As they often do during this time of year, my thoughts turn to my mother, who passed away on Easter Sunday when I was 11 years old. As the news we’ve all been dreading came to pass – that the Academy would cancel all public events for Commissioning Week for the Class of 2020 – I thought of her.
Mom was an emotional optimist and I guess I picked that up from her. Though I lost her too soon, I’ve been blessed to have had three great parents raise me and I picked up traits from each of them and that’s all come to bear over the past 48 hours.
My mother taught me to be an optimist, so despite the news, I continue to look for something positive.
My late father, the Korean War-era Marine who lied about his age to serve in EOD, would demand I embrace the Class of 2020’s motto – “we shall find a way or make one.” He would have loved it – it defined his life.
My stepmother taught me pragmatism. Through her, I learned to put away the natural tendency to be egocentric and look at situations from all angles, keeping mind that everyone has different priorities.
It was with all of this that I watched the Superintendent’s heartbreaking message and the Commandant’s live Instagram Q and A. I wrestled with swirling emotions and a barrage of fellow parents pouring out their hearts on Facebook. My mother in me wanted to cry, my father in me said there has to be a way, my stepmother in me said to stop and consider all the variables, to think it through.
And so, I’ve thought it through and I have a plan. It’s not that I don’t think the leadership has a plan, I’m sure they do. It’s not that I don’t think they’ve been thoughtful, I’m sure they have. I don’t expect the plan will ever be given significant consideration since I don’t have a seat at the appropriate table. I don’t expect that the plan has taken account of all the variables since I’m not privy to all the details. Who am I to suggest a plan? Nobody, really. Just a parent. But I can’t imagine my father tolerating me sitting around feeling sorry for myself, so here it is, even if it is just to make myself feel better.
First, mutually agreed up requirements and priorities.
- The health of the Midshipmen is a priority and bringing back the entire Brigade in a compressed timeframe would run counter to that.
- The Class of 2020 will graduate and commission as officers on 22 May 2020.
- Second, third, and fourth class must prepare for summer training.
- The Class of 2024 must be inducted.
Second, practical considerations
- The Mids have to get their gear out of Bancroft Hall, which needs to be “flipped” for Plebe Summer and other summer activities, not to mention prepared later in the summer for the Brigade Reform.
- Medical resources are strained. The Dant mentioned that the deployment of the Comfort and the Mercy have had an impact and there’s a concern that an outbreak on The Yard could overwhelm local resources.
Third, other relevant factors
- During his Q & A, the Dant mentioned the current state of the pandemic, noting the stay-at-home orders for the state of Maryland and that the region had not yet reached its peak in terms of cases. However, modeling from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that Maryland will reach its peak by April 15 and by the time the DoD travel ban is lifted on 12 May, there will only be 12 people hospitalized in Maryland for COVID-19. Surrounding states show similar trends.
- Two tests are making there way into the system – one that provides a rapid turnaround for results, the other that tests for antibodies (showing immunity to the virus).
- The tragic situation aboard the Roosevelt shows the danger of not taking appropriate precautions.
- The mental health of the Air Force Academy’s firsties was strained when they were isolated from each other while on campus. The First Class Midshipmen’s mental health is being strained in other ways, being isolated from each other and the prospect of not seeing their classmates again.
With that, a modest proposal.
The week of 4 May 2020, each Firstie (wherever they are) will get a COVID-19 test and, if available, a test for the antibody. Anyone testing positive for the virus stays in place. When the DoD travel ban is lifted, the Firsties begin an orderly return to The Yard by battalion: 1st battalion on May 13, 2nd battalion on May 14 and so on. This brings about 165 Firsties on The Yard each day and you can control the flow by assigning times for each company (e.g. 1st Company at 9 a.m., 2nd Company at 11 a.m.). Deploy rapid tests and quarantine those with positive results.
By the time the sun goes down on Monday, 18 May 2020, all of the Firsties are in Bancroft, preparing their gear to move out. The next few days are spent preparing them to go out into the Fleet – medical exams, paperwork, briefings, new uniforms. During this time, no one leaves The Yard. Friday, the Firsties head to the stadium where they receive their degrees and are commissioned – no family, no friends, just the Firsties and a live video stream. The next morning, the newly minted officers vacate Bancroft Hall, allowing for a similar processing of the remaining classes over the following three weeks running up to I Day for the Class of 2024.
- Bancroft Hall cleared of all personal gear and prepared for summer activities, including I Day.
- Firsties properly graduated and commissioned, mental health issues of separation addressed, and they go to the fleet screened for the virus so they are less likely to cause an outbreak at their next destination.
- Other classes prepped for summer training.
- Opportunities for an outbreak severely minimized.
The Air Force Academy made serious missteps on its way to commissioning its Firsties. The Naval Academy has an opportunity to learn from those mistakes while minimizing risks and maintaining respect for tradition.
The Class of 2020 committed to finding a way or making one. My fervent prayer is that the Academy leadership will do the same, that they will honor the memory of James Lawrence, whose words are displayed so proudly on The Yard and have inspired so many.
My mother would implore you, please, “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”
The Class of 2020 deserve that much.