An Inside Look at Plebe Summer, Part II

Navy senior cornerback Rashawn King did not have to be a squad leader during plebe summer training this off-season. However, he chose to take on one of the most difficult leadership challenges at the Naval Academy only a few weeks before the start of his final college football season. I had the chance to spend a day with Rashawn and his squad of plebes in July, and this is Part II of the story.

One of my priorities to report on as we approached Bancroft Hall was the physical state of the dorm that houses 4,000 plus midshipmen during the academic year.  In the mid to late 1990's the massive building went through a complete overhaul which included several significant upgrades including one very important addition – air conditioning.  Believe it or not, midshipmen who graduated from the Academy in 1997 and even later were subjected to the oppressive Mid-Atlantic humidity without the comfort of any artificial cooling.


So as we opened the doors, which incidentally read ‘Fourth Class Regiment Only,' I was expecting to feel this rush of cool air to offset the now sweltering heat and muggy conditions outside.  It didn't happen.  There wasn't even much of a breeze.  If there was air conditioning, I was convinced that a plebe summer detailer had managed to find the ‘off' switch. 


After spending a few moments looking for the operations office, Jenny and I spot Rashawn at the end of a passageway.  It is a good thing because we were about to get run over by a herd of plebes running through the middle of the hallway.


As we enter Rashawn's room, he explains that we have a few minutes before morning meal formation, and that there is probably time to see some training.  As he says this, I notice that the temperature in King's room is about 10 degrees hotter than in the passageway we just left.   


"We pretty much have two settings – hot and hotter," explains King as he points to the thermostat in the room which is turned to ‘cool.'  If there was cool air flowing from some vent, I sure as heck did not feel it.


As we make our way back into the hallway, we are greeted by a plebe who is standing duty or ‘watch' behind a podium.  He is the CMOD (Company Mate of the Deck) according to a sign posted behind him, and he immediately stops us and asks to see our identification.  After we oblige, Jenny and I look for Rashawn who has now made his way down the same corridor to a throng of awaiting plebes.


The plebes are standing at attention on both sides of the narrow passageway with their eyes affixed on the opposite wall.  Rashawn is now one of four detailers amongst the thirty or so plebes, and let's just say there are a lot of one-way conversations going on.  At one point, I notice that King's squad is standing on only one foot.  As King approaches our location which is a few feet from where the plebes are being trained, he explains the reason for their posture.


"One of their squad-mates has no coordination.  [One of them] does not know how to walk, never mind march, so they are all baring the strain."


And from the sounds of it, another one of the members of King's squad does not remember what's on the menu for breakfast.  However, to the plebe's credit the menu was rather long, as Jenny pointed out as she located a copy of the menu hanging up on the bulletin board across from our location.  It turns out what the plebe should have recited as the menu for morning meal was: Orange Juice, Pineapple juice, Assorted cereal cups, Cheese omelet, Grande BTRMK pancakes, Applewood bacon, Plain bagels, Cream cheese packets, Butter patties, Fresh Fruit, Assorted Yogurt, 2% Milk/Skim Milk, and Punch Sports Drink.


Speaking of breakfast, it was about 8:05 a.m. and a few detailers were warning the plebes that they were going to be late if they didn't get moving.  However, before they went to breakfast, they needed to return to their rooms to get their ‘swim rolls.'  Swim rolls, which consisted of a bathing suit, tucked in a towel and wrapped with goggles, were a necessary accessory for breakfast because the plebes would be headed to the pool prior to returning to Bancroft Hall.


With the shouts from detailers of "Go, go, go," about thirty plebes all made their way to the center of the passageway at once, turning abruptly to the left and right, while yelling at the top of their lungs either "Go Navy" or "Beat Army" as they turned.  Jenny and I were smart enough to duck far enough into a room to avoid getting run over.  As the plebes scurried past us, half of them or so managed to shout "Good Morning, Sir" or "Good Morning, Ma'am" in our direction. 


Just as quickly as they were gone, the plebes were back again.  It's a good thing that you actually hear the plebes before you see them because it gives you time to get out of their way.  As they passed us again, we were greeted by about the same number of plebes.


It is now 8:10 a.m. and Rashawn and his classmates, one of whom has completely lost her voice, are telling the plebes to get to breakfast.  As they depart, Rashawn stops one of his plebes to discuss something that I can not hear.  After he is done, the plebe starts racing away from us down the passageway, all the way to the end of the hall.  Once there, the plebe slaps the wall before turning around.


"I told him to go get motivation," explains King.  "We have a sign at the end of the hall that says ‘motivation,' and when we think they need to go get some, they go get some."


That makes sense, I think to myself as we follow his squad down the staircase to King Hall, the t-shaped dining facility for the plebes during the summer and the entire Brigade throughout the school year.


Just like Bancroft Hall, King Hall has gone through significant renovations in the past few years.  As I approach the facility, the first change that sticks out is the several dozen flat screen televisions hanging on the opposite ends of the walls of every fourth table or so.  They are mounted everywhere and they are projecting the image of the ‘Anchor,' which is the area in the middle of King Hall where midshipmen make announcements to the masses.


"Now they can actually see the person who is talking to them," explains Jenny.  "Before most of the midshipmen could hardly see what was going on."


Breakfast for the plebes begins with all of them standing at attention behind their seats, with their eyes looking straight ahead.  After about a minute or so, they are all given a command by their assistant squad leader to stow their swim rolls.  It is actually a two-part command that begins with "Stow," which leads the plebes to tuck their rolls under their chairs, and then "Gear" which allows the plebes to return to the position of attention.  A similar two-part order is given to sit down.  The plebes comply, but as they do so, they only occupy the front few inches of their seats. 


(Note: One of the rules that I must adhere to is that I am only allowed to observe the meal, and not actually eat with the squad.)


The acoustics in King Hall, combined with the requirement for me to only observe from a distance, makes it difficult to hear most of the conversations taking place during breakfast.  However, I do notice that Rashawn, who is seated at the head of the table next to Teich, his assistant, begins several discussions since the plebes are not allowed to speak to each other unless they are requesting a particular item on the table.


It is pretty obvious that King wants the plebes to be somewhat relaxed during meal time.  By ‘relaxed,' I mean they are not being yelled at. They are, however, sitting and eating like robots while looking straight ahead.


One of the questions King asks the members of his squad seems to be about what they used to like doing in their spare time.  One of the answers makes one of the plebes laugh, and before you know it they were all on the verge of laughing.  King later explained to me that Teich had said in his spare time that he liked to ride horses "which for some reason made everyone crack up."


Other than the occasional laugh, breakfast continues without much fanfare – that is until King asks one of his plebes to sing the Marine Hymn in honor of the late Chesty Puller.  Let's just say the rendition would have made a great audition tape for the early episodes of American Idol – you know the ones that feature the likes of William Hung and other awful singers.  This poor plebe not only couldn't carry a tune, he managed to shift his voice from one octave to another without a care in the world.  His rendition also led to some laughter, which unfortunately for one of the singer's classmates, led to a duet.  Now there were two AWFUL singers trying to sing the Marine Hymn.  It was so bad, it was almost not funny…almost.


On that sour note, breakfast was over and the plebes began to make their way to a formation outside of Bancroft Hall.  The next stop on our tour was going to be a conduct brief for the plebes in Mitscher Auditorium. The brief turned out to be a great opportunity to sit down with Rashawn to continue our conversation about summer training as well as the upcoming football season.



Photos copyright 2008 David Ausiello for Top Stories