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From Ballcaps to Dixie Cups

United States Naval Academy Induction Day 2017

The sun rose on a warm, midsummer morning in Maryland. As the humidity climbed, so did the tension and excitement. The future leadership of the United States Navy and Marine Corps waited, one after another, to enter Alumni Hall and begin their long march toward becoming military officers.


Arriving at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was the first step in their journey. Induction Day (I-Day) was a proud day for the new applicants as well as for their parents, some of whom are prior service members themselves. Each new cadet will become part of a whole, part of a team.

"Making a career out of the military is always something I've been interested in," said Titus Kilpatrick of the class of 2021 - better known as a plebe. "I heard it's really rigorous. They're trying to develop us morally, mentally and physically."

Kilpatrick was one of only about 1,200 cadets to be accepted out of around 16,300 applicants. On I-Day, he joined a seemingly endless line of young men and women waiting to get through the doors, soon to trade shorts and T-shirts for white plebe smocks.

"I think it's definitely going to be a good start, all of the stress we are going to be under," said Hannah Lyon, another plebe. "As we all start this adventure, we're not all alone. We're on the same team, working through the hardships together."

The first day consisted largely of militarizing the former civilians. They received the first of many uniforms and learned basic military practices, such as how to wear a cover and salute. Plebes went through medical checks and immunizations, then had their hair cut.

"I've been cutting hair at the Naval Academy for 31 years," said Paula Clarke, USNA staff barber. "People come here for all different reasons, sometimes for sports, but always to serve their country."

Plebes then met with upperclass midshipmen, known as detailers, who were responsible for plebes during I-Day. They will help mold and guide the new midshipmen through the summer's challenges, starting with the plebes' living arrangements. Along the way detailers will not only teach their plebes how to organize their dorm rooms, they'll help them navigate the path to becoming officers.

"I think you can see it on I-Day, that transition from civilian to military," said Midshipman 1st Class Jason Clarke. "One of the biggest things they will learn is time management, how to get things done fast and efficiently. We get them in shape and teach them the honor concept."

Once they finished moving into their rooms, the new midshipmen marched out for the first time as plebes to Tecumseh Court and took their seats, followed by their detailers. The upperclassmen lined up in two rows, then were commanded, "Center face!" All at once, they turned toward their plebes. Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter E. "Ted" Carter Jr. led the oath asking the detailers to teach and take care of the plebes. All at once, they let out a roaring "I do!"

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"My role as detailer is to take care of my plebes," said Clarke. "As their squad leader, I will take care of 10 plebes in the company, and I'm directly responsible for their health, well-being and safety. For us, it's a very real responsibility."

Following the detailer's oath, came the plebes' oaths of service. The oaths started with 15 international students who pledged to defend the U.S. in front of representatives from their own countries. "Do you solemnly swear to that you will support and defend the constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic?" Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. Robert B. Chadwick then asked the remaining plebes. "I do!" they boomed.

"The words of that oath truly matter. It is unique in American culture; they date back to the beginning of our nation," said Carter. "General George Washington knew he had to create an oath, not to a person as the Romans did, but to a concept, the concepts that are outlined in our constitution."

Upon completing of the oath, plebes received 45 minutes to enjoy a final heartfelt farewell with family and loved ones, who they will not see until parents' weekend, traditionally six weeks after I-Day.

"You're with your kids their whole life, but coming to the Academy, they have to do it on their own," said parent Charles Bongiovanni. "It's a big-time transformation. The dedication and professionalism they display is amazing."

To eventually become officers, plebes will have to embody and display the high standard the military requires of successful leaders. The experience they gain at the U.S. Naval Academy will be the foundation they will use to rise through the ranks and one day lead Sailors and Marines.

"I feel very humbled to be part of this experience," said Lorenzo Cardenas, another plebe. "I want to be out there, see the world and be able to experience more than what the civilian life would be able to give."

As the day came to a close, Cardenas, Kilpatrick, Lyon and their fellow plebes lined up with their company commanders and marched on Stribling Walk to Bancroft hall, their home for the next four years, as the Navy Band played in the background. After the last group entered, the huge metal doors slammed shut.