USNA, USAFA and West Point all offer Summer Seminar, an opportunity for seniors to spend a week on the campus seeing if it feels right. And, it gives administrators a chance to watch and evaluate prospective students.
At USNA it’s called Naval Academy Summer Seminar (NASS) and it’s now open for applications. You get your first FitRep (Fitness Report) during those two weeks, although you don’t find out about that until you return home, when your B&G officer tells you. And, the USNA runs all participants through the CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment). A requirement of admission, applicants either pass it during Naval Academy Summer Seminar (NASS), or retake it as part of their application package.
Here’s a rundown on what the Summer Seminar experience might be like if you were going next week, as you decide whether USNA is the right college for your future:
You wake at 4:30 a.m. departure day—after packing seven pairs of shorts, ten sets of socks, a few shirts (they’ll give you five when you get there), a bathing suit (you have water work) and shower sandals. Not much else, a book in case of free time (but that was non-existent). You hug your Labradors Stoney and Casey one last time, explaining to them the immensity of this event, climb into the family car and head off to the airport by 5:15 a.m. to catch the 6:45 flight.
The United Airlines flight takes you through Denver, home of the US Air Force Academy. The plane lands behind schedule at Baltimore-Washington International, leaving you a late-night thirty minute drive to your hotel, located close enough to the Yard (the USNA campus) for walking. That choice is fortuitous because Visitor parking on the Yard (the local’s name for the campus) proves difficult (as a Plebe, Mom and Dad get a FONA—Friends of the Naval Academy—pass allowing them access to on-Yard parking).
It has been a long day, but who can sleep? You and your father walk over to the “school by the bay” and watch. Look. Absorb the history and tradition you will be part of for six days—starting tomorrow. Despite the late hour, you aren’t the only wide-eyed high school age civilian wandering with parents. You also notice uniformed Mids briskly walking through the Yard, and groups of fit-looking Mids in work-out clothes sprinting the Yard’s many running routes.
Now, it’s 8 am, and you’re standing at the proverbial door to your future. A guard station with two Marines controls entry to the 338-acre institution once known simply as the Naval School and renamed the “United States Naval Academy” in 1850. Inside these walls lie the remains of John Paul Jones; the sword he used; his famous quote, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not go fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way”; the figurehead from the USS Delaware now known as ‘Tecumseh, the God of 2.0’ (for the Midshipman goal to get a grade point average of 2.0); and Freedom 7—America’s first space capsule.
This is where Albert Michelson first accurately measured the speed of light with just $10 worth of equipment (in 1878, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics), and where Midshipman Joseph Reeves invented the first football helmet. This is the spot where, just one month earlier, 1000 graduating seniors threw their hats into the air in celebration, and set off for their assigned duties. Inside is Tecumseh Court, where Midshipmen celebrated V-J Day by beating the Japanese bell until it cracked. A meander through this National Historic Site resembles revisiting treasured history, every building named for a famous American military figure.
It begins sprinkling—a precursor to the seven-feet of water and sludge Hurricane Isabel will drop on the Yard in nine months. The schedule you received before leaving home calls for running, so you innocently ask where that will take place (not outside because, good grief, it’s raining!). The Detailer (now called Cadre) assigned to greeting and meeting cracks a smile, and answers,
“We try to schedule all of our wars for sunny days.”
Sixty minutes later you’re wet and muddy, and part of the USNA Summer Seminar process.
Later, your dad tells you, after waving good-bye and losing sight of his only daughter, he wanted to give you spending money. He asked a Detailer if he would mind finding you and giving you $20 (That’s right—in the USNA environment, $20—or 20 cents—would get to the intended party).
The young man replied,
“Mr. Mxxxx, don’t worry about that. Your daughter will have no time to spend money.”
From the uniformed Marines checking ID’s at the gate to the polite and friendly greetings of the Mids you pass to and from the orientation, it is clear that the comfortable rules and regulations of your ‘podunk’ civilian life have been replaced by YP’s, gouge, EI and the Dark Ages of USNA.
You blitz through the fastest week of your life. Some attendees don’t like being barked at. Mentally, you scream,
Just do what they say! They know how to train you!
You have no problem saying, ‘Sir! Yes Sir!’ over and over. You’re thrilled to rise early and sprint to the track for more running. You never feel like quitting because, what’s the big deal? It’s not Plebe Summer. It engenders a question of pride—even with your lungs burning and your legs chugging through the last quarter mile. Even when your Detailer tells the company:
“We’ll run longer because we’re the best!” And sends everyone on an extra half mile ‘longcut’—even then you don’t feel justified quitting.
You remember that run well: You were lagging further and further behind, the next Squad of Plebe wanna-be’s closing in and threatening to pass you. Your Platoon pushed you on, but your lungs had nothing left to give. Just as you decided to move off the path and get out of way, your haggard head lifted and spotted the finish line. There ahead, classmates slowed down, and doubled over as they gulped fresh air and tried not to throw up. Just ahead twenty steps. Ten steps… Five, and then, Done!! You knew you could make it! When the week ends, your company remains the only one without a single quitter the entire time.
You remember the time you forced exhausted arms through push-ups—again. One, two, three. You’re great at push-ups—it’s one of your strengths—but, the Detailer didn’t want push-ups anymore. Now he wanted you to stay in an arms-bent position and hold. So you held. Centimeters from your face, a worm crawled under your body, between your arms, toward your lowered chin. Millimeters from your mouth and nose! Oh well. You held, until the Detailer restarted the push-ups. What’s one worm?
You adopt Navy language as your own. Mother B, Plebe, the Yard, chopping in the hallways. You like chopping. Go Navy Beat Army!
Now you’re back from both Summer Seminars (You also went to USAFA’s version). You return to civilian life with a burning desire to attend the Naval Academy. Everything you observed—the honor, the commitment, the clear-eyed intelligence of potential classmates—convinced you your life path and destiny intersect at the gates of the Naval Academy.
They send you home with a good Fitrep report, a failed PAE (you couldn’t hang from a bar for eighteen seconds), and an oversize packet of USNA materials. You use your new USNA duffel bag to carry it. Go Navy! Beat Army!
–excerpt from Building a Midshipman: How to Crack the USNA Application