The AC YEAR BEGINS
When my kids were Plebes the one thing they lacked was time! They are give 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, and even if they can, they will be so busy that they simply won’t have time to do so!
You may a get a cryptic text or maybe a short blunt reply. Try to keep in mind that they are trying to communicate while they rush. Please don’t take it 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 also by design as they learn the art of time management, prioritizing, and sacrificing. They will not be able to finish everything and will have to choose what they will let go of and not get done… possibly even fail.
They are being trained for 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 – split second, life and death decisions. I am amazed at 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.
Be patient! They will communicate when they can. I was very pleasantly surprised plenty of times with an impromptu text or call. The lack of timely communication was very hard for us with being so close with all of our kids. 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 now responsible for determining where they need to be, when, what to bring, etc. What do they prioritize and how? What is most important: what can they sacrifice? The only thing I can tell you is the Company, platoon, and squad come first. They will have to have their Company mates’ back… So instead of having a Detailer take them where they need to go, telling when to be there, and what they need to bring, now it will be up to them and possibly their roommates.
Something we 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 your 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. They will depend on their Company. That means that 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 as well. Is it a question that can wait until the weekend or is it absolutely urgent? Remember that their time is very limited.
The Brigade Reform is this Thursday and “HELL”-O night will be soon thereafter. Until HELL-O night, the Upperclass are not allowed to interact with the Plebes. They may see them but will most likely not speak with them – unnerving, I know! The upperclassmen are jumping at the bit to meet their company Plebes and they will get creative thinking of things for Plebes to do to get their signature (a Plebe requirement in addition to Firstie bulletin boards and ProKno quizzes – usually on Fridays). My Mid 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 thing that Plebes will be responsible for 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 will also come bets – and great stories! A Plebe can’t refuse an upperclassman’s bet and the stakes are high. Our first Plebe had a good year and won most of his bets. I remember one in particular with an Upperclass 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 but fortunately, he won – or rather the football team won! He also had the honor of wearing the Upperclass Mid’s bars and of being in “the wedge” with sword and every in hand during noon meal formation! My Mid then chose to follow suit and repaid the favor. He did the same thing on a bet with a Plebe when he was a Firstie.
Did I forget to mention, Plebes always have to bet on Navy winning? At least that is tradition. Once when I was visiting the Yard, I noticed a Plebe standing on Stribling by Tecumseh with a huge sign that said “Free Hugs”. The Plebe had lost a bet and no one was going near him for fear of getting him into trouble. The Mom in me kicked in, and I went over and chatted with him a bit and gave him a hug as a MidMom. I got my free hug and found out that he was a friend of one of my then-Plebes! In my daughter’s company, a Plebe that lost a bet had to be the bathroom butler, in their Mess dress, towel over arm, offering paper towels, mints chocolates, etc.
In addition to all the “fun”, 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 “their 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 and they take it very seriously. Your Plebes will be there soon enough!
As far as academics are concerned, when 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 – from their professor, from study and help groups, friends, roommates, and there is the Center for Academic Excellence http://www.usna.edu/AcCenter/ where they can get help and tutoring at no cost. The Academy wants them to succeeed! It is better to get help early than have to remediate or be on academic probation. All they need to do is ask… Also, in my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal, I have dedicated a chapter to what happens when things don’t go as expected. You may find it a good read.
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 or I don’t belong here! 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 is top 10% of their 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 may 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 major league sports. It is not that you are not good, it is that everyone there is also 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, doing everything well, and all of a sudden they are struggling or “just” average. NOT! They are just in the major leagues now!
Finally, some dates to keep in mind – Halloween brings a great concert worth attending at least once in during the four years, and in December the Glee Club has a wonderful performance of Handel’s Messiah – early Dec. If the Yard is open and you have to choose, definitely plan on being there for the Herndon Climb in May. It is SO worth it!
If you have not yet joined the Naval Club (O-Club), I would suggest that you consider doing so if you are able to and if it is the right choice for your family. Since it is on the Yard, you may be able to have dinner there with your Plebe if you happen to be visiting on a Friday early evening, which we often did – check for the latest reservation time available and check with your Plebe beforehand. Your Plebe will have to get permission from their Chain of Command, but they can have dinner with you since it is on campus. We always flew in on Thursday or Friday and had dinner with our Mids at The Alley downstairs. His roommates and sometimes friends would tag along. Sometimes it is the friends that came and they would bring food to our Mids because of ProKno quizzes, Plebe year responsibilities, watch, Glee Club practices, or other commitments. Mids LOVE a free meal and they especially love not having to eat at King Hall. It will be nice for you to see them and their friends and they will love the food and change of scenery.
It is a tough, long road ahead but remember that you are not alone! Our job as parents is to keep encouraging and supporting our Mids. and the job of more experienced Mid parents is to help and support you. You are in the Navy family now! Check out your local parents club for information, parent support, social and care package events. You can also check out my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal with everything that you need to know for each year – Plebe Summer through Commissioning, with lots of advice, heads up, and things to do when things don’t go as expected.
As always, I am here to help and just a message away. GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY!