Naval Academy midshipmen face tough endurance training in Sea Trials

Annual daylong exercise challenges plebes

  • Members of 10th Company do sit-ups in the water during the Sea Trials at the Naval Academy. It is an event for plebes and serves as a leadership challenge. The freshman class goes through 14 hours of physical and mental training.
Members of 10th Company do sit-ups in the water during the Sea… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
May 15, 2012|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

They crawled through muddy trenches. They did sit-ups in the Severn River. They performed a mock evacuation of an injured pilot. And they kept on going.

Midshipmen completing their first year at the Naval Academy endured the rigorous 14-hour Sea Trials on Tuesday. The annual training exercise put the approximately 1,000 plebes through 30 challenging events from predawn darkness through late afternoon.

"One, two, three, 10," hollered plebes of the 10th Company as they counted squats in the water before flopping backward with a roar.

The Annapolis military academy's training exercise is modeled after the Marine Corps' Crucible and Navy's Battle Stations programs. A culminating event of plebe, or first, year, it's designed to challenge the mids physically as well as mentally while reinforcing their teamwork and strengthening their bond as a class.

"This represents the transformation from civilian to potential military officer," said Midshipman 1st Class, or senior, Barrett Moorhouse, commander of the Sea Trials. "It is a transition to upper-class midshipmen. They have proven themselves."

And they did it in obstacle courses, one-on-one combat, paintball, relays, team strength, fitness and more. The "Iron Company", or company with the highest score, will go first in the Herndon Monument climb, the traditional effort to reach the top of the greased obelisk, which will take place next Tuesday. The 28th Company was announced late Tuesday as the winner.

As traditions go, Sea Trials is a young one, begun in 1998.

Among the exercises was slogging through a shallow muddy trench that was topped with barbed wire, making it crucial for participants to drag through it on their bellies or backs.

"I didn't expect it to be quite that rocky," Lucas Papadakis, a plebe from Anacortes, Wash., said after he stood up, his entire front soggy with sand and mud. He'd be jumping into the river in a minute for water exercises. With only a few hours remaining, he said, "I feel great" — despite having vomited early on, as his belt was too tight.

With about two hours left, about 25 participants had sought medical attention, though none had serious injuries, officials said.

Plebes said that after months of training, they were tired but energized, and figured they'd have dinner — a barbecue was planned — and then promptly fall asleep.

Mids went two by two through an obstacle course in which the program was changed to have plebes going under most logs instead of jumping onto and over them because the wood was slippery from early morning rain. "Help him," shouted upperclassmen, who run the Sea Trials, to a plebe whose colleague was having a tough time hefting himself over the highest timber. There was no rest for the weary as they finished the course's rope climb: "The Tunnel of Love," in which plebe after plebe slithered through the mud beneath a lineup of fellow plebes whose arched bodies formed a tunnel, followed.

Meghan Ford, who hails from outside Lowell, Mass., emerged from it with dirt layered on her blue camouflage clothing. She pushed hair off her face with a filthy hand, ready to jog to the next exercise.

How would her mother respond if she saw her like that?

Said Ford: "She'd probably say, 'I'm proud of you.'"

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