It all happened so fast – the academic year ended, the Class of 2021 completed its Herndon Climb – #PlebesNoMore ! – the Class of 2018 earned their commissions and summer training began for the remainder of the Brigade.
Suddenly, it’s almost time for another Induction Day. In a month, it all gets very real for the Class of 2022.
There are as many pieces of advice as there are parents who’ve gone through the journey. So rather than start from scratch, I found this post I made on a message board before Induction Day 2017 and made a few adjustments. Here it is:
You all know about the difficulty of the application process, how grueling it is from first application to MOC interviews, etc. And in our run up to Induction Day 2017, all I heard was how incredible I Day was, how the memories were amazing and so on.
If that’s the experience of you and your soon-to-be Plebe, enjoy. Our experience was quite the opposite and you should be prepared for both outcomes and everything in between. And your experience is the right experience – like all things with USNA, one size does not fit all.
And, spoiler alert, my son survived Plebe Summer, and throughout the academic year, his experience improved. By the time Plebe year ended, he was a happy Mid, looking forward to his first summer and his Youngster year. (UPDATE: He had a great Youngster year, too)
OK, so some advice.
Prepare: This falls into two categories, in my opinion. First, are logistics. Make sure your S2BP (soon-to-be Plebe) has not only completed the packet, but really understands it. My DS failed to read things thoroughly, so he didn’t realize he had “homework” (stuff he had to memorize) and would be “tested” on I Day. That made an awful day a lot worse. Also, make copies of EVERYTHING. We brought three full copies of the packet and every piece of ID we had – SS card, drivers license, passport, high school ID … seriously. We brought it all. You’ve probably already made your travel plans. We stayed right in town and that was the smartest thing we did that weekend. There are a lot of other little logistics stuff (especially for your last 30 minutes after the Oath of Office) that you can find on the website and in Facebook groups, so I won’t repeat all that. Second, mental prep. Our son didn’t do any. And it cost him. He really had no idea what he was getting into, really. He knew it would be tough, but no idea how tough. And he knew they would yell, but no idea how much.
Prepare II: YOU need to prepare. Let me share our story – again, your mileage WILL vary. We dropped our pensive S2BP at the gate at 8 a.m. Then we began OUR day. A series of tours and lectures (and the great lunch on Hospital Point) all had a unifying thread: These kids are amazing … they are the best of the best; we were swamped with platitudes and praise. And we thought, “wow, the USNA gets it. These kids are awesome.” Our doubts about this being the right place for our son began to fade away. Then we got our seats for the Oath of Office. The entire class is seated in front of Bancroft Hall, surrounded by all the Detailers in their summer whites., who commit to taking care of the Plebes. Then the oath is administered and you hear 1,000 Plebes bark “I DO!” and the Blue Angles fly over. Our hearts swelled and, at that moment, I thought, “the people on the forums were right. This IS the greatest day ever!”
Then we had our 30 minutes with our plebe. When he found us, his eyes were red and puffy; the tears weren’t rolling, but welled in his eyes. After more than a year of striving tirelessly toward the goal of getting into the Academy, he had achieved his objective. This was the moment we had all been waiting for. And the first words out of his mouth here, “I don’t know that I can do this.”
My heart sank. My wife welled up. His sister clung to him. My instinct was to pack up our stuff, grab my son and get the hell out of there … to go home and spend the rest of the summer hiking, having bonfires in the backyard and hanging out in the basement playing Madden. Instead, I took a deep breath and went into Dad mode, trying to help him frame the situation. Here are the key points I made:
- Don’t take it personally. Yes, they are going to yell and scream. Yes, they are going to belittle you and insult you. But it’s a game. They have to weed out the people who aren’t cut out to be here. They are dropping a carpet bomb and seeing who is still standing when the smoke clears. In short, it’s a game and they’re trying to get you quit. It’s a game. Just a game.
- They can’t lay hands on you. They can yell. They can call you everything under the sun. They can make you run, do push ups, lift, push or pull any manner of things. But they can’t physically harm you. So you if you block out #1 – the mental & emotional abuse, they can only wear you out.
- And this was on the one that pushed him over the line – they cannot stop the clock. They. Cannot. Stop. The. Clock. Plebe Summer is finite – it’s 6 weeks. And when you’re going through what seems like the worst 30 minutes of your life, you are 30 minutes closer to the end of Plebe Summer.
He took a deep breath and said, “OK. That’s helpful. I gotta get back.” Side note: You’re supposed to have 30 minutes, but it will take a few minutes for your Plebe to find you and they will want to get into line well ahead of time – they will have had the fear of God instilled in them about being late for that. Anyway, we had a big family hug, I led us in prayer for him, and he was on his way.
Once they are all lined up, they begin that drumbeat. It got many folks all jazzed up. To me, it sounded like a death march. With each drumbeat, I had to fight the instinct to walk up, pull him out of line and take him home. Slowly, solemnly, they march toward Bancroft, through the huge doorway and into the building. After the last company crosses the threshold, they slam the massive doors shut and that “bang” resonates throughout Tecumseh Court like a cannon shot. Many people cheered. My wife and daughter broke into tears, sobbing heavily. I was numb. I found that I had been holding my breath for some time and exhaled.
We stopped for dinner, but they spent almost the entire time sobbing and we left most of the food on our plates. By the time we got back into the car, they were exhausted and fell asleep for the three-hour ride home. The time between that and his first letter home and first phone call was, without question, the longest days of my entire life.
Again, our story has become quite a happy one. And, without question, your experience will be your own and likely not mirror ours. But I hope there are some lessons here that might help some folks.
I have a number of suggestions for Plebe Summer, but those deserve their own post, so they can wait.
Congrats and best of luck to you and your family.
I did a podcast with my son after his Plebe Year and it was a great conversation. IMPORTANT: I made an egregious error in the podcast, saying it was 9 weeks long. It’s not. It’s six. Proof that if Ernest Hemingway and Edward R. Murrow needed an editor, I probably do, too!