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