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Training and Education

Finding Their Bearings

Plebes' journey to becoming officers

Every year, Plebe Summer begins with approximately 1,200 incoming freshmen shedding their civilian clothes and receiving new haircuts. Then they are introduced to their detailers, senior students who will provide mentorship that both shapes and humbles in equal parts, helping pave the way for plebes to one day assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.

Notable graduates from the Naval Academy, who were once plebes themselves, are former President Jimmy Carter, class of 1947, and Acting Secretary of the Navy Frank Kelso, class of 1956.

"We emphasize the small things," said Midshipman First Class Christine Chhor. "Like greeting everyone, 'Good morning or afternoon, Ma'am or Sir,' and staying professional, knowing when to lock it on."

This summer, Midshipman Commander Elizabeth Schilder oversaw both plebes and their detailers. She took pride in being one the first faces they saw as they began their journey toward becoming officers in the United States Navy.
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"One of the big challenges we've seen so far with the plebes is transitioning them out of a civilian lifestyle and into a military lifestyle," said Schilder. "So things like standards, discipline, the physicality of it are new to them and, for some, it's hard. But what we're starting to see is they're looking to their classmates for help, finding that camaraderie and family in their new companies, platoons, their squads."

Schilder and her detailers pushed the class of 2021 to achieve excellence. They stressed teamwork and learning to think beyond individual achievements, and introduced military bearing and a basic understanding of how to follow the chain of command.

"The purpose of Plebe Summer is to train the plebes, but to also help us develop our leadership styles," said Chhor. "We're all a little different. I think we can all come together to develop ourselves the best we can."

During the seven-week training evolution that preceded the academic year, plebes received hands-on training in the fundamentals of seamanship aboard a small craft, as well as basic shipboard damage control.

"These students someday are going to be my officers," said Machinist Mate First Class Jeremy Boersma, an instructor in the Engineering Weapons Department. "I want to make sure that they have the best training they can have."

Plebes sent to Boersma handled pipe-patching in simulated stressful situations, giving them a preview of how they might respond if faced with the need to save a ship alongside the Sailors they will one day lead.
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"We get quality recruits here," said Boersma. "They want to learn. When I see them going through this trainer, typically they're eager. If they have trepidation, it's because they don't know what to do and they're looking for some guidance and instruction. It's incredibly rewarding."

Meanwhile, across campus, plebes also qualified on a variety of weapons, learning patience and accuracy in a controlled environment. They developed line-of-sight on the gun range, carefully gauging the distance between themselves and their targets. Paper targets stapled to plywood serviced 80 students a day and gave them tangible evidence of how well they did to take with them when they were done.

"Coaching someone who's never really held a weapon before and whenever they succeed, it's a good feeling," said Midshipman Lt. j.g. Joseph Flemming, pistol platoon commander. "You know they take that back with them to the hall, and it's one of their high points of Plebe Summer. Knowing you were able to help them out on a situation where it was tough for them is great."

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