claiming that during the fall semester of my Youngster year I had fraternized with two plebes in company. I was shocked and dumb founded. How could someone even think that? I won't get into the gritty details of the case, but I'll try to hit on the main points. The "investigation" lasted many months. My case was eventually elevated from the battalion level to the Deputy Commandant. My investigative officer was the Brigade Conduct Officer himself. I was urged by many to change my plea to guilty or confess to some other lesser offense. I remember a conversation where I was told that if I did not change my plea I was going to be pursued for the maximum punishment available in both conduct and honor. What is honor without truth and justice? I realized the weight of the circumstances I faced. I was a 2/C facing possible separation, but I refused to relent. The books I had read on stoicism came in handy during this time. I would not let external events deter me. I walked into my adjudication to face the Deputy Commandant with the best grades and best PRT score I'd ever gotten. The whole ordeal lasted 45 minutes. My CO did not bother to come but instead submitted his written recommendation for my separation. The letter contained other statements that revealed his true feeling towards me. Luckily the rest of my CoC was behind me. After much questioning and deliberating, I was found not guilty of 6k Fraternization of a Sexual Nature, but was found guilty of a violation of the MidRegs electronic communication policy. Scouring my emails they found an email to a plebe from my Youngster year where the plebe had asked for comic book recommendations and I obliged. I had violated MidRegs by using a professional email for non-professional purposes. I was given 45 days restriction and 80 demerits. It was the beginning of May and I had plans to go to my little sisters high school graduation during my first block leave, but that was no longer possible. I went to my five restriction musters a day in pristine whites for 45 days straight. I picked up cigarette butts out of the 6th wing parking lot. Cleaned Bancroft Hall. Marched miles of tours. I wouldn't say restriction was fun, but the people were great. We were considered by many to be the debaucherous and the shamed, but the Mids I was on restriction with were truly good people. We looked out for one another and formed great bonds of friendship through our common hardships. Because it was summer, I roomed with fellow restrictees in a transient part of Bancroft. They remain good friends til this day. I learned that good people simply make mistakes sometimes, it is what we take away from those mistakes that make us good.
    After my adjudication I did not speak with my CO for the remainder of May. He was leaving to go back to the Fleet. I was ranked second to last by him that semester. After my restriction time, I went home and relaxed before my next great adventure began.

    Firstie Year
    Leatherneck was an absolute blast. It was hands down the best training I have ever received while at the Academy. I loved the rucking, sleeping outside while on FEXs, and being with the other Marine motivators. There were Mids from the Merchant Marine Academy there with us, they were a fun lot. Equals to us in competency and discipline.
    The Ac Year began and the CC and XO asked me to be the Training Officer. I reluctantly obliged. I had wanted to be a squad leader. The Company's new CO was young, but seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. I interacted with her with caution after my experience with our last CO, but that soon evolved into a mutual relationship of trust and respect.
    The Plebes were good kids, but collectively not very bright or physically gifted. They struggled to complete their tasks at all, let alone on time. There was no sense of team but rather individuals trying to accomplish duties that could only be completed with a combined effort of the group. I had to start from scratch and forge them together as a team. I spent hours with them during EMI and my own liberty hours to get them where they needed to be. I am proud to say they improved drastically throughout the semester. They grew leaps and bounds. I was constantly reprimanded though. The military is a results driven world. My previous record with training set the bar at the highest level, and I was chewed out for not getting the current plebes to that expected level of achievement. I took it in stride. The work of training was exhausting, making the plebes functioning Midshipman and ones which would continue self-improvement after I was gone became my primary objective. I spent many sleepless hours evaluating and re-evaluating how I could go about doing that. All this was going on while trying to complete my capstone by December and continuing my theme of good grades and physical fitness. My favorite memory came from first semester. There was the usual company tailgate after the football game. It was cold and windy, but we had beer and a karaoke machine. It seemed our whole company was there. We laughed and sang and partied well into the night until we were the only souls in the parking lot. I had always believed my company was special. We had been through so much and supported one another through thick and thin. We are a family, and we love each other. I always knew it, always felt it, but there it was in its purest form. In November, my dreams had been realized. I was selected for Marine-Ground. I just might make it after all.
    The second semester began and I was finally given a squad. I loved interacting with my small unit and being able to lead on a personal level. I loved Marine practicum class and all my others. The grind of school work did not decline, but its routines had become easy. I had excess time to play pool in town while on weekday liberty, sit and play cards with other firsties, help plebes with their academics. It's all finally coming to an end. I have the respect of my superiors, peers, and subordinates. I'll be graduating with above a 3.5 and in the top third of my class, despite two years of subpar aptitude rankings. In June, I'll begin my career by humping through the hills of Quantico and learning how to lead Marines.

    The Academy will not be what you expect, rather it is what you make of it. You will see examples of bad leadership and good leadership. You will experience frustration and pride, failure and success, happiness and discontent. You will come to love and hate the Academy. For me, time has gone by so slowly that my life before it seems a lifetime ago. Perhaps it seems slow, not because of time, but because of how much I have grown. I hope, in the years ahead, when I recall this place, I remember the good.

    I was asked by one of my plebes if I would do it all over again. I do not regret my decision to come to the Academy; it has made me who I am today. However, doing it once was enough for me.

    I will be open to any questions on this thread or PM for a few more days before I retire from the site completely.
     
  2. BarryD

    BarryD Member

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    Errah. Enjoy the beautiful highlands of Quantico.
     
  3. Capt MJ

    Capt MJ 10-Year Member

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    I so enjoyed reading this, thank you. It was a glimpse into the nitty-gritty of military life - the good, the bad, the ugly, the silly, the petty, the wonderful, the grind.

    I am so pleased you are on your path to Marine ground. You have had excellent training on how to get through the good, the bad, etc., because you can’t escape it. Use your sense of humor to remain resilient and adaptive, and continue to take care of your people.

    I had to laugh when you said “doing it once was enough for me.”

    Come back in a year, please, and let us know how TBS went and which MOS you went to.

    Best wishes for every success.
     
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  4. 23Lt

    23Lt Member

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    What was your Academic Major? @MiddyB
     
  5. ders_dad

    ders_dad Member

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    This paints a very bleak outlook of the Mid experience. Is this typical? Are CO’s with that level of incompetence allowed to oversee Mids? Are honor investigations like you described typical?
     
  6. Aina Haina

    Aina Haina Member

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    Thank you for this honest and thoughtful reflection of your journey. While all MIDN have a unique experience through their four years, I want to thank you for so vulnerably sharing yours.
     
  7. MiddyB

    MiddyB 5-Year Member

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    I was originally a Political Science major. I did well in the classes and found them interesting, but I had no passion for it. I switched to History in the second semester of my Youngster year. It was a great decision, as I love studying history. If I ever leave the gun club, I might pursue a Ph.D in it and teach.

    My post was not meant to paint a black picture, rather one with all the colors of emotion and experience. With any given population, leaders included, there will be good and bad. I have seen great examples of officers, and bad ones. I am thankful for the bad ones, in my experience they have just as much to teach you as good officers. My investigation was in conduct, not honor, though I was told if things went badly, honor might be included. In my opinion, my experience with the conduct system was very atypical.
     
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  8. Capt MJ

    Capt MJ 10-Year Member

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    It is one big leadership lab. The 30 company officers are still junior officers, many who went to 1-2 year training pipelines before actually being responsible for anyone when they went to an operational billet. They are learning as well, and there are those whose leadership toolkit needs filling out. As a BattO at USNA, I spent a significant proportion of time coaching my 5 company officers, and to a lesser extent, the 5 SEL, who had never been around this particular demographic in such numbers.

    As a post-command O-5, I learned advanced leadership skills from the Dant and the Supe, a widely respected flag officer, as well as the O-6’s around the Yard. The leadership learning never stops; if it does, hubris has kicked in.

    @MiddyB brought up a point I was going to mention - bad leadership styles appear everywhere on the planet. Take a lesson on what not to do, be true to your moral compass, and gut it out.

    Company officers do get disciplined and occasionally removed for egregious conduct.

    None of the SAs, ROTC units or the services in general is 100% of the time like the patriotic scenes, glorious waving of the flag and stirring background music in the promo videos. Pure and simple, there is a lot of unenjoyable time. Hence, “embrace the suck.” “USNA, bad place to be, great place to be from.”

    MiddyB had some fun along the way, as only mids can have, all those bright inventive minds cooped up and hemmed in by MidRegs. The rear view mirror view will be his fondest for a while, and then time usually kicks in, and the bonds of friendship sustained over the years born of shared misery will generate shared stories and roars of laughters at reunions, tailgates, Army-Navy games watched from the far corners of the world.

    Every plebe, mid, and officer’s experience is different. Much depends on someone’s personality type, tendency to optimism or pessimism, resilience, adaptiveness, maturity, emotional intelligence, sense of humor (and the absurd) and simple ability to let things roll off their backs.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
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  9. Devil Doc

    Devil Doc Teufel Doc

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    @MiddyB awesome post. As requested above, come back and tell us about your time at Camp Barrett and which MOS you get. And I agree, one can learn much from bad leadership.
     
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  10. BarryD

    BarryD Member

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    ADM Roughead?
     
  11. Sydney C.

    Sydney C. 5-Year Member

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    Well done and well said MiddyB! You and I go back to the beginning of this saga and have come a long way.

    Allow me to also offer heartfelt congratulations to you and thank you for sharing your journey.

    Best wishes to you young man as you begin this next phase of your life.
     
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  12. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Super Moderator 5-Year Member

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    MiddyB, great post and thanks for taking the time to give your perspective. So many parts of it reflect a lot of my time at USNA. I didn’t take it as bleak at all. It’s hard to understand 100% unless you have lived in those walls. It is a grind. I had 3 company officers in my time. One is now an Admiral and was solid, the other two sucked. We actually really didn’t have one our 1/C year as he got pulled back to the fleet early. We had a Gunny the whole time, he was amazing. Best leadership lessons I had in how to enforce a standard. From a former fellow restrictee, to another, congrats, welcome to joining the other side as you become an OG. Enjoy the last few weeks they are a blast. TBS has its highs and lows... leatherneck will definitely have you prepared for it and USNA will have you very prepared for some of the stupid games they play.
     
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  13. usma84

    usma84 Member

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    MiddyB, THANK YOU for such an open, transparent depiction of your journey. There are some great replies. I’ll only add that it’d be good for you to reconsider retirement from the Forum. Think of how you could help encourage future Mids who face similar struggles! Best of luck to you!
     
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  14. 5centsmom

    5centsmom Member

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    Congratulations!

    And thank you. I find your words to be uplifting and full of timely reminders for our DS’ current situation. You are obviously gifted in self-reflective thought, and sharing the wisdom you’ve gained was a gift to us.

    It’s obvious you will be a successful leader. I’m grateful you’ve chosen to serve our nation. No doubt you will inspire others!
     
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  15. justdoit19

    justdoit19 Member

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    Awesome post.
     
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  16. Wishful

    Wishful "Land of the free, because of the brave..." 5-Year Member

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    Ditto
     
  17. Just Dad

    Just Dad Member

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    I started to click "like", but it just didn't seem enough. Thankyou for your post Midd B; so much ahead for you. Go get em Kid!
     
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  18. AROTC-dad

    AROTC-dad Moderator 5-Year Member

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    This was one very wise Gunny.

    Middy B was instrumental in giving my DS tips on the CFA and has repeatedly helped others on this forum over the past four years. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be an outstanding Marine officer.

    Congratulations Middy! Please don't be a stranger and occasionally share your Marine career experiences with us.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2019
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  19. TheNimble1

    TheNimble1 New Member

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    @MiddyB - can't thank you enough for your insight, candor, and transparency. As has already been said, please reconsider your decision to leave the SA forums. You have an opportunity to positively impact so many through this medium. Thank you for all that you've done, and all that you will do.
     
  20. Old Navy BGO

    Old Navy BGO 5-Year Member

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    Congratulations Middy B....

    I was just walking through the Yard the other day, and one thing you will learn ..it's a lot better the longer you are out !

    I read this post the other day, but was unable to post while traveling. My initial reaction was the same as CAPT MJ -- I use the leadership laboratory analogy all the time, and it is very true. Midshipmen truly see "The good, the bad, and the ugly" at USNA, and every grad can tell you stories about and ugly. The bad and the ugly exist out in the Fleet as well., and by experiencing it at USNA , you have the advantage of avoiding their mistakes as well as learning how do deal with it.

    Best of Luck to you !