Mids find their sea legs

`Youngsters': Naval Academy sophomores return from their first excursion in ship navigation

July 28, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

In a tradition as old as the Naval Academy, 250 sophomores left the academy three weeks ago as students and came back yesterday as sailors.

To the sound of a marching band, the waves of their parents and the critical review of Rear Adm. Dave Stone, the midshipmen piloted 14 naval ships in formation past the academy dock.

It was the first time any of them had taken command of a ship and practiced what they had learned about navigation, the sea, and boat maintenance in the classroom as they cruised for three weeks to New York, Boston and Rhode Island.

As tradition has it, when the students pass Greenberry point on the Chesapeake Bay and catch a glimpse of the Naval Academy chapel, they are no longer called sophomores, or third-classmen, but are called "youngsters," a term which refers to them as young sailors.

Before they can disembark though, all 14 vessels must pass "inspection" by a visiting high-ranking officer, who is supposed to objectively assess for school officials whether the flotilla is ship-shape. That responsibility yesterday went to Stone, deputy director of surface warfare at the Pentagon in Washington.

As Stone stood at attention on the deck of the school's sailing center, his 1974 academy class ring clanked against the metal railing. He said with a smile, the "youngster cruise" he took almost 30 years ago, shaped his career in the Navy.

"I remember it so well, being up around Rhode Island. It was the first time I had been out at sea," he said looking at the water. "I remember being out at night and seeing the large merchant ships ... working with the elements and understanding the rules of the road. It was one of the reasons I went into surface warfare.

"Once you feel the skill of driving a ship," he said, "it really pulls at your heart."

Stone, who returned recently from his post as commander of the standing naval force in the Mediterranean, said he would line up his fleet in the same formation as the students were using yesterday: a single line of ships, spaced equally apart, hugging the dock. He said he was looking for "clean lines" and spotless decks, as well as the ability to stay in formation -- a feat he said is difficult for even experienced sailors.

Stone wasn't the only one watching closely. Several dozen parents came to catch a glimpse of their sons and daughters, the teen-agers they dropped off almost a year ago at the academy gates now the working sailors that returned to port.

"We're just so proud of her," said Judy Ames, as she watched for her daughter Erin Borozny. "Not just for what she has done, but for the way she has chosen to live her life, to put herself through the misery of last year because of her commitment to serve."

The students, who were busy unloading gear and leftover food on the dock yesterday, said it wasn't all work. Many of them spent two days sightseeing in New York, while others talked about visiting Boston.

"It really gave you a sense of what the Navy's all about, that it's not just about yelling," said student Samantha Bodley from St. Charles, Ill., referring to the way the upperclassmen treat the freshmen or plebes. They became sophomores on the day the seniors graduated. As the last boat passed, Stone reported to Capt. Bob Wells, director of professional development at the Naval Academy, which runs the program, that he saw two things: "pride and professionalism."

"I could see them smiling from here," he said.

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