The Deja Vu of Scrambling and Shotgunning… Why do they matter?

By AN Shine

To say that the past two years have been unusually difficult would be an understatement. Our Mids, especially the plebes, have had to work really hard to stay motivated and positive. Thankfully, things are beginning to return to some sense of normalcy. In my book, A USNA MOM’S JOURNAL, I talk about things that can happen at the end of Plebe year. With that said, the Class of 2025 is looking at being scrambled or shuffled. So what is the deal with that and why does it matter?

“Old timers” like my Dad will say they had it tough, and they did. But the difficulties faced by Midshipmen during the past two years are on a whole different level. When our oldest was deployed pre-CoVid, the situation in his part of the world required his ship to stay on extended deployment. No port calls, no leave. Communications were all but non-existent, and tensions were high.  Fortunately, I found all of this out after the fact. Outside of the standard news coverage, we had no idea what was happening, which was not good. Having learned to take things with a grain of salt, we patiently waited to hear from our oldest clinging to the adage “no news is good news”. At the time, ignorance was bliss.

For the class of 2025 at least, communications have been up and running and things are back to “normal”. They can communicate with their families which can be both a positive and a negative. It’s great to be able to talk with them every day, but it can be difficult to listen to the ups and downs, especially the downs, the frustrations, the struggles, the uncertainties, the emotions. As a parent, it’s difficult to just sit and listen and find words of encouragement without trying to solve the problem. That is now their job. Sometimes, we may not know what to say, why decisions were made by leadership, etc. We just want to fix it! We have always been the advocates and have always resolved things with or on behalf of our kids. Sadly, this time around parents are out of the loop. All we can do is listen, allow them to vent, try to help them look at the silver lining, dust them off, and encourage them to move forward.

 So what does the decision to scramble (or shuffle) Plebes mean for them? First, let’s define what “scrambling” actually is. You may hear two terms – shotgun and scramble.  Scrambling is when a company’s  group of Plebes, Youngsters, etc. are moved together, as one unit, to a new company.  Shotgunning, on the other hand, refers to scattering all of the  Plebes, from all of the companies and moving each one to a different company – and separating them individually throughout the companies in the Brigade – just like firing a shotgun where all of the pellets go in different directions. Hence the name. 

The transition may be rough at first – their new company leadership has bonded with “their” Plebe class and now they have complete strangers looking at them for leadership. These new charges may have been trained very differently – and mayhave different expectations based on their former company – everything is company dependent, remember? The adjustment period may be longer or shorter than expected, but there will be one and they may feel like they may be starting Plebe Year all over again while getting used to their new company and vice versa, but in the end, the scrambled Plebes will adapt. They have no choice in the matter just as with many orders that they will receive in the Fleet or Marine Corps. Semper Gumby is the thing to hang on to .

It is helpful to look at the thought process behind the decision. Many times these actions are taken because leadership themselves went through one of these options and think it will be beneficial for the particular class based on dynamics, or situations (like CoVid). Perhaps leadership is looking to develop new cultures within each company by allowing an infusion of new individuals with different attitudes and perspectives that may help to create those new company cultures. There are also considerations made with all of the Plebes spending lots of time spent together – Plebes / Mids either grow closer in camaraderie or there are dynamics evolving that may not be as positive. It may not be clear as to what the leadership has in mind when these decisions are made, but I do know the Academy has the best interest of the Plebes and Mids at heart.

Let’s look at what being scrambled or shotgunned means for the Class of 2025. What good can possibly come out of it?

  1. It allows Plebes and Mids to begin with a clean slate. At times, and this happens to all of us, we create a reputation for ourselves based on our attitudes, what and how we choose to do things, or simply because of personality conflicts. For most, this may not be an issue,  but for many it can be. It affects their aptitude ratings and the way they are viewed within their company for one reason or another, especially with their classmates. Shotgunning offers them a fresh start. 
  2. It helps them to learn to adapt to a new style of leadership and to a different culture. Just as each company has a different culture and things are “company dependent” so it goes with ships, squadrons, battalions, units, commands, duty stations – you name it – in the Big Navy or Marine Corps. It is good to develop flexibility and learn to go with the flow when change comes along, which it will approximately every two or so years. Some changes in culture may be drastic – going from an empowering commanding officer who allows his charges freedom (within bounds) to fail and learn. Sometimes the change may be to a commanding officer who is a micromanager that disempowers or has a “punitive” management style. Try to keep in mind that this is not exclusive to the military – I for one have had my share of empowering and disempowering bosses. Just as we are all different in the Civilian world, so are management styles in the Navy.  The more our Mids see and experience these different management styles, the better prepared they will be to deal with these challenges – professionally and personally, and to lead their enlisted Sailors and Marines. 
  3. It helps them to adjust to what Fleet life will be like.  As much as we don’t want to hear it, as parents of kids who may be miserable right now, preparing to serve in the Fleet is the overarching objective and the reason our kids decided to forego civilian college and are active duty military personnel at USNA. They are training to be officers in the Navy or Marine Corps and the more familiar they are with life in the Fleet and the Marine Corps, the easier the transition will be,
  4. It helps them to develop more friendships, extend their networks, and know more people on the Yard. Yup, I get it – this may sound very corny, but it is true! Friends and roomies will remain true lifelong friends. The added bonus that hey will get to add even more close friendships across their USNA network.
  5. It helps them to understand and deal with the fact that the only constant in military service is change. This may be one of the most relevant truths they will learn. The past few years have been full of uncertainty from beginning to end. As Naval or Marine Corps officers the uncertainty will continue regardless of where they go in life, but we truly believe they will be so much better prepared to face these obstacles because of their experience during their journey by the Bay and going forward. 
  6. It should help them to develop a positive, outward outlook instead of a negative, inward perspective. Helping others to adjust, bringing what you have learned to where you are, helping to make things better, more effective, more efficient based on observations elsewhere, are all possibilities. They can become agents for positive change based on prior experience, whether positive or negative. The bottom line – as I always tried to instill in my own children – is not to think “Why me?” but to think  “What about me can I change or improve and what can I learn?” What can I do differently to help change the outcome? If they can’t change the outcome,  then what can they do to better survive it? Because change will ultimately come again and again, looking at things from a growth mindset perspective will be essential.

What about the negative things that can happen from this type of change?  Below are some that I can think of:

  1. They may be unhappy to be away from their friends and from everything they have known at the Academy so far. The familiar will become unfamiliar. If you have my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal and are into prayer, there is a prayer that a fellow Mom and I wrote from my list of things to pray that can be adapted to any year, and that may be helpful in addressing their grievances with God. As a family of faith, we were always very cognizant of praying with our Mids and invariably they felt better. Ask God to go before them preparing the way, showing them the right path, giving them strength and patience, and lighting the way forward.  Either way, prayer or not, when the time is appropriate and they have vented and are ready to listen, help them to see the silver lining.
  2. They may have a difficult time adapting to the new leadership style or culture in their new company. This is a part of building resilience. Doing the things that are hard. Our children have chosen the hard path – in essence, the path of most resistance.  They will need to put their game face on and push through the tough times. Not just at USNA or the Navy or Marine Corps, but in life. As parents, I strongly believe it is our job to get real with our Mids. We need to listen with the intent to understand their perspective. When they are ready to hear what you have to say – which may be a few days – we can encourage them, get them out of their pity party, and help to equip them to face their obstacles and overcome them. For those of you that know the challenges that my Mids and I have faced together – you know what I am talking about.
  3. They may end up in a situation that may not be as favorable. Yes, for sure. If this is the case, resilience, learning through and from their situations, and enduring what seems to be unendurable is the key. Send inspiring stories and quotes for them to read, remind them of the objective – why did they choose USNA? Unbreakable and Lone Survivor for example, are some great stories of perseverance. And know that change will come, it’s inevitable. There is always light at the end of the tunnel just as sure and dawn follows night.  As parents we can support them through it and pray that those changes are favorable. 

In this case, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. I can tell you from observation that there are classes that may have benefitted from being shotgunned or scrambled. Sometimes it would be better for a Plebe class with less than positive dynamics that evolve during Plebe Summer and Plebe Year and can become a liability, to benefit from an opportunity to make a fresh start.

Know that many are praying for all of the Plebes, that God would give all of you His comfort and protection, and strengthen you for the road ahead, and that He would give the Brigade and the USNA Leadership His wisdom and guidance. In the end, it may not end up being as bad as you think.  I am always here if you need and remember to Be Semper Gumby. GO NAVY!!

“Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

This is adapted from a previous post. Many thanks to Kathleen Rohrs and Alicia Switzer for their insights.

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