Plebe Summer Part IV

My Plebe Summer saga continues. I remember being sweaty, terrified, and confused most of the time. Most days, except for Sunday and Wednesday I think, started early with PT. We got up and got dressed and ran on down to the field to do whatever exercises they told us to do. I hated this. I was not exactly the most athletic Plebe on the field. Over the summer I got a whole lot skinnier, and although I got better at strength exercises my run time on the Physical Readiness Test actually went down.

After PT is was time for breakfast. Meal times over Plebe Summer were a mixed blessing. On one hand: there was food, and you got to sit down for a while. You ate as a squad, and we had the same squad for all of Plebe Summer, so that was kinda nice. On the other hand, your squad leader, who was the Firstie Cadre training you, was there, and their job was to grill you on all the pro-know (professional knowledge) that you were supposed to know. I tried to avoid getting any attention directed towards me, which is a good strategy for all of Plebe Summer, and one I failed at spectacularly. One of the most useful things about the Naval Academy is that they work really hard to beat the ego out of you, and while they were very successful when it came to me, my ego was large enough that whatever portions were and are left still manage to shine through. One of the bad habits I still hold onto from Plebe Summer is eating really fast. I gulp down food even when I’m trying to slowly. This winds up with some awkward situations on dates.

During the rest of the day there were a great many different activities. Plebe Summer has a whole program to train you up on the absolute minimum knowledge required to be a functioning little member of the Brigade of Midshipmen. Sometimes there were classroom sessions where we would learn about Navy history or the different ranks or something. Sometimes there were hands-on lessons about damage control or something. We had sailing lessons over Plebe Summer, which were always a great deal of fun. We never knew we’d be going sailing that day until we were ordered to change into our sailing gear, which was fairly identical to PT gear, but included wearing our standard-issue boat shoes, our standard-issue ballcaps, and putting on the standard-issue sunscreen. We even had a fine dining etiquette lesson one day. That’s a little surreal in the midst of Plebe Summer. You are running around getting yelled at and then one day the Cadre drop you off in this room you’ve never been to before and you’re told to sit down at these tables set with nice dinnerware and you learn to tear your roll to butter it instead of cutting it, to scoop up your soup by moving the spoon away from you, and to put your napkin on your chair to signal you’re coming back and to put it on the table to signal you’ve left for good.

We also got to go shooting for a day. That was a lot of fun. The shooting range is across the Severn River, and I always enjoyed going across the river because you went across it in the troop transport boat things. Then the whole day was spent shooting, with the morning on rifle and the afternoon on pistol, or vice versa. They teach you how to shoot the things, and then you do some target shooting, and depending on how well you shoot you qualify and get to wear ribbons for “Qualified,” “Sharpshooter” (I think), and “Expert.” I managed to qualify Sharpshooter on the M-16, and Expert for Pistol. Qualifying Expert lets you wear a medal instead of just a ribbon, so that’s cool. This was the peak of my pistol performance, and as I requalified every year on the ship I just got worse and worse. This experience makes me forget though that some people out there have never shot a gun. I had shot rifles before in the Boy Scouts, but I am always vaguely surprised when other people haven’t shot a gun before just in the normal course of their college orientation.

One final part of Plebe Summer were the academic placement tests. Here’s a fun fact about me and Plebe Summer: I didn’t know that I was going to college until about halfway through Plebe Summer, when we were choosing our classes. I had thought that the Naval Academy as like, happy fun time boat school instead of, you know, a fairly normal academic setting that is tacked onto a military training command. It didn’t even click when I was doing the placement tests, which I managed to do pretty darn good on by the way. I managed to validate chemistry and got placed pretty high up in math, despite forgetting a calculator for my final placement tests. Doing well on the placement tests was nice from an academic perspective, but even better from a Plebe Summer perspective because not everyone qualified for the later placement tests, and doing a placement test meant that you had a few extra hours by yourself in air conditioning, away from the cadre. I was disappointed that I only validated one semester of the two required semesters of English, but the second test was mostly poetry analysis and while I think I am actually pretty okay at that I apparently wasn’t good enough. I still got to go around mentioning that I was a “Plebe High Validator” when I was getting myself into the French classes that Plebes normally aren’t allowed to take.

The final note I guess to make about Plebe Summer is communication home. Back in my day it was kinda limited. I hear the kids these days get like hour long phone calls every week or something. We got three phone calls total over the course of Plebe Summer. Those were an event. We all got to retrieve our cell phones from the big room where they kept all of our civilian stuff. We were lead out to the courtyard where there were these big paving tiles, and told to pick one and keep at least one between all of us, so we were each probably about six feet apart. We were told to dial, and wait to hit “send” until the appropriate moment. When the clock started, we hit “send,” and the call began. Our parents were given a heads up for when our call times were, so they could be prepared (we were kept in the dark). We were warned sternly to call our parents instead of our girlfriends or boyfriends (still Don’t Ask Don’t Tell then, so this is a gendered statement). This was mostly because our parents would inevitably miss us, and no matter how much we thought we were in love our significant others were likely to dump us. This was true for me, and is famously true for 98% of everyone else. So I called my parents every time (my girlfriend was actually also in Plebe Summer with me, which maybe I can detail next week) but I didn’t quite know what to talk about? Things were fine at home, I was doing fine (relatively), and so I would run out of things to talk about before the five minutes were up. At five minutes, the Cadre told us to hang up and we were yelled at if we didn’t. Other than that I wrote a good number of letters; this was encouraged and you got a talking to if you weren’t writing home (out of concern for your mental health). My parents sent a large number of letters and packages, which generally included cookies and drink mixes. This is what you want to receive over Plebe Summer, believe me.

I suppose I should stop there for this week. Maybe next week I can talk about the saga of dating over Plebe Summer. It went… fine.