Despite the fact that I document (or have documented) a fair amount of both my kids’ experiences at their respective academies (as well as their journeys to those academies), neither one has a particular interest in my writing. Oh, they are fully aware that I write about their lives – and supportive of it – they just don’t really care all that much. And that’s OK.
Every so often, I’ll share some of what I’m working on with them and they’ll offer some insight or perspective.
This summer, I shared with my daughter a discussion I had with a Plebe Mom. She had reached out to me when her Plebe decided to leave after a couple of weeks of Plebe Summer and she was, as one might imagine, quite upset. So after we exchanged a few messages, I asked if she wanted to share the story and she agreed.
I set up a Zoom call (mostly so I could get a transcript of the conversation because my aging hands don’t allow me to keep notes at an adequate pace) and after about 10 minutes, her former Plebe jumped on. Over the next 90-plus minutes, they walked me through their journey, from the application process to Induction Day to the things that led to an early exit. After the call, I spent a bit of time poring over the transcript, then wrote a draft of their story and sent it to them.
After some consideration, the Plebe Mom asked that I not publish the story as her family decided they wanted to just put it all behind and move forward. Fair enough. So as we used to say in the newspaper industry, I “spiked” the story and that was that.
But I told my daughter what this prompted me to write and she uncharacteristically said, “I don’t think you should do that.”
A little stunned, I asked why.
“People are going to be angry if you write that and even though it’s true and it’s not your fault, they’re going to be upset with you for pointing it out,” she reasoned.
Well, let’s see if she’s correct.
When someone earns an appointment to a military academy, it’s hard not to go overboard with the celebration. And once they get through Induction Day, we as parents tend to get wrapped up in all the tradition and excitement. There’s so much to look forward to – football games, parents’ weekends, formal parades, service selection, Commissioning Week, and thousands of other great events and moments.
But here’s a hard truth that this Plebe Mom’s story illustrates – all of the Plebes who get through Induction Day aren’t going to make it. There, I said it. I said the quiet part out loud. From the Navy’s point of view, it’s math, really. They aim to keep attrition under 10% but even at that number with 1,200 appointees, that means more than 100 could be expected to not make it to commissioning.
We all encourage each other and we encourage the Mids – “you can make it” … “they’ll find a way.” But the truth of the matter is, for a variety of reasons, not everyone will get to the finish line.
For some, it’s academics. Despite the fact that most appointees were high academic achievers in high school, some simply can’t make the grade at USNA. It might be that the other demands on their time don’t allow them to invest the time necessary to get the grades they need, but for whatever reason, some simply will not make the grade.
Some will not make it physically and that can mean different things. There can be an injury from which they cannot recover to the point of fulfilling the obligations of a Navy officer. But some will simply not be able to pass the physical tests required. One of my son’s friends just couldn’t make the time for the run that’s part of the PRT. They were literally 10 seconds shy. They ran constantly, used a pacer, and still, given one last chance before the Class of 2020 signed their 2 for 7s, came up short and were asked to leave. It happens.
Despite the honor code or perhaps because of it, some will be asked to leave because of disciplinary reasons. Whether it’s a drug ring (remember that scandal?) or racist comments or repeated alcohol violations, some simply do not stay within the bounds of proper conduct and are summarily dismissed.
Some, like this aforementioned Plebe or this story about another Mid, simply decide that the Naval Academy and being a Naval officer simply isn’t for them. There was a Mid in my son’s class who decided that he simply wanted to be a doctor and the path through the Navy wasn’t really a part of that, so he left. I’ve heard some people question Mids who voluntarily walk away, suggesting “they knew what they were getting into,” but I don’t think that’s fair. Part of going to college (or in this case, N*ot College), is finding out who you really are. And while everyone arrives at I Day believing that this is what they want, as they start to understand the reality and explore other options, it only makes sense that some simply walk away. This path isn’t for everyone. And as my son pointed out, do we want someone serving as a military officer who really doesn’t want to do that job? I would submit that the stakes are too high and the demands are too great to expect anyone other than someone 100% committed to the idea to fulfill those roles. And it doesn’t mean they are a failure, just that their life is taking a different path.
There are some other reasons, but those are the ones I hear about most often and as the Class of 2026 careens into the middle of their first academic semester, it’s important to understand reality. Some of them and, quite frankly, a number of members of the other classes, are not going to get to the finish line. That’s not meant to be discouraging, just realistic.
So we continue to offer unwavering to support to all Plebes, all Mids, all parents on this journey, recognizing that our numbers dwindle slightly over the course of time and promising to always be there for each other and each other’s Mids.
Now, what do I tell my daughter?