The U.S. Naval Academy is one of the most prestigious colleges in the U.S. It differs from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in that the moment you start at the Naval Academy, you enter into the U.S. Armed Forces. In this case, the Navy.
They shave your head, put you in a uniform, stand you in line, and start yelling at you. They teach you to hold your head up, chin back, and always answer everything with “Sir.” They teach you to keep your uniform pressed, your shoes and belt buckle shined, and always “keep your eyes in the boat” (stare straight ahead). This is standard procedure at all of the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard). And then when they have the whole freshman (Plebe) class standing at attention on the first day, they play the song “White Christmas” on the loud speaker because Christmas is the next time you’ll be able to live a normal lifestyle. This is in the first week of July.
My Plebe year was torture. Not only was I going through the normal torture of Plebe year, but on top of that my roommate and I had been dubbed the “shit screens” of the company. What does that mean? Well, when the shit hits the fan, as they say, the fan blows it on us, and we shield the rest of the class from being shit upon. (This is important terminology to understand.) We were basically deemed the fuckups of the company and we were treated as such. There wasn’t much I could do right, from a military perspective. I got yelled at a lot.
By the end of the first semester, I had the honor of having the biggest difference in academic performance and military performance since Admiral Nimitz had been a Plebe there. What that meant was that my grades were so good that I was ranked in the top 10 of my class of 1200 students (with a 3.89 GPA), and my military performance was so bad that I was ranked in the bottom 25 of my class of 1200. Obviously, I should have gone to one of those afore-mentioned Ivy League schools instead!
My second semester was better, though. By the end of it, I had left my roommate as the sole shit screen of the company and had been accepted into the rest of the clan. I’m not sure exactly how the change came about, but I had had a very nice Christmas in Sweden, and I had come back to the Academy refreshed and relaxed. I just started doing things right.
But the Naval Academy was not exactly a great fit for me, so one night I decided to run away. We were only allowed to go off campus from noon to midnight on Saturdays with an evening muster at 6 p.m. to make sure we didn’t stray too far away from campus, but I had heard of people sneaking out at night. So, that’s what I decided to do.
I would sneak out, jump over the wall, find the bus station, and make my way to Baltimore, where my grandparents lived. Or I would go directly home to Florida. The Naval Academy was just not working out for me. So, I started packing my bags in the middle of the night, and thinking of all the fun things I was going to do when I got back home. I could just imagine the shock everyone would experience when they found out that I had escaped! I seriously saw the Academy as a prison at that point.
But after some packing and preparations, I got a bit tired. I decided to lay down and rest awhile before embarking on this big journey. And then I fell asleep.
In the morning, my roommates saw my packed bags and saw that I was sleeping fully clothed and made me confess to my intentions. I had some conferences with the upper classmen, the company officer, and a chaplain (like a priest for the military), and then I was assigned to go see a psychologist once a week. That actually helped. He gave me a book to read and helped me work out my issues with being at the Academy, so I was back to business in no time.
But the idea of escaping never left.
By the end of Plebe year, I had made some very good friends, I had distanced myself from my former shit screen roommate, and I had gotten on the good side of some of the upper classmen. One of them took a real liking to me and made sure that I ended up on an awesome summer cruise, where we would join the enlisted men on a ship. Youngster cruise deserves an article in itself, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis here.
I met up with four other Midshipmen that I had never met before in Charleston, South Carolina. When we reported on board, the Captain had us stow our belongings, and then he told us we were off for a long weekend, since it was Memorial Day. We rented a car and drove to Myrtle Beach, where we had a pretty awesome time. When we returned to the ship, there was nothing for us to do, as the crew prepared for our pending trans-Atlantic journey, so we spent a week visiting Charleston bars by night and sleeping in our racks (beds) during the day. And then we cruised to Bermuda, where we rented scooters and drove around the island for a day, the Azores, where we were not allowed to get off the ship, and then to Edinburgh, Scotland for a week, where we had the same routine as in Charleston. The ship then crossed the English Channel and let us off in Amsterdam. We had seven weeks to make our way home from Amsterdam.
I traveled around France on a train pass for two weeks, and then went up to Sweden to visit my family again. By the time I got back to the Naval Academy in August, I had a whole new outlook on life, and I was ready for Youngster (Sophomore) year. Youngster year is the easiest of the four years at the Naval Academy, so everyone looks forward to that. I will tell you more about that some other time.
The story I had actually intended to tell was of my roommate during Youngster year (Dave S.), but that will have to wait until tomorrow. I had to give you some background on Naval Academy life in order for you to understand what I am going to tell you. So, we’ll save the story of Dave S. for my next article.