For Plebes, The Summer Is No Picnic

Freshmen To Learn The Ropes --and Their Place--at Academy

July 10, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Karl Wick of Glen Burnie had his hair trimmed short for the occasion, in a modified crew cut that he figured would satisfy the requirements for induction into the U.S. Naval Academy.

He was wrong.

Wick found this out yesterday morning when he sat down in Chuck Arconia's barber chair in Alumni Hall in a room furnished with 20 barber chairs, all of them occupied by young people aiming to become leaders in the Navy or the Marine Corps. Electric razors buzzed hungrily and hair fell everywhere in clumps.

"I thought I wouldn't have to have my hair cut," Wick said softly, as Arconia made a few passes with the electric razor and reduced Wick's crew cut to a blond haze.

But then, it's hard to know exactly what to expect on the first day of what they call Plebe Summer, a rather pastoral term for seven weeksof dawn-to-night calisthenics, sports competition, weapons training,sailing instruction, drill practice and lectures in Navy procedure. The officers say this much is certain: the young person who completesthis first leg of Navy officer training is never quite the same person again.

About 1,100 young people shuffled through the mill yesterday at Alumni Hall, getting haircuts, brief medical examinations anduniforms for their induction into the academy's class of 1995. The academy admitted 1,144 to the program this year, nearly 10 percent of them women. During the four-year program of military and academic training, as many as a quarter of the midshipmen can be expected to dropout.

Before 6 a.m. yesterday, young men and women began forming aline that would snake down the stairs and out gleaming white Alumni Hall into the humid morning, stretching to the length of two footballfields. When those outside reached the doors, they left their families behind and passed into the world of the Navy. Eight of every 10 finished high school in the top fifth of their class, but they will nowassume for one school year the lowly role of plebe, as in plebeian, Latin for "of the common people."

Wick, an 18-year-old graduate ofNorth County High School, stood on line outside for about an hour with his mother and father and his 14-year-old sister. Wick's father, Kenneth, said his son decided to apply to the Naval Academy after receiving offers of lacrosse scholarships from Brown, Cornell and the University of Maryland.

"The boy's got it pretty much together," saidthe father, his pride showing through a layer of paternal understatement.

Wick hopes to apply to the Navy medical program and become adoctor. But that's a long way off. First he must endure Plebe Summer. He's heard it's tough. He figures he'll "just stick with it, keep asense of humor. . . . You just have to not let it get to you. You know it's going to be over."

At least he won't be getting screamed at so often by officers and supervising midshipmen.

This year, the academy is shelving the old hammerhead training style. Capt. Michael D. Haskins, commandant of midshipmen, said the training "isn't any kinder and gentler," but he said, "We will not have mindless yelling. .. . If your parents yelled at you all the time, after a while you tuned it out. We don't want that to happen."

And in response to lastyear's controversy over treatment of women at the academy, plebes will take a few classes designed to make them more sensitive to fair treatment of women and minorities.

But make no mistake, a plebe is still a plebe. A plebe still must eat her meals with her back held straight as a board and her rear end on the edge of the chair. A plebe still cannot accept visitors until parents weekend Aug. 17. A plebe cannot go on dates. A plebe in Plebe Summer must wake at 5:30 a.m. and be ready at six for 45 minutes of calisthenics out on the turf football field. This to begin a 16-hour day in which one activity follows lock step after another, interrupted by 50 minutes for lunch, 1 hour 20 minutes for dinner and special instruction and 20 minutes of personal time before lights out.

The prospect of this did not seem to faze Elizabeth Scoonover, an 18-year-old graduate of Broadneck High School. She fixes her eyes on a lofty goal.

"I want to be an astronaut, so I hope I'll be a Navy aviator," said Scoonover, of Arnold. She expects to major in aerospace engineering, having taken aerospace courses at the academy while in high school.

Jesko Hagee of Annapolissuffered no second thoughts as he waited on line. The 18-year-old Annapolis High School graduate has been wanting to go to the Naval Academy "ever since I can remember." His father, Marine Corps Col. Michael Hagee, is a Naval Academy graduate and the director of the academy's division of Humanities and Social Sciences.

And did the colonel prepare his son for the ordeal of plebedom?

"He said the first year was hard, well, challenging would be a better way to put it," said the 1991 Annapolis High valedictorian. "He said it would be a lot of work but it would be worth it."

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