Naval Academy gets Class of '97


July 02, 1993|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer

Gregory Smith collapsed on the stairs and cried, "Look what you did to me!" after his mom accidentally gave him a buzz haircut a few years ago.

But the Parkville 18-year-old who once told his mom she "ruined his hair" was anxiously waiting to be sheared yesterday morning, standing in a line that snaked past Alumni and Sampson halls at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

For Mr. Smith and 1,189 other young men and women, this was Induction Day and the beginning of Plebe Summer -- the academy's grueling six-week, boot-camp-like training for incoming freshman.

"I've heard millions of horror stories about how hard it will be," saidMr. Smith, whose mother, father, grandfather, three brothers and a girlfriend showed up to send him off for the next four years. "But the prestige, history and tradition of the academy, as well as the respect you get from people when they find out you attend the academy, makes it all worth it."

Academy officials, still reeling from a year that included charges of sexual misconduct against five midshipmen and a cheating scandal that resulted in the recommended expulsion of six juniors, were no doubt eager for the infusion of new blood.

Inside Alumni Hall, the men and women went through a series of medical exams, visited academy barbers for haircuts and traded in their civilian shorts and shirts for standard, baggy "white work" uniforms that include the blue-trimmed plebe caps -- "Popeye outfits" or "Crackerjack uniforms," as some midshipmen called them.

Steven Salata from California grinned ear-to-ear as 2nd Lt. Robbie Falkenbach, a 1993 graduate of the Naval Academy, received permission to cut his hair.

Several men laughed or smiled as their hands reached up instinctively to touch the one-eighth inch of fuzz left on their heads. Women received a collar-length cut.

"It's the last time they'll be in civilian clothes in a while, the last time they have hair for a while and the last time they'll be leaving theacademy for a while," Lieutenant Falkenbach said.

"It's breaking them down on the same level by making them all lookalike. Then we mold them back up the way we want them to be," said Lieutenant Falkenbach, who is heading to Virginia's Quantico Marine Base in the fall.

Outside, academy chaplains and midshipmen attempted to ease the concerns of both parents and plebes. The Navy Class of 1997 includes 1,022 men and 168 women. There are 64 Marylanders in the class.

"We know mothers and fathers are interested in seeing that their sons and daughters aren't going to change inside," 1st Class Regimental Commander Todd Huber told parents and plebes. "We just want you to know that we'll change how they look, make them clean their rooms and focus on world events by reading newspapers more, but they'll still be the same inside."

Many parents ran around taking pictures of their children. Some walked around Alumni Hall, trying to get a better glimpse of their offspring as they went through the process of becoming plebes.

Jonathan Spore, 18, from Chantilly, Va., had a set of tips and advice from a good source -- his father graduated in 1970, the fifth generation of Spores to attend the academy,

"He told me to get a couple of extra uniforms so I wouldn't have to do much laundry and to keep my sense of humor," said Mr. Spore. "I just hope I won't get too razzed when people find out that practically everyone in my family went here."

That should be the least of his concerns, several midshipmen said.

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