Preparing To Be a Plebe
Enlisted Sailors, Marines Excel at Naval Academy Prep School
When Indoctrination Day begins at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the newest batch of nervous, anxious and sweaty plebes (midshipmen 4th class) hurry around the majestic, riverfront campus from one processing station to the next. They receive a crash course in military bearing. However, about 270 of them are ready for the challenge.
They are called "Napsters," and they are midshipmen who initially attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) in Rhode Island. At the prep school, they had the chance to boost their academic, military and physical performances for 10 months prior to reporting to the academy.
They already know how to march, salute and repeat commands verbatim; they are physically fit and can pass the required fitness test; they're familiar with the rigors and routines of the Naval Academy; and some already know how to lead.
Of the 270 candidates, about 80 percent come from the civilian world, typically high school. The balance comprises highly experienced, prior-enlisted Sailors and Marines - "priors."
Making up approximately 20 percent of the NAPS Battalion, the prior-enlisted are sought out for advice. Their Navy and Marine Corps sea stories provide insight to the direct-entry accessions, as to what lies in store for them in the fleet." - Mark Donahue, NAPS command services director.
At the same time, the transition from independent military service member to trainee presents challenges, but also allows prior-enlisted service members to flourish.
"I think as a prior-enlisted [Sailor], being humbled ... has definitely been a challenge for me, because in my last job, you figure out what you have to do and you just do it. No one's really telling you," said Midshipman Candidate Toni Melton from Uvalde, Texas, who was previously a intelligence specialist 3rd class. "It definitely made me think for myself, and that made me want to help [my fellow midshipmen] more to work as a team. I definitely think that my prior experience has helped me in the face of just understanding that I can't do it by myself. I have to have my team with me."
Melton was standing 12 hour shifts before she arrived at NAPS, but thinks mastering the time-management and study skills offered in the program before she gets to the Naval Academy is crucial.
"The great thing about NAPS is that they have an entire class dedicated to study skills, so I'll be able to learn my way of studying," said Melton. "I think it's important for prior-enlisted personnel to go to NAPS just to get that 'OK, we're back in school, this is the normal routine.'"
That new normal is far from Midshipman Candidate David Sartoph's experience. From Midlothian, Virginia, he was stationed aboard the colossal Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75) as a cryptologic technician 3rd class petty officer before coming to NAPS. He was part of a team that handled top-secret intelligence, providing indication and warning for his carrier strike group to make big decisions in support of the overall mission.