As you begin your journey, I am sure that you have lots of questions. I know that our family certainly did and we were so fortunate as to have many experienced mentors that came alongside us to help prepare our family for the big day. I will try to post fairly regularly on different topics and experiences that we and/or friends went through as we entered Plebe Summer. I would like to state from the onset that there is no such thing as a silly question. Please feel free to ask about anything – message me and I will post on the question and the topics as they come up. With that in mind, the link to my Podcast Episode 2 is filled with advice and insights for new parents. My special guest is Julie Haller, a USNA Mom of four Mids and USAFA graduate is below.
The first thing to know that I am sure you have also heard is that the journey at USNA is divided into thirds – The first third is Plebe Summer, the second third is Plebe Year, and the following three years are the last third. This helps to give a better idea of the challenges that are ahead.
The second thing to know is that when you face those challenges you are not alone. Parents that have walked before you are here to help and you also have a host of fellow Plebe parents that you will navigate the four years by your side, will cling to, cry with, laugh, celebrate, and with whom you will share your journey.
The third thing to know is that the Naval Academy has your precious children and they are in good hands. They have an effective and proven system and although this year is new and is a test, I ask that you trust the system and trust your Plebe. You raised a great kid that is capable and has prepared for this path. They can do it – especially with your encouragement, love and support!
Finally, if you believe in God and prayer, know that God is on your side! In the coming days I will begin to write about strategies that worked for us as we faced Plebe Summer, and prayer was a big one. Also know that many other parents will help you. I started writing my journal which eventually turned into my book during Plebe Summer and Plebe year. I wanted to “pay it forward” because of all the help, encouragement, and support that we received from parent mentors, so much so, that I wanted other parents to have that as a resource as well. My USNA MidMoms and More website, that is filled with lots of useful information, a resource tab filled with useful links, and of course, my blog. I invite you to use it! And if you ever have a question or feel that a topic is not being covered please feel free to reach out – any time!
Now, what to expect as you embark on this less traveled path? One of the big hurdles to overcome for Plebes and parents alike is to learn to do things the “Navy way.”. That is why our sons and daughters have to get similar or identical haircuts, wear the same uniforms and blend one into the other. The incoming class is as diverse as our nation and even the world. There are typically between 10 to 20 international students that join the ranks too. Some Plebes have grown up in the military and others have never seen or set foot in a military base, like my Plebes. Some class members are former enlisted, NROTC, NAPS or Foundation. But they all have to learn to be on the same page and develop a strong foundation to help them to become Naval Officers.
As far as parents, some are former military, some are USNA Alumni, and some are just plain civilians – like me! – and that is OK. We all come from varied backgrounds. Although I have a long affiliation and history with the Naval Academy I felt like our family was entering a brand new world. We had to learn everything from scratch and found that our mentors as well as our kids became our tutors as we learned Midshipman and military ranks, how to fold laundry “the Navy way” when we did their laundry during visits, learned why they don’t walk on grass or use any of the curved walkways as Plebes, and found that I began doing the same thing – both in solidarity and just because… And learned to navigate the acronyms and new Navy speak. At the end of Plebe Summer you will be able to appreciate how far they have come!
Something that will occupy the majority of your time will be Waldo Hunting. As you diligently hunt through pictures looking for your Waldo, it is important to understand and to remember that a picture is a snapshot of a moment in time. What you may see as an unhappy look – may be just that or it may have been preceded or followed with a smile afterward that is not captured on camera. Maybe you have not seen your Waldo in the pictures. I can tell you from personal experience, that when I have volunteered to take pictures at PEP or other Plebe Summer activities, I do not post every image. Some may be blurry or look like duplicates, so they are not posted – but perhaps your Plebe was i one of those…. Try to think of it this way – not every moment is captured and not every picture taken will be used or posted.
Also, know that some Plebes are artful at avoiding the camera. My Plebes were very well versed in “hiding” or avoiding the camera, or the camera just did not find them – or so it seemed. This is where clinging to “no news is good news” is key. Learning to trust in this saying and really owning it becomes especially helpful not only in surviving Plebe Summer but also when they deploy and there is no news for weeks and months at a time. We are learning to prepare for thsi N*avy Life too and it is helpful to embrace the journey.
After Plebe Summer you will enter the second third of your journey: The AC Year or academic year which will bring a new set of challenges all its own. I will write in-depth about that later, but do know that this is N*ot College. Your Plebes will not be as readily available as we would like and it is important to your shift thinking in that respect. There were weekends when we visited when they had watch, duty or projects and we barely saw them. It is important to keep in mind that they also can’t leave the Yard unless they have liberty which is usually Saturday from 12pm to 11:59pm – usually.
They may also have Yard liberty on Sunday and can’t leave the Yard but may have some free time between cleaning their quarters and laundry, etc. Their duty schedule will be given to them at the start of the ACYear. And you may have heard about overnights – when they get to sleep outside of Bancroft. They will need to request this and be approved in advance and it varies depending on the guidelines set by leadership and their Company. Things change from year to year and where our oldest had overnights pretty much every time the football team won – which was often, our daughter barely had any.
The first time they will be home will most likely be Thanksgiving. Other periods of leave are Christmas, Spring Break, and Intercessionals – between exams and Sea Trials in the spring. It is important to remember that dates and leave may be revised and changed – as with CoVid. All I can say is “Semper Gumby”…
It is important to respect, to trust the process, and follow the rules about no personal contact. As the Yard opens up for visitors, it is critical not to underestimate how difficult it might be for your Plebe to see you. Just when they are getting used to the process and healing emotionally from separation and Plebe Summer limitations, to see you may set them back tremendously during a very stressful time in their life. Or not!! In any case, use this time to separate and grow on your own as well. Read about my Plebe Summer Challenge for Moms and join us, or find ways to stay busy – listen to my podcast!.
As you go through all the pictures and relive moments in your lives, take a moment to find a picture or memory that brings you strength and joy. Keep a picture for yourself and make a copy for your Plebe to include in the next letter or package. Listen to my podcast Episodes 19 and 20 where my friend Julie (2024 Mom) has helpful hints for care packages, letters, and on surviving Plebe Summer. I chose to make a small memory book of their favorite vacations, places that brought them peace, and good memories to remember and remind them that they are strong and that they can do anything when they set their mind to it. I also shared favorite Bible verses, comic strips, and quotes that they could tack on their cork board. Share why that moment is important to you and to them in a heartfelt but encouraging letter.
And remember the mottos that I kept repeating to myself – Semper Gumby and No News is Good News! You are a warrior parent – unfortunately, we need to Embrace the Suck. Our kids are strong and we as their parents need to be stronger. I know that you ARE strong! You CAN be stronger. You WILL be stronger – for them, for you, and for your family.
I will write about ways that can help you achieve this mantra in the coming days and weeks and know that I am just a message away. Hope to see you at the Plebe Summer Challenge!