The Best of Zaphod - Advice for Plebers


10-Year Member
Founding Member
Jun 8, 2006


Do I have your attention? Good. Listen up.

You've been to the Hall as candidates. You've read the literature. You've seen the movies. You've browsed the web sites. You've been to the games. Some of you have had parents or siblings or cousins stand where you are now.

Additionally, you've had your mothers jump up and down in a crazed frenzy you've likely never thought she was capable of at the announcement of your appointment. Some of you may have even gotten lucky with the significant other at the news.

Congratulations. Now get your a$$es back into reality right now!

You are about to embark on the toughest challenge offered by the United States Navy short of BUDS. In some ways, one can argue it's tougher than BUDS, but I won't be the one to make the argument. I just want you to understand that it's not all pretty sailboats, flashy uniforms, and football games.

So, you're the Class President, eh? The President of the Physics Club? The Athlete of the Year? A member of Who's Who Among American High School Students? Winner of Regents Scholarships (for those in my home state of NY)? Winner of full rides to Perdue, or Fordham, or the University of Colorado?


Am I beginning to get through to you?

You need to understand something: you are starting over. Nobody gives a damn what you did in HS anymore. They care what you did on the drill field this morning. No one cares who your parents are, or even if they are Alumni. If they are, you will be expected to be BETTER than your classmates. No one cares how rich your family is. No one cares what titanic deeds you accomplished in HS or before now. It's a blank slate, and the person writing on it is someone else who is evaluating you, not someone who loves you.

You are going to be scared out of your mind. You are going to be moving in ten different directions simultaneously, and will be expected to rattle off required information while doing so. Oh, did I mention this happens seven days a week for ten months? Did I forget to mention you need to hold a 2.0 GPA during all this excitement, while carrying an academic load the equivalent of 40 hours at the schools your less-than-worthy HS classmates are at?

Welcome to Plebe Year, and you haven't even started yet.

Do I still have your attention? Good.

You need to do something TODAY, and you need to do it ALONE. Go off someplace where you can be alone with your thoughts. No noise, especially from still-crowing parents. Bring a mirror. Look into the face in that mirror, and decide right now what you want to do.

Do you want to be a pilot? Yeah? WRONG ANSWER!

You need to want to be a USNA Alumni FIRST, and everything else SECOND. Eyes go bad (mine did). Grades suck (mine did). As such, dreams collapse (mine did). The thing is, the ONE dream you CANNOT allow to collapse is to WEAR THE RING! (Mine DIDN'T. I wear it every day. Screw those who don't like it!)

You need to want to graduate because YOU want it. Not because Daddy did it. Not because Mommy will be sad. Not because your girlfriend gets all hot under the collar at the thought of her studly man coming back in uniform. If you go to the Academy for any reason OTHER than "I WANT TO BE A GRADUATE BECAUSE I WANT IT FOR MYSELF MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD!", then I hate to break it to you, but you WILL FAIL.

So look into that mirror and DECIDE! If you're not sure, then kindly do my alma mater and my tax bill a break and don't bother to show up. Fall out now.

So, how many are still with me? GOOD!

Now, lesson number two is TEAMWORK. Individuals FAIL at USNA. To borrow the phrase, "There is no 'I' in NAVAL ACADEMY". You will have classmates. They are going through the same nightmare you are. Lean against each other. Use your strengths to butress their weaknesses. Think "TEAM" first and "I" NEVER! Classmate loyalty needs to be utterly ferocious (short of violating the honor concept, which would help no one). Do not bilge your classmates. Not only will this tick off the upperclassman (who have learned these lessons the hard way already), it will tick off your classmate, which you cannot afford. You don't even have to like some of them, you just have to accept them as your classmates. Welcome to reality.

Lesson number three: That distorted red face one inch from your nose and bellowing louder than your dad did when you wrecked the family Mercedes was standing EXACTLY where you are two years ago. If that SOB can make it, you can too, right?

Lesson number three: Excellence is the minimum standard. Do everything with that in mind and you'll be fine. Don't, and you'll catch a lot of heat (like I did). I was no ****screen, but I did garner some unwanted attention once or twice.

Roll with the idiocy. Chow calls, come-arounds, bracing up, chopping. All are things that bear no resemblance to reality ANYWHERE, let alone the Fleet. The reason it is done is to see how much emotional flak you can take. You'll laugh later. Trust me.

Understand that your parents love you and that they are prouder about what you are doing than you think anyone has a right to be. Be patient. They will ask questions. Stupid questions. Answer them. They will never understand what you are going through, but you can help them get an inkling. Use them as sounding boards. Vent your rage and frustrations with them. Then apologize, square yourself away, and get back into the fray, because it won't wait for you.

Enjoy the place. I'm serious. When you can, enjoy it. I regret not having done more while I was there, and that was because I was always too tired, or stressed, or broke, or whatever. It's a beautiful place with TONS of opportunities. Take advantage of them.

Don't get cocky, especially among yourselves or anyone else in uniform. You ain't jack until you've been in the Fleet at least three years. Don't forget that. You're wet-behind-the-ears newbies who don't know that there is no such thing as a bulkhead remover or an overhead buffer. If you are so stupid as not to know THAT, then don't expect to be taken seriously as warriors. Instead, be taken seriously by being a warrior-in-training who is willing to learn ANYTHING that will make them a better warrior.

Keep your mouth shut (unless answering rates, in which case you better speak up), and always keep your eyes and ears open and, most importantly, your BRAIN IN GEAR.

I have to get back to work. More to follow.




The lesson continues:

You will be assigned a sponsor. Hopefully yoours will work out. I was unlucky, followed by extremely lucky, followed by unlucky, followed by lucky. Long story. Anywho, the fact remains that your sponsor (if you're lucky) will become your parents away from home. Understand that these folks volunteer for the hassles, so while I don't want you taking advantage of them, don't be afraid to call them if you need them. Believe me, they'll save your sanity! Please do not try to shag your sponsor's daughter, no matter how hot she is.

You need to keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is HERE, NOW. It's not waiting for you in the cockpit of an F-18, or crawling up an anchor chain with SEAL Team Six, or shooting Hadji with the Marines. Before you can do all the cool stuff you see in the recruiting posters and catalog, you have to GRADUATE, and that means passing the physical tests (I hated that part) and getting good grades (I hated that part, too). PLEASE don't make the mistake I did: I spent so much time dreaming about what a scream it was going to be to drive a nuclear submarine right into Ivan's bathtub that my grades suffered and I didn't get into nuke school. I would save you the pain of losing your dream. Keep your head in the game NOW and the rest will follow.

Get out of the Hall to study. Go to the library, or Michaelson, or Chauvanet, or Sampson. It helps clear the brain.

Keep your wits about you. Yes, you will be stressed, but so is everyone else. While your classmates are there to help you, no one likes a whiner. Whine to your parents. Talk to your classmates. Keep your cool. Let the anger at being humiliated turn into a burning commitment to prove them all wrong, and remember that the guy who flamed you during come-arounds this morning put his trousers on just like you did.

Never, ever, argue with an upperclassman. Period. You will lose. Deal with it. Life's tough.

If you have faith, PRACTICE IT!

Do NOT squander what little money they give you! Later your Plebe Year, you will be given a Naval Academy Store Card, which is basically a credit card. DO NOT ABUSE IT. I did, and I ended up spending the first three months of my 2/c year WITHOUT GETTING PAID. Other (smarter) guys received checks in the low thousands of dollars. Get the hint?

Nobody likes a smarta$$. Remember your position on the food chain, which is somewhere just above bacteria. Don't get ratey, don't try to bend the rules unless you are willing to take the heat.

Did I mention you need to study?

Tilex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Mop n' Glow are your friends. To pass the black-sock-on-the-shower-wall test, spray scrubbing bubbles and let sit. Attack viscously with a scrub brush. Repeat. Rinse walls well and DRY them with a towel. Tilex and a scrub brush will take care of the shower curtain mildew. Strip your floor before waxing it the first time (assuming you can find time). The stripper works, but you often need to help it along with a scraper. wipe the gunk up with an old towel, and when the floor dries, you'll see the spots you missed. Keep going until all old wax is up, than apply Mop n' Glow WITH A HAND SPONGE (don't do the stunt of using a mop!). THIN coats, usually three. Your upperclassmen will be tempted to shave in their reflection. DO NOT FORGET TO CLEAN OUT YOUR COFFIN (box on which the frame of your bed sits). Blue wool blankets make them dusty very quickly. (OK, parents, now you know why your son will derisively refer to himself as "An Officer and a Janitor").

Pray that your Plebe Year room is on the zero deck. Chopping up to the 4th deck has been known to result in fatalities. Those are never reported, however, because it is universally accepted that Plebes are worthless. The carcasses of the dead were utilized to create Hospital Point.

Learn to put your cover on without having to stick your fingers between the brim and your nose. Yo look like a dork doing it, and professionals can do it by sight alone.

Assuming they are still issuing the same type of sneakers, they are DANGEROUS ON WET FLOORS. No traction whatsoever.

If your upperclassmen decide one night to have you and your classmates test their raingear, and you know darn well it's not raining outside, then get ready to have some fun at your own expense. (Hint, you'll be standing in the shower in a proud, profficient military manner).

Start using the approved vocabulary (I still do!): Right is "Starboard", left is "Port", the floor is the "Deck", the ceiling is the "Overhead", the lights are the "Overheads" (so when your upperclassmen tells you to hit the overheads, it means turn on the lights, not jump up and slap the ceiling), the walls are "Bulkheads", the bathrooms are "Heads", going to the bathroom is "Making a Head Call".

Speaking of which, you will be issued a small book called Reef Points. Memorize it or die. I still remember parts of that damned book!

You will be expected to memorize the name and home town of every one of your classmates in your company. I wish you better luck than I had; I was and continue to be HORRIBLE at remembering names.

Oh, you'll be expected to memorize and GREET BY NAME all upperclassmen in your company. Nothing ****es off an upperclassman more than being called someone else's name, especially if that other person is of a different sex.

Five basic responses:

"Sir, Yes sir!"
"Sir, No sir!"
"Sir, Aye Aye, sir!
"Sir, No Excuse, sir!"
"Sir, I'll find out, sir!"

Use anything else besides those or a correct answer to a question at your own peril. Yes, you use "Ma'am" for women. This isn't Star Trek. "Aye Aye" is not "Yes". "Aye Aye" means "I understand your order and will carry it out." So, if an uperclassman asks you if fish is on the menu tonight (and it is), the answer is "Sir, yes sir!". If he tells you to find out where his laundry is, the answer is "Sir, Aye Aye, sir!" (then run off and find out). Always ask permission to ask question first, and if you think the answer has any chance of being "What do I look like, the Shell Answer Man?" don't ask it.

Uniform races suck, but the lessons are good. I can still wake up, shower, shave, brush my teeth, dress, and be out my door in 10 minutes if I have to.

Never, EVER, utilize the class number of an upperclassman. For example, if you are in the class of 2010, and a 2/c asks you what class he's in, the correct answer is "Sir, you are in the class of 2010 minus two, SIR!". That also goes if they ask you a question with a numerical answer, and the answer is their entire class number or the last two digits. "Sir, there are 10 minus 2 days until Navy defeats Army, SIR!". You've been warned.


Another bit of dead-serious advice to all you Plebes-to-be:

Be very, VERY wary of any classmate of yours who thinks he/she knows it all, especially about the Academy. Unless they've been there before (and a few have), or unless they went to NAPS (and therefore have reason to know), DON'T rely on them to "get you through".

People like that quickly become labeled as Sea Lawyers, Skaters, and worse. If you want to go through the Academy easily, please stay home. Go in, and do the job to the best of your ability. Follow orders, study what you need to, then do what you think is RIGHT. If you screw up (and you will), at least the mistake will be an honest one and it will be YOURS. It may not seem like it, but upperclassmen will accept honest mistakes that were made by someone trying to do the right thing. What they will NOT tolerate is someone trying to skate, or find a loophole, or trying to weasle. Few things drive upperclassmen nuts faster than that.

Don't try and beat the system. You can't, but you can find ways to make it work for you. Doing that within the scope of the rules is part of the experience AND the preparation.

One other thing: If anything that I have typed above has SCARED you, then a) I'm glad, and b) my offer to discuss things with you one-on-one stands. I will remind you that courage is not the ABSENCE of fear, it is the ability to CONTROL and CHANNEL fear into a useful outcome. If you're going into USNA without some measure of fear, then either you don't really give a damn about graduating (in which case, why are you there?), or you're an idiot.

Take your fear and make it work FOR you, not AGAINST you.

I copied and pasted the posts above from the other place, but not the entire thread. A good deal of discussion occurred, and if I have learned one thing in the past couple of months, it's that some things have changed at USNA since my time. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them.

The tone of the posts is entirely schtick, but some of us here will find it eerily familiar. Just enjoy it as it's meant. For the new Plebes, read and heed.

Just didn't want the material to disappear completely. :biggrin:
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That's funny. Harder only if you have a 15 handicap and you're playing a Pete Dye course with your fellow flyers.
Whistle Pig, CO9Blacksheep HAS completed plebe year. Unless your profile is woefully incomplete, you haven't. He is entitled to his opinion.