So Close and Yet So Far

A Very Different Start to the ACYear with CoVid

With so many things being different this year because of Corona virus, the ACyear begins very differently. Sadly, as with all other classes at USNA, highlights of the journey like PPW and 2/C Parents Weekend have been set aside for the safety of Plebes, Midshipmen, staff, faculty, and leadership on the Yard. I have to say that I am very proud of our USNA parents. Beginning with our daughter’s class (2020) and a different although heartfelt Commissioning, to 2021’s delayed Ring Dance, 2022’s postponed (hopefully) 2/C Weekend, 2023’s also delayed Herndon, and 2024’s I-Day and missed PPW, Navy parents have been the epitome of Semper Gumby, rolling with the punches as they have come. I am proud of all of you and having shared in the uncertainty, I do understand how you may be feeling and wondering what else will change. One of my go-to sayings about being a Navy parent and a military parent in general, is that change is our only constant. We are also in training and we are being trained very well indeed!

But as the ACYear begins without much of the pomp and circumstance because of social distancing and other safety guidelines, it is off to a start just the same. When our oldest and our daughter were Plebes, the one thing they always lacked was time! They are given too much to do in too little time – on purpose… Although Plebes will soon have their phones back, you may not be able to communicate as often as you would like. Your Plebe’s company will decide when and if they can use their phone. Even if they can, they will be so busy that they may simply not have time! You may a get a cryptic text or maybe a short blunt reply as they rush through their day and try to communicate. Please don’t take the possible lack of communication personally. They will be burdened way beyond their capacity to meet their obligations – not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything they need to do. This is by design as they learn the art of time management, prioritizing, and sacrificing. They will not be able to finish everything that is on their proverbial plate and will have to choose what they will let go of and not get done…

Everything from Chow Calls, to reciting their rates while being yelled at, to punishments and come-arounds are all designed to add pressure and to train them to keep calm during the stressful situations they will encounter in the Fleet and potentially, during conflicts or war – high stress, lots of information, lots to decide and do, lots to remember, and not enough time to think – all while making split second, life and death decisions. I am amazed how these dedicated young people handle it. Yes, they will fail, but it is important that they learn from their mistakes, dust themselves off and keep going.

One of our Mids told us that once that when they were in the fleet, they happened to be the OOD on the ship. They were navigating through one of the busiest channels in the world. As OOD (Officer of the Deck) they were responsible for coordinating navigation into port with small fishing vessels all around them, full aviation maneuvers occurring on deck, activity in the well deck, and other drills – namely, mayhem. And the CAPT had decided that my Jr. Officer and recently former Mid would lead the way and be in charge of the LHD and its crew . He had to navigate the ship successfully through all of that, keeping track of who and what was where, making sure not to run into the fishing vessels and cargo vessels, and had to bring the ship into port and dock it in one piece with no incidents. It was one of the most stressful moments of this young person’s life, and trust me – they have had plenty of them!

All of this to say – trust the system and be patient! Your kids will be very busy. Also, be ready to listen – they may be stressed out and need to vent at some point too. Know that they will communicate when they can. I was very pleasantly surprised plenty of times with an impromptu text or call.  It was very hard being very close to all of our kids not hear from them regularly. But  this is the time when they learn to grow up and as parents, we need to learn to do that too. It will all be so worth it in the end!

As far as the ACYear, some Plebes find it more stressful than Plebe Summer, because they are on their own and responsible for determining where they need to be, when, what to bring, what needs to be prioritized and how, and not enough time to get this all accomplished. Instead of having their Detailer guide and take them where they need to go, at the time they need to be there, with all the things they need to bring along, now it will be up to them. What is most important that must get done, what can they sacrifice?  The only thing I can tell you is that the Company, platoon,  and squad come first. They will have to have their Company mates’ back…

Something we also need to keep in mind as parents is that your Plebe will depend on their Company’s rules and culture.  Every Company is different, so where you Plebe may be required to do something one way, their friend may not have the same requirement or may do things in a completely different way.  As previously mentioned in other posts, things will be Company dependent so your best source of information once the ACYear begins will be YOUR PLEBE.  Don’t be afraid to ask, but you will need to learn to prioritize your questions as well. What can wait until a later time? Do they need to know this specific thing with an exam or test looming before them? Is it a question that can wait or is it absolutely urgent? Remember that their time is very limited.

The Upperclass give responsibilities to their Plebes and they will get creative thinking of things for Plebes to do in order to obtain their signature. My Mids had to sing, impersonate, recite and do a myriad of things to get his signatures, but for the most part, it was good-natured fun, although not always easy. Another Plebes responsibility are the Firstie Boards (bulletin boards). They will either be assigned a board to do or will be able to request a board (depends on Company). They will be given a deadline and they will have to complete the board according to a predetermined design (again, depends on Company). If the board is approved by the Firstie and Training staff they are good to go, but both of my Plebes have had to re-do their Boards for one reason or another, so don’t be surprised if that happens too.

With football season (if we have one!) will also come bets – and great stories! A Plebe can’t refuse an upperclassman’s bet and the stakes are high. Our Plebe had a good football year and won most of his bets. I remember one in particular with a LT in his Company. If the Upperclass won, my once-a-Plebe would have to ninja crawl through the decks all day anytime he was inside a building. Sounded daunting but interesting. If my Plebe won, he would get carry on for his fellow company Plebes for the week. High stakes indeed. Of course, we were oblivious to this and found out later – fortunately, he won – or rather the football team won! Did I forget to mention? Plebes always have to bet on Navy winning – at least that is tradition.

In addition, your Plebes will be assigned a Youngster that will mentor them and be there to help. I chuckle thinking of how my Mids referred to “his or her Plebe”.  This mentoring is part of the mission of the Naval Academy, and for the Youngsters, it is the beginning of the next step – they have learned how to follow and now they will begin learning how to lead.  Your Plebes will be there soon enough!

Also, as the AcYear gets underway, my advice would be that if your Plebe is having difficulty with a class, they should get help early if needed. The Academy is unusual in that the students can ask for help and they will get it – directly from their professor, from study and help groups, friends, roommates, and there is also the Center for Academic Excellence http://www.usna.edu/AcCenter/ where they can get help and tutoring at no cost. It is better to get help early than to have to remediate or be on academic probation.

If they are in a difficult situation or struggling, it is also important to know that they are not alone. Most Plebes struggle with something, whether it be time management, Calculus, Chemistry, or something else. I would suggest that they speak with their CoC (Chain of Command) in their company, let the know what is going in, and seek their advice and help – preferably before it is too late. I firmly believe that it takes more courage to ask for help than not to and work with their CoC to find a solution. All they need to do is ask…

The other thing I would like to mention is that you may eventually hear your Plebe say something like they feel they are not good enough anymore – everyone is better than me! You will have to help reassure them that they would not be at USNA if the Admissions Board would not have thought they were capable… Yes, the Academy is competitive, and yes, there will be those select few that are on “God’s List” 4.0 all the way, but you can remind your Plebe that pretty much EVERYONE at the Naval Academy came from the top 10% of their high school class. If you really think about it, everyone will fall into rank around where they were in high school – at least initially. So if your Plebe was #5 in their class, chances are they will rank somewhere in the middle of the pack – in the 500’s or so, so on and so forth. My husband always explains it like this: It is like going from high school sports straight to the major league sports. It is not that you are not good, it is that everyone there is that good and the best at what they do. It is a difficult thing for high achieving kids to take when they are used to being at the top and all of a sudden they are “just” average. NOT! They are just in the major leagues now!

On Fridays, Plebes have ProKnow (Professional Knowledge) quizzes . They should have sports and intramural practices in the afternoon as well as ECAs (like Glee Club, etc.). If your Plebe is not doing so hot with ProKnos, again, all they need to do is ask. It is good to be aware that depending on the Company, Plebes will either fail or succeed together. It has been known to happen that the consequence for not reaching the required average score for ProKnos (e.g. 90%, and again, company dependent) may be some sort of restriction (loss of privileges). We need to “Embrace the Suck” and know that this too shall pass… My podcast Embrace the Suck and Other Words of Wisdom may be helpful with this.

It is a tough, long road ahead, and our job as parents is to keep encouraging and supporting our Mids. Check out your local parents club for parental support and information, and your class Fb page. the DANT’s Instagram and other USNA official Facebook pages offer useful info as well.

You may also find my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal helpful. It is available at the Midstore! I discuss details about the ACYear and in the Chapter entitled “What Happened?” what to expect when things don’t go as expected. The book also highlights each year through Commissioning and contains things to consider during Plebe year, as you prepare for Youngster Year, 2/C year, and Firstie Year with lots of Commissioning information, ideas, checklists and other resources. And if you are looking for unique N*avy spirit please visit my Shop Navy tab.

I hope this post was helpful and helps you to feel empowered to support your Plebe and Mid. As always, I am here to help! GO NAVY!