Plebes march into new life at academy

Induction day disorienting, but exciting for two teens

July 02, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Amanda Kinsley and Daniel Singer woke up yesterday morning regular teen-agers, 18-year-olds with untucked shirts, rambunctious personalities and, well, hair.

But while their friends set off on vacation fun, high school graduation fresh on their minds, these two Howard County teens stepped wide-eyed, silent and a little pale into the crowded lobby of the Naval Academy's Alumni Hall, into a strange new world.

From 6 a.m., Kinsley and Singer, with 1,224 peers in the Naval Academy's incoming class, went through a six-hour metamorphosis that is the institution's legendary induction procedure.

They ended the day as disciplined, obedient plebes in crisp, white uniforms who punctuated sentences with "Sir" or "Ma'am." Each is identified by a six-digit number and is virtually indistinguishable from their peers.

"I'm really excited," said Singer of Columbia, who didn't stop smiling during each step of registration. "This is what I've wanted for four or five years, and today's the day."

"I woke up this morning and was like `Oh, my God, it's happening today,' " said Kinsley of Ellicott City. "I couldn't believe it was happening."

The day turned out to be disorienting yet exhilarating for Singer and Kinsley as they left their parents at the door and checked into four years of military life as part of the academy's Class of 2003.

This year's plebe class features 1,028 men and 198 women, of which 238 are minorities and 84 are from Maryland. The class also includes 10 citizens of foreign countries including Korea, Bulgaria, Estonia and the Philippines. The plebes will go through six weeks of intensive training called "Plebe Summer," at the end of which their parents are allowed to visit for a weekend.

Induction day -- or "I-Day" -- was the beginning of a life Singer had aspired to throughout his high school years. Whenever he visited his father's company in Annapolis, he watched the midshipmen strolling around City Dock and wondered whether he would get into the academy.

"Everybody calls everybody `Sir,' " Singer said. "I just like that. It's nice to be in an environment where everybody respects each other. You don't find that in other places."

Kinsley said she wasn't drawn to the Naval Academy because of "burning aspirations to be an officer" -- she wanted to be challenged in a strict environment. Last year, she spent six days at the academy's summer program and knew she wanted to be a part of the institution.

Yesterday, though, she confessed that she was a little "freaked out." But she had hugged her parents goodbye and made the $2,200 deposit for uniforms and supplies. So, quietly, she signed in at the check-in point, carefully pinned her black plastic name-tag to her blue T-shirt, then anxiously asked, "Is it straight?"

With that significant first step into her new existence, Kinsley took a deep breath and climbed the stairs to face a barrage of stations for setting up a Navy bank account, handing over store-bought medication and getting inoculations.

Kinsley and Singer were eased into what Cmdr. Jeff Bright, a U.S. Space Command public affairs officer attached to the Naval Academy yesterday, called "indoctrination."

Before the hair shearing and uniform-fitting, the midshipmen staffing the processing stations began barking at them. They were both ordered to tuck in their shirts and stand still.

"Keep your eyeballs on me!" Midshipman Mike Poe yelled at Kinsley as she waited after getting a hepatitis shot. "When someone's talking to you, you look at them! From now on, every male you call him `Sir.' Every female, you call her `Ma'am.' You got that?"

Standing a little straighter, Kinsley murmured a response.

When Poe allowed her to proceed, she looked a little pale and whispered, "It's going to get worse, I can feel it."

Bright said the indoctrination process is important in stripping plebes of their individuality and emphasizing teamwork.

"It's part of the breaking-down process," he said. "You break them down and then build them back up. We are telling them, `You will not be different. You will all be uniform.' "

After the head-shaving booth, this was definitely evident. Kinsley had dodged the academy haircut by having her shoulder-length hair cut Monday at a salon. But Singer's longish hair, grown out recently because "it's the longest it will be for 10 years," was shaved -- while he grinned.

After hours of medical tests, uniform fittings, new shoes and long lines in which both teens made friends, Singer got more excited about settling in at the dormitory, Bancroft Hall.

Kinsley started thinking maybe their new lives, with all the rules, won't be too daunting.

"It'll be scary," she said, "but it'll be sort of fun."

Then she paused before walking away.

"I hope I'm right," she said, with a little smile.

With that, she went to don her white uniform, fall in with her platoon and march to Bancroft Hall.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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