At the end of Plebe Parent Weekend, the Plebes are moved to new rooms and issued books, uniforms and computers. Their daily routine changes considerably and they watch with trepidation as the upperclass students return from summer assignments. Suddenly they are not the only ones around. Within a week, there are over 3,000 upperclassmen on the Yard. The Detailers are no longer in the minority. As more and more upperclassmen return, Plebes face a wave of additional prospects of being rated. There are new faces and names to memorize. They have left Plebe Summer behind, but a whole new world begins as the Brigade reforms.
Computer issue is a reform ritual, with fast new machines giving instant
access to research materials, class notes, the internet and their professors'
email addresses. Each Mid receives an Academy-specified desktop computer.
This is the time when parents can reestablish a regular connection with
their Plebe. Having your student's email address and the possibility of
instant messaging allows a sense of connectedness that was impossible
during Plebe Summer. You will also receive their room phone number. This
number will be the switchboard number (1-410-990-1570). At the prompt
you will dial 1 and their 5 digit room number. Although students are not
always available, you can contact them most evenings or leave messages
with their roommates. Such contact was impossible until very recently.
It may still feel strange and distant, but compared to the ability to
contact Mids even 5 years ago, this is a whole new world of communication
options! Life settles into a pattern of studying and free time - never
enough, but some. Your Plebe will have gone from a survivor to a student.
Before the year begins, Plebes are tested in a variety of subjects to see if they have the skill level to test out of certain courses. These are called validation tests, and its often a a good idea to validate out of courses in which students show adequate skill levels. It means they have to take less classes later on. They will actually be allowed to have a life earlier than some of the other Plebes. Even if they think they could just take those easy classes and get an A to boost their gpa, it doesn't usually work out like that. Sometimes students don't bother to work on those classes since they think they already know it! Then they end up getting a B or a C or even worse just because they didn't think it was worth spending time on. Taking a course they could have validated out of can backfire on them.
Students are recommended to an appropriate set of classes after they take the validation tests . If your student chooses to take a class they could have validated out of, just remind them not to slack off on the studying. More is required of Plebes than can possibly be accomplished. Allocating study time is a lesson in prioritizing for students. Validating out of some classes helps keep the total study volume levels to a more reasonable amount. If they took a course in high school and can't validate out, don't worry about it. They need the course. They are lucky to have a background for the work they will be doing.
The academic schedule for Plebes includes six classes, special instruction and a three hour study period as well as inspections, formations and drills. Plebes have regular parades and sports practices as well. Plebes study Leadership, Naval Science, Calculus, Chemistry, English, Government and Naval History. This is a general background for all majors. After spring break in March, Plebes declare a major in one of 18 different fields. There are 7 Engineering , 7 Science majors, and 4 Humanities/Social Science majors.
A day in the life a a Plebe looks something like this:
Life is often difficult for Plebes. However there are occasionally memorable moments that will make your Plebe and all his/her friends and family laugh for years to come. Plebes are required to make bets with their upperclassmen. They must bet FOR Navy to win at whatever game is currently being contested. If they win, they get privileges such as using the Ward Room to watch TV, play DVD movies and listen to cd's on the stereo. If Navy loses (which all Plebes are certain will be the case), they lose privileges. Since as a Plebe they have no privileges to begin with, interesting consequences can occur. They can lose their left turn which requires making three right turns to get around the corner. They can lose their butts for the week and must requests (always at the top of their lungs) to borrow them back to make head calls or to sit down for dinner. What's worse is that they can lose their roommates butts as well. Students have lost bets and been required to do chow calls at the top of their lungs at 3 am in their upperclassmen's rooms. Imagine it, early morning, dark, and at the top of his lungs, a Plebe enters the room of an Upperclassman and shouts:
"SIR, you now have 4 hours till morning quarters formation. Formation goes inside. The uniform for formation is Summer Working Blues. The menu for morning meal is: apple juice, grape juice, asssorted cereals, broiled bacon, pancakes, maple syrup, wheat toast, margarine, fresh fruit, reduced fat milk and coffee. The officers of the watch are: the officer of the watch is Lt R***, company officer (or whoever is the OOW that day), the Midshipman officer of the watch is, Midn CDR S****, Vice honor chair. The major events of the yard are...NONE, the professional topic for the week is: Submarine warfare. You now have 4 hours SIR!"
Then they stop and say, "SIR! Request permission to start over!", and start over anyways repeating the above script at full volume. Makes for interesting memories!
Elevator Tours are fairly common. It's when they tie and duct tape someone to a chair and put them on the elevator and made them ride up and down for hours. Sometimes students have to go waterskiing - which is putting each foot in a urinal and flushing repeatedly. An assasination is crawling under a table while an upperclassman is distracted and spraying ketchup, mustard and honey all over their shoes. It is, of course, best when you can get away without being discovered! Then someone else stands on a chair to announce that there has been an assasination in the Hall and everyone jumps up to inspect their shoes. There is glory in pulling off a land mine operation when wind-up alarm clocks are placed strategically in the ceiling tiles of an upperclassman's room. Set to go off at 15 or 20 minute intervals all night, a Plebe can keep someone from getting any sleep. One plebe was so bad they made him 5th class. Being a Plebe is not always about being the brunt of pranks. They dish them out as well as receive them. All good natured fun but hilarious.
Among the many things Plebes are sometimes asked to do by squad leaders
is telling a new joke every day. Some parents have helped by sending joke
books to keep up with their required joke-telling. Sometimes plebes forget
simple things, such as upside down name tag, cover, etc. One particular
day a certain plebe forgot to "motivate" his socks (you know,
pulling them all the way up). The squad leader, totally frustrated, yelled
"Plebe *****, motivate your socks, without touching them!".
The squad leader just didn't want him to bend over and pull them up with
his hands. So what does the plebe do.....he looks at his socks and yells
"Hooray socks"!!! The squad leader finds this so motivating
he asks the plebe's classmates, "What are you doing over there? Come
help your classmate motivate his socks!" Just imagine what that looked
like....a bunch of plebes yelling at another plebe's socks...."Hooray,
Socks!!!!" And so it goes....Just a little humor!
Everyone has days when they wish they were SOME PLACE ELSE! If your Mid says they can't stand it, they are not alone! Life at the Academy is tough. There are days they will love it and other days when they hate it. Eventually the loves out weigh the hates and even completely displace the negatives, but in the begining it feels overwhelming to many of them.
Here's one story some Mids told about life at USNA. There is a large Academy seal embedded in the concrete walk in front of Bancroft. The rule is that mids must walk around this and not step on it. Thousands of mids pass this seal on their way to class and training each day and just automatically walk around it. One day there was the usual stream of hundreds of mids walking alone and in groups of two or three on their way to class. It was a cold and bleak and dreary winter day (Dark Ages) and the Mids who told the story said everyone was just walking along, no one talking, each lost in thoughts as dreary as the day when suddenly the Mid walking quietly about 10 feet in front of them jumped high in the air landing squarely in the center of the Academy Seal while yelling loudly, "I HATE THIS PLACE." Having done this he then quietly continued his walk down Stribling toward the classrooms. The Mids had to act this out for us over and over because they said it made their day. "Why?" they were asked, meaning why did it make their day? "To jump on the seal and scream like that and then just quietly continue on his way was soooo funny and it made us laugh on a day that was not a happy one for any of us." They continued, "He was obviously having a worse day than we were so we felt better about our problems!"
So when your Mid has a down day, just listen quietly and agree with him/her
that is it really hard. Then encourage them to wait a day or two (or three)
just to see how it feels around the corner from whatever was bothering
them on that particular day. By the next time you hear from them, they
will probably have forgotten whatever was bothering them. Stall and support.
They will make it!
Extra instruction (EI) sessions have been established in many of the basic mathematics, science and engineering courses for students who have scheduling conflicts with their instructors and for those who just need more help. Students are urged to seek necessary help from their own instructors whenever possible. Course instructors are the primary and critical foundation for all academic learning at the Naval Academy. Volunteer, full-time Mathematics Department faculty staff the Math Lab every class period. Although midshipmen needing mathematical guidance should first seek EI from their instructors, if that proves inconvenient, they can drop by the Math Lab in Chauvenet room CH103 (at the Bancroft entrance of Chauvenet).
There is a Midshipman Group Study Program (MGSP) for Midshipmen who can offer or who need help in understanding and learning Pre-Calculus through Calculus III facilitate MGSP sessions. These sessions are available every night Sunday Thursday. The Chemistry Departments Resource Room (M114) is open for the semester. It has several computers, chemistry software programs, a VCR and videos, reference materials, and tables for study groups. Members of the Chemistry Department faculty staff the Resource Room most periods during the day. Upper-class midshipmen are also available to lead MGSP study groups in the evenings. The Writing Center (located in Sampson hall, room 020) offers tutorial assistance in writing Monday through Friday from 0800 to 1530, excluding lunch.
Many opportunities for academic help are available. Time is the real issue. With watch schedules and rates to learn as well as seemingly endless Navy proknowledge, their available time is severely limited. Prioritizing what needs to be accomplished and then chipping away at the mountain of information is the only way to cope. Persistence is a requirement of the Plebe year. Extra help is there for those who need it.
Bancroft Hall is huge! It has over 5 miles of corridors. It houses all 4,400 of the brigade. It is the largest dormitory in the world. It is both ancient and new. It houses artifacts from the 1700's - flags and documents from our country's founding. It is also almost completely renovated. It is like the military itself - old and new, ancient and recreated again for today.
Here are some scenes of their living quarter for the next few years.
Thanksgiving is their first break since I-day. It is fun to watch them experience "normal" again! They wander around like kids in a candy store, delighted with incredibly simple things. They have been known to sleep late (7am) and smirk about it all day. They may revert to their former messy selves or recreate their rooms into wonders of military precision.
If you have the pleasure of having them home for this holiday, don't make a big change in your traditional family celebrations. They will treasure the reenactment of their earlier years. Just stand back and watch them pack everything into those few days home. They will visit with friends, sleep at odd times, eat enormously, and talk endlessly on the phone. At the end of their stay, they will speak of "going home" and they mean Annapolis.
Some west coast students do not return home for Thanksgiving since they are watching expenses and will be going home for Christmas instead. There are many Thanksgiving options in Annapolis. They may choose to spend the day with their sponsor family or perhaps go home with a friend. If you live nearby (lucky you) and can host an extra Mid, you are in for a treat. They make perfect house guests and you will learn more when you have two Mids around as they bounce ideas and stories off each other. If you don't see your Plebe over the vacation, hang tight because Christmas is really just around the corner.
Hooray for Christmas! It's long enough to really dig in and reconnect.
They have several weeks and may plan for some of that time at home and
some traveling and visiting friends. They will have friends and a place
to stay all over the country now. They may use the $10 MAC flights that
a military member can use from any military airport. One student practically
decided at the last moment that even though he could fly to Japan for
the same small amount as a trip to a closer destination, he didn't know
Japanese so he remained on US soil. But with the $10 MAC flights, they
really can go anywhere. Getting back on time is a risk, but there are
truly options to go to amazing locales. Whatever the plans, student do
need to be back on time and they know it. As long as they arrive at BWI
or nearby airport 4 hours before leave ends, they will be okay. Because
the weather is unpredictable, encourage them to be conservative in their
Christmas is the end of their first semester and although they were anxious
to get out, they (and you) may wonder what kinds of grades they got. There
is a way for Plebes to access their grades from home, but they had to
have set it up PRIOR to leaving for Christmas leave. All
of the midshipmen were given ample notice and instructions before leaving
for break. Only midshipmen who have set up the remote accounts can access
their grades. All others will have to wait until they get back to see
their results. Also there is a period of time when it is not accessible
even if they did set up their access before leaving. Even MIDS (the website
info system) seems to need a rest. As far as knowing grades-it can be
an adjustment to not to be on the inside track as far as what is going
on our Mid's grades. We are no longer privvy to their grades-unless they
choose to tell us. Bottom line-if the grade news is good, it will still
be good after the Christmas break, and if the news is bad, it can wait.
Perhaps your Plebe longs to come home again over spring break, but you may not see them over this leave period. In groups they depart for various locales far and near. They arrange to go with friends to the Caribbean or Florida. They often plan months in advance to take some trip to a new and exotic place. Maybe that's only as far as Washington DC, but they will make it a trip to remember. They are off on their own and exploring the world on their own terms. It's fun to watch them spread their wings. There is a travel agent right in the basement of Bancroft and Mids take brochures back to their rooms to speculate and dream. Many Midshipmen save for months to afford this piece of extravagance. Their military status gives them special room rates and discounts in theme parks and hotels. Often they get discounts at restaurants and movie theaters. Florida is a major destination as the big theme parks have an incredible special deal for Midshipmen. They learn to take advantage of the perks of their military ID.
It's not just the Plebes, it's all the Mids who are off on an adventure! Here are some great places with special deals. Maybe they just dream about it this year, but next year or perhaps over the summer, there are some incredible places with special prices. To help Mids find the options their military status entitles them to, here is a page of discounts, special military housing and incredible deals. Pass this info on to your student. Mid Resources
During spring semester, Plebes choose a major. Begining in the Youngster year, their coursework is determined by this choice. There are many different options. All the various majore choices are presented and explained. Although it is possible to change majors later on, it is difficult to do so. Choosing a second major is a possbility but is not appropriate to choose during Plebe year. Here is a list of major options.
For an explanation of majors and their associated coursework, click here.
At the sound of a cannon blast, 1,000 eager, screaming plebes charge toward a 21-foot gray monument that taunted them all year. They attempt to climb the lard-covered obelisk as thousands of spectators watch with the hopes that they complete the task quickly. This event at the U.S. Naval Academy is known simply as "Herndon" or the "Plebe Recognition Ceremony."
The plebe class works together to accomplish the goal of retrieving a white plebe "dixie cup" hat from atop the monument and replace it with an upperclassmen's hat. It is a tradition that has endured at the Naval Academy for many years. More than 200 pounds of lard applied to the monument by upperclass midshipmen complicate the task.
To understand the tradition and emotion of the climb, some history would be appropriate. Commander William Lewis Herndon, 1813-1857, was renown for discipline, teamwork and courage. In command of the Central America, home bound with California gold seekers, Herndon lost his life in a gallant effort to save ship and men during a hurricane off Cape Hatteras. These are the attributes necessary to fulfill the Herndon tradition as well.
The Naval Academy tradition of climbing Herndon never had a specific date documented as to its origin. The monument climb evidently originated from an enthusiastic charge of former plebes. After the graduation ceremony, held on the "Yard" (campus) once upon a time, the upperclassmen shook hands with the newly appointed "youngsters" (sophomores). The new third class proceeded to reverse their caps and coats. Next, youngsters did a snake dance through the "Yard," and romped through Lover's Lane, an area restricted to them while they were plebes. Throughout the celebration, they chanted, "Tain't no mo' plebes." All the youngsters eventually rallied around the monument due to its close proximity to Lover's Lane. In 1967, the graduation ceremonies moved to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. This meant youngsters could no longer run to Herndon after graduation. For this reason, the ceremony was moved after the first parade of Commissioning Week and later to the first day of Commissioning Week.
In 1973, then Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. William P. Mack gave his shoulder boards to Midshipman Fourth Class Lawrence J. O'Donnell, who climbed to the top of Herndon in 1 minute 50 seconds, thus beginning the shoulder board tradition. Today, the Herndon ceremony starts off with a blast at precisely 2 p.m. as plebes make their mad dash. At first sight Herndon looks much taller than it actually is, perhaps due to the hundreds of pounds of lard slathered on by upperclass. The fatty, white goo is removed by hands, shirts and bodies smeared across the monument.
The smell of the melting lard permeates thousands of cheering spectators. Bodies turn red with beads of sweat dripping down the tower of people. Agony shows on the faces of those at the bottom of the pyramid as they support upon their shoulders three or four tiers of bodies. As the crowd yells in anticipation, the class gets excited and "They're gonna make it" is heard all around. Crash. The bodies collapse like dominoes. Their greasy skin, stained with dirt, lard and sun make it extremely difficult to sustain their balance for any length of time.
At the start, their expectations soar. No plebes doubt that their climb will be the best of any class to date. After all, it seems each plebe has devised a plan that would get someone to the top quickly. As they climb, many bodies are sacrificed. Some become human supports, allowing their torsos to be pulled like taffy while some are ladders. Their shoes are off in fear that they might step on and injure a shipmate. In one hour, many courageous Mids try in vain to reach the top.
They finally realize that this is not the easy task they envisioned in their dreams. They now realize, more than before, that to overcome their task it takes teamwork and determination. Within the next half hour, a classmate may be near the top. One falls, but is quickly replaced by another. Their hopes are slowly fading away. They wonder if they will be the first class to fail to get to the top of the monument.
The Class of 1998 gained quite a reputation around the Yard regarding Herndon. Their time, at the end of their first year in the spring of 1995 of four hours, five minutes and 17 seconds marks the longest on record, beating the Class of 1985 which previously held the record with three hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds. The fastest times are three minutes for the Class of 1965 in the spring of 1962 (first recorded time) and one minute, 30 seconds (the fastest time officially recorded) for the Class of 1972 completed in the spring of 1969.
Tradition states that the plebe who reaches the top will rise to the rank of admiral first. As any observer can clearly see, climbing to the top of Herndon takes a lot of teamwork and perseverance. Climbing Herndon serves as a test for young Midshipmen, reminding them of the values of teamwork, courage and discipline that are instilled throughout the year. The Herndon Monument climb is one tradition that has endured and grown throughout the years.
Previous times for making the Herndon climb by year completed (not Class) are:
1962 - 3 minutes (first recorded time)
From the USNA PAO website
These are some of the events of Sea Trials:
During the academic year, the brigade is organized into two regiments.
Each regiment has three battalions and each battalion is comprised of
5 companies. The Plebes are divided according to their company/platoon
assignments over Plebe Summer. If they were in Company K-Platoon19 (Kilo
Company) over Plebe Summer, they usually join the upperclassmen of Company
19 in the fall. Likewise if they were in A2 they will probably go into
2nd Company after Reform. The letter designation is dropped entirely after
Plebe Summer. There are 30 companies in all. Each company has their own
style, traditions and regulations. One company always decorates Tecumseh
for I-day. Company 28 has a traditional croquet game in the spring with
St Johns College. Here are some of the company nicknames past and present:
Shotgunning: Mixing the Plebes up among all the companies. With this scenario Plebes get a whole new group of company mates. They get scattered throughout the brigade irrespective of which company they came from.
Most years Plebes get shotgunned or shuffled. Occasionally Plebes stay with their original company into the following fall but usually they get moved around. Sometimes other years get moved as well.
A story by Jim Peden:
Many plebe parents may be still struggling with understanding why the USNA keeps unrelenting pressure on our Mids, including things like learning the rates and constantly demanding nothing but perfection in their recitation. The following true story may give you some insights as to why everything the USNA does has a purpose, arguably invaluable in time of combat.
My old heavy gun cruiser, the USS Newport News CA148, while serving on
the gun line in Viet Nam, suffered a catastrophic premature detonation
of a round in the barrel of the center gun of turret 2 which instantly
But it was a junior officer, a relatively green engineering LTJG, who quickly evaluated the situation amidst all the fire and smoke and confusion, and gave the order to flood the magazine. Yes, a junior officer not long out of training -- not the Captain of the ship -- gave the order which most likely saved the entire ship and 1400 other crew on board. A later autopsy of two men in the magazine revealed water in their lungs before they died, so this young officer had made the life-and-death decision which sadly, but absolutely necessarily, added two additional fatalities to the total in order to save the lives of more than a thousand others. Just imagine yourself with such a responsibility only a couple of years out of a civilian college where life was relaxed and sleep was plentiful.
Combat aboard a US Navy Vessel is one of the busiest places on earth.
The winners are the ones whose officers and crew react instinctively,
drawing on their training and their perfect memory of the immediate action
Our young mids are being trained to perform perfectly under stress than
few civilians can comprehend. Learning to quickly and perfectly memorize
endless lists - be it lunch menus or man-overboard procedures, is but
Here's a story from the Army side. This is a commonality to all the military branches.
(Now LTC Friesen)
I'd like to chime in with my two cents on the 4th Class System, as I experienced it. My plebe year was during 79-80 and, although it was probably not as draconian as that of the more senior members of this forum, it appears to be considerably different from what exists today.
As I went through it, I did not understand how cutting a pie into nine equal pieces would help an officer lead soldiers into battle. The myriad of disjointed memorizations, ludicrous tasks and perpetual panic mode seemed to have very little to do with the profession of arms. I maintained this attitude throughout my upper class years and I was definitely not a flamer, although fairly stern and consistent. I kept this perspective as a junior officer ... right up to the moment I commanded a cavalry troop in the Gulf War.
One night, at around 0100, we conducted a passage of lines to assault
an airfield. We had gone almost 60 hours without sleep and it was raining
with a vengeance (yes, rain in the desert ... lots of it). Our own artillery
was falling short and landing amongst us, one of my platoon leaders was
heading off in a tangent to the direction he should have been following,
the squadron main body was drifting too far north, my driver was heading
straight for a ravine, a tank in my 4th platoon threw a track, we found
ourselves in the middle of one of our own DPICM minefields, the objective
was spotted on our right flank (instead of in front of us, where it should
have been), almost no maps existed for our area of operations, my boss
was perpetually screaming for me to change to his frequency (an impossibility
with the wonderfully designed, single-transmitter command tanks), a half
dozen spot reports were coming in from my troops (all critical), my intel
NCO had a critical update, my X!
It was during this little slice of heaven (of all places) that the 4thClass System was illuminated to me in all its glory. Its goal was not harassment, ridicule, or punishment. Its goal was to train the neural network to deal with an overwhelming amount of disjointed information, quickly process that information, categorize it, and make rapid, sound decisions. At that moment, I would have gladly given a month's pay to the genius who devised the 4th Class System. It provided me with a priceless gift to sort the significant from the insignificant and do my job in a much better fashion. From my perspective, THAT is the rationale behind the system. It trains your brain in a non-lethal environment to sort through the mess, bring some order to it, and continue functioning.
It is an extremely nasty world out there, and part of the academy's mission is to train graduates to survive and excel in that world. We are not doing the graduates any favors by sugarcoating things and putting a happy face on everything. There is still plenty of unadulterated evil, brute force, and chaos to go around. Pretending it isn't there will not make it go away. I sincerely hope that there are enough qualified people to deal with the future chaos and brute force quickly and effectively enough to protect our interests and keep it off our shores. Don't dismiss the 4th Class System as an archaic anachronism. I have found it to be one of the most valuable training programs I have ever undergone.
Just my 2 cents ...
Each year Mids get their photos taken for the Lucky Bag. Parents may purchase these formal portraits which will appear in the yearbook. Lucky Bag is created by Mids for the whole Brigade. They are distributed each fall and contain images and stories about the prior year. The cost for the Lucky Bag ($80) is deducted from a Mid's pay. Parents may also order a copy if they wish (add $6 shipping). Many students do not keep their yearbook in Bancroft and so parents who offer to provide housing for the books can also peruse the pages. Ads may be purchased from the official LuckyBag website to celebrate your student's successful accomplishments.