Based on the book, A USNA Mom’s Journal: Plebe Summer through Commissioning and Beyond! What You Need to Know, by AN Shine.
It is no surprise that USNA is known as N*ot College. Each year brings its own challenges to overcome and successes to celebrate. Here is a glimpse of what each year looks like as Plebes and Midshipmen progress through their years at the Academy.
Fun Fact: It is said that the journey at the Naval Academy is divided into thirds – the first third is Plebe Summer; the second third is Plebe Year; the last third is the remaining three years.
Plebe Year or 4/C year, begins with I-Day and the seven weeks of Plebe Summer. Plebes begin their road to training and learning the skills and tools they will need as future Naval Officers. During the seven weeks of Plebe Summer all Plebes are challenged and strengthened physically, mentally, and morally as a part of the mission of the United States Naval Academy. From daily running and morning PEP to memorizing Reef Points and fulfilling their responsibilities, Plebes learn very quickly to work together and to do things the Navy way right down to folding their clothes. Many of these things may not make sense now, but everything has a rhyme and reason for being.
During the Academic year the physical training continues, alongside their academic studies, physical, athletic, military and professional training. Plebes learn to prioritize, manage their time effectively, and the meaning of team work – “I” does not exist anymore, it is about working as a team. After with Plebe Parent Weekend the Brigade of Midshipmen reforms and Plebes learn to juggle Chow Calls, chopping, squaring corners, learning to keep their eyes on the boat, ProQuizzes, Come Arounds, dress parades, six-week exams, 12-week exams, declaring their major, Sea Trials and the Herndon Monument climb. All of this and also their duties, keeping watch, Alpha inspections, athletic responsibilities and training, and whatever else is thrown their way, makes for an exhausting year! Plebe year is filled with challenges but can also be very rewarding, building confidence and maturing these young men and women, on their way to becoming Youngsters.
Youngster Year or 3/C Year – I remember being on the Yard on I-Day and watching two young men who were observing the Plebes getting off the bus by the back of Bancroft Hall. They had a serious, yet relieved look on their faces, so I decided to ask them what they were thinking. The two young men replied,”We’re just glad it’s not us anymore…”.
That is the perfect sentiment for the Youngster Year. They are Third Class Midshipmen, and although they still have to wear their uniforms when they are out and about in Annapolis, this is the year when they focus on their academics, any leadership opportunities that they are given, and athletics. They begin taking classes within their declared major. It is another transition year as they acclimate to NOT being Plebes and actually become “upper classmen”, and become mentors to the incoming Plebe class. Youngsters have survived Plebe Summer, Plebe year and are Midshipmen in their own right.
I personally think of this year as the year when they are “invisible” in a manner of speaking. Plebes are enduring Chow Calls, Pro Quizzes, Come Arounds, Chopping among some things. Second Class are busy fulfilling leadership requirements, planning, leading, teaching and assisting First Class with Plebe training , Firsties are busy with hands-on training and mentoring of the Second Class and of the Fourth Class, academics, Service Selection, Service Assignments, Commissioning, of course, and looking toward going out into the Fleet for their next opportunities. Youngsters focus on what they need to do to perform well in all areas.
Youngsters are now allowed to take overnights on Saturday, a great plus when family and friends come to visit, and with their Sponsor families who will typically maintain what usually becomes a lifelong friendship even after Plebe year. There is also an honored ceremony that takes place Third Class Year – their respective Link in the Chain class will join them and give their USNA commissioning rings to be smelted with the gold to be used for the Third Class Midshipmen’s rings, thus making the bond between the classes, 50 years apart, permanent. It is a wonderful tradition!
Second Class or 2/C Year – Well, they have survived Plebe and Youngster years and now they get to develop into mature leaders in their own right. Second class is the year where the Second Class truly get hands-on opportunities to further develop and enhance their leadership skills. They are directly assisting with the training of the Plebes under the watchful eye and diligent mentoring of the Firsties. They will sign their “2 for 7” Commitment before they begin the AC Year to continue at the Academy for two more years and to serve for 5 years after Commissioning, although length of service varies based on the service community. This is a highlight of their time on the Yard and although it is closed to the public, their Link in the Chain class will be present.
It is a good idea to find out the dates for Second Class Parents Weekend and they order their class rings, which they can officially wear after the traditional Ring Dance, usually held the Saturday before Commissioning, where their ring will be “christened” by waters from the Seven Seas. Firsties and their families can also begin to think ahead to First Class year. Families can begin to consider arrangements for Commissioning accommodations and preparations by attending the Commissioning 101 conference in Annapolis during President’s weekend.
Second class year is also when Mids can finally leave the Yard in civvies, they can have a car but can’t park on campus. They also get to experience PROTRAMID during their Second Class Summer. It is a very exciting year!
Firstie or 1/C Year is a whirlwind of emotion with many things happening. Leadership is the main focus as well as academics as Firsties work on their Capstone projects that need to be completed for graduation and commissioning. Firsties will be actively training the 2/Cs in preparation for their turn to be in charge. They are also in charge of Plebe training over Plebe Summer and the AC Year.
Firsties will have Service Selection and Service Assignment – I discuss this at length in my book. This year is the culmination of the hard work over the past four years as students, leaders, and future Naval Officers. They will enjoy the privileges that their rank brings. They will enjoy civvies and weekends that begin on Fridays as soon as their military obligations are finished, liberty during the week (this can change), and greater responsibility for the Brigade and those that they command. The highlights of the year are Service Selection and for SWO selectees Ship Selection is like a professional sports draft but with a heart for service and without the millions. Commissioning Week with the traditional pomp and circumstance and special events like the Blue Angels and Marine Silent Drill Team, culminating with the Commissioning Ceremony and friends and family celebrations.
Time with friends becomes a focal point as they will be “scattered to the four winds” after commissioning. They may not see each other again for many years, and very likely not until the 10th, 15th or even 20th class reunion. After Commissioning everything will change once again as they move to their assignments in the Fleet or Marine Corps.
Fun Fact: If a Midshipman becomes an Officer in the Marine Corps, anchors will no longer apply. You will trade in your anchors and blue & gold clothing and items for the Marine crest and Marine colors: red, gold, and black.
USNA is a unique journey and is a rollercoaster of emotions and situations. The phrase that is the mantra of Navy parents is “Semper Gumby” – Always Flexible. I firmly believe that in this journey our only constant is change and how we embrace the change prepares us and our children for the road ahead. We need to learn from our mistakes and we need to be able to “go with the flow.” We also have to be willing to “embrace the suck” as one of my mentors always says. But in the end, it is all worth it. GO NAVY!!