An Inside Look at Plebe Summer, Part IV

Rashawn King is not the only varsity athlete taking part in plebe summer training at the Naval Academy. There are several other football players serving as detailers, including Greg Shinego, Jarod Bryant, Jerry Feehery, and Tyree Barnes. And as I was about to find out, there were two more varsity athletes in November Company working with King to mold the future leaders of our country.

As we left Mitscher Auditorium en route to Lejeune Hall, Rashawn King caught up with the plebe (mentioned in part one of this story) who was in awe of former Navy football player Reggie Campbell when he saw him during the early morning workout (PEP).  It turns out King had an assignment for the somewhat diminutive but gregarious plebe.


"I have a mission for you, Mr. Paul," said King.  "I want you to find Mr. Campbell and get him to autograph your chest."


Mr. Paul responded as one would expect a plebe to, with a resounding, "Sir, yes sir."


As we were sitting in the bleacher section overlooking the pools in Lejeune Hall, I had the opportunity to meet some of King's classmates including Luke Albi, of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Albi is a member of the Navy tennis team that has won back-to-back Patriot League titles.  It was Albi that informed me that Rashawn was not the only varsity athlete doing plebe summer detail with November Company.  Kristen Laraway, of Long Valley, N.J., is a forward on the women's soccer team – one of Navy's most successful sports programs.  Since there were several female detailers in November Company, I asked Albi if he could identify Laraway to me later on. 


"She's the one with no voice," he replied.


That's all he had to say.  I had no idea the boisterous detailer who earlier I had seen kicking in doors and spreading fear amongst the plebes was one of Navy soccer's brightest talents.  For those of you not familiar with Laraway's exploits, she is the player who scored the winning goal in Navy's victory over ninth-ranked Penn State in 2006.  I made a mental note to be sure to speak with (as much as possible) the extremely hoarse Laraway before I left.


Meanwhile, back at the pool, some plebes were learning how to stay afloat in the deeper and smaller diving area, while others were figuring out how to do the backstroke in the larger lap pool.  Two of the new recruits in particular caught my eye: One of them was a football recruit, and another was the plebe whose lack of coordination led to his classmates having to stand on one foot.  Let me just say neither of these two plebes were excelling right now in the pool.


We left Lejeune Hall just before 11 a.m. and as we made our way back to the November Company area in Bancroft Hall, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to Rashawn lead a cadence for his plebes.  Earlier in the day, King told me that he "loves [military] drill" and that it is actually one of the more "fun" parts of his day.  Watching him maneuver his plebes around the Yard while calling a very familiar Yogi Bear-themed cadence, I got to see why he probably likes drill.  He's good at it…very good.  Each time I thought his platoon was going to crash into a few other groups of plebes, King just calmly weaved them around with a variety of commands.  And I could tell the plebes were enjoying the cadence, even though most of the characters mentioned during it were dying at the hands of Yogi's best friend, Boo Boo Bear.


With less than an hour before lunch, King and his classmates had an opportunity to conduct some more training in Bancroft Hall.  Unfortunately for the one plebe who is having trouble marching, this meant some three-on-one help with his coordination in full view of his entire platoon.  To the shouts of "right turn" and "left turn" and "about-face" this plebe tried to figure out how to get his left arm to move at the same time as his right leg and vice versa.  After about five minutes of trying to teach the plebe how to march, Rashawn and Albi attempted to concentrate on just normal walking techniques.  After about ten minutes, their efforts were still not working.  Meanwhile, the rest of the platoon was trying to figure out the true meaning of uniform races.  One of the more funny moments of the day occurs when the aforementioned detailer and soccer player, Kristen Laraway starts shouting at plebes who forgot to close their doors before starting to change their outfits.


I can not be sure if it was Laraway who said it, but I heard the phrase, "I don't want to see your ugly [insert body part here]" more than once come from a few detailers.  It seemed that in their haste to get changed, several plebes forgot to close their doors first.


(Note: The language being used by the detailers was extremely clean.  I'm not sure if this was the norm or if they chose their words more carefully because of my presence.  However, I was impressed that in such a stressful environment, the upper-class midshipmen were managing to refrain from using foul language when training the plebes.)


After about 45 minutes of training, the plebe with very little coordination was finally making progress – at least I thought so.  In any event he was allowed to rejoin his platoon just prior to the entire group leaving for lunch.  Right before departing, one of King's classmates asked the plebe:


"You can't swim.  You can't march.  What are you good at?"


The plebe's response was simple and surprisingly confident.


"I'm pretty smart," he said.


And in almost perfect harmony, a detailer shouted as I said under my breath, "He better be."


Once the plebes shouted their way towards the exits, Jenny and I walked down to Tecumseh Court in order to view noon-meal formation.  Although I have taken part in this evolution several hundred times, it was probably going to only be the third of fourth time I actually watched it as an observer.  And after doing so on this day, I have to admit it is a pretty impressive scene, and one that still attracts at least 100 or so tourists on any given day.


For lunch, the plebes were dining on chef's salad, pizza, multigrain chips and apple turnovers, but instead of watching them eat, we decided to dine in the Drydock Restaurant.  Although I had been to the facility a few months earlier to interview Midshipman Jack McCain, the restaurant never gets old to me because they keep displaying new photos of Navy football.  The latest collection highlights the historic win over Notre Dame.


After devouring a few slices of pizza, it's time for me to meet up with the plebes along the seawall adjacent to the Severn River for some damage control training.  Since we arrived a little early, it turned out to be a great time to interview some of Rashawn's classmates.


I really was curious what detailers, who were not varsity athletes, thought of Rashawn's participation this summer.  Elizabeth Hall, the November Company Executive Officer gave a very resounding review.


"We're so happy to have him [on the detail].  You can tell Rashawn really has his heart into it every single day that he comes out here.  [The plebes] look up to him so much more because he is a varsity athlete, and well, Navy football, it's so esteemed.  He is a true role model for all of them," said Hall.


She also added, "Nobody can out PT Rashawn. When [the plebes] see him go into the push-up position, he goes down, but everybody wants to know when he will come back up.  He's in that down position for a good while."


However, Hall said King's ability to laugh and have fun is one of his best attributes.


"He's all over them, and he is quick to point their errors out, but he maintains a sense of humor which is pretty necessary to be working in such an exhaustive environment."


When I asked if Hall, and fellow detailer, Lauren Ronan, of Cumberland, MD., were big Navy football fans, there was no hesitation in their answers. 


"Navy football is such a unique program, especially this past year with beating Notre Dame.  For such a small school, we play such big-name [programs] and we have a pretty good record.  There is so much pride on the team.  They are not playing because they want to get drafted.  They are playing because they want to play for Navy," said Ronan.


Ok, so they are big fans, but did they know how to pronounce ‘Niumatalolo.'


"Is this off-the-record?" responded Hall.


After failing in their first attempt, Ronan chimed in with, "This is embarrassing…it ends with ‘tamolo' right?"


As luck would have it for two of Navy football's biggest fans, Midshipmen Laraway appears out of nowhere to prevent any more shameful behavior from her classmates.


Laraway can barely speak because her throat is so sore, but she manages to give me her perspective on the importance of having athletes participate in the most important leadership positions offered by the Academy.


"If the plebes see [a varsity athlete] on summer detail, then they know we can do more than one thing [at USNA].  It's not just about the military. It's about teamwork. It's about being part of a team and playing our sport too," said Laraway. This school is fun.  It might not seem like it over plebe summer because it's so rigorous, exhausting and mentally challenging, but after that there is a whole different world that the Academy offers, and part of that is varsity athletics."


So how does a Naval Academy student-athlete compare to a student-athlete at a civilian school, I ask. 


"At other schools, maybe their first priority is their team and their sport.  Here our first priority is the military, and then comes our sport," stated Laraway.


Additionally, there is a great deal of pressure on Naval Academy athletes to stay out of trouble with the administration because, according to Laraway, it affects the entire team.


"If you are in trouble in the Hall, then you are in trouble with the team.  If one person gets in trouble, then the whole team suffers because we need [everyone] to participate.  If you get suspended from games, then it hurts the team as well.  You are punished in the Hall, and then [subsequently] on the field by doing extra workouts for the games you missed.  It's like overtime.  It's not fun."


Laraway, who wants to be a surface warfare officer when she graduates next year, says the importance of varsity athletics at a service academy can not be overstated. 


"You learn a lot about teamwork and communication through your sport and that is something that can carry over anywhere – in the Fleet, working together to get the job done, [and in] your schoolwork, helping out your classmates to ensure everyone is successful."


Now that Laraway has been reduced to hand gestures in order to communicate, I decided to thank her for her time and make my way over to the damage control training.  This is where I meet November Company's senior enlisted representative, Chief Petty Officer John Butler.


Butler, who served on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman for the past four years, has only been at the Academy for two weeks.  However, he has had plenty of time to form an opinion about the job being done by the November Company detailers, especially Rashawn King.


"He is very good.  I have heard nothing but good things about his squad.  They have improved tremendously in a short period of time and that's a testament to his leadership," said Butler.


Chief Butler said duty at the Academy for enlisted sailors is "something that is sought after" and he "definitely wanted to come [to Annapolis] for a tour."


Back in the Fleet, Butler said the excitement surrounding Navy football is "starting to get better," and that "it was a big deal on the TRUMAN."


For now, the November Company Chief is keeping his eye on the upper-class midshipmen more so than the plebes, but he had some advice for the new officer recruits.


"Most of them are 17 or 18 years old and they have a lot to learn, but they are motivated.  I tell them as long as they stay motivated that chief isn't going to give up on you…and I haven't given up on them."


Butler admits being a "big football fan" but if the football players think that they are going to get off easy because of that, they are wrong.


"I'm a little tougher on the football players.  But that's how they like it because it's going to get a lot tougher when they start football camp.  But they are all treated fairly."


As I began to take in the damage control training, Rashawn King introduced me to the Regimental Commander, Toshi Williams, of Edgewater, Maryland.  Williams is the highest ranking midshipman for the first part of plebe summer, and she too sees the value in having varsity athletes as part of her detail. 


"It shows the plebes that you can be an athlete and a leader [in the Brigade].  You don't just have to blend in with the Brigade," said Williams.  "It can also inspire plebes who are not varsity athletes.  [They should be thinking] if athletes, with everything on their table can manage their time, then I shouldn't have any problem with doing it."


It turns out Williams is also a huge Navy football fan with great expectations for the team this year.


"I think we can go 12-0," said Williams. "We just need to not take for granted the teams we think we can beat.  Sometimes that comes back to haunt us.  I know our first game is against Towson, but we need to go out full-engines ahead."


I assured Williams that I would pass her advice onto the team, but since King was still standing near us, I had the feeling that would not be necessary.


I finally had the chance to observe some of the damage control training.  With the temperature now hovering around 90 degrees, the plebes were really enjoying an evolution that included cold water hitting them in the face.  I made sure to take several photos of the training to include with the story.  The training was a great way for me to end the day. The detailers and plebes, however, still had over six hours of fun and excitement left before lights out.  In addition to a sports period, some personal time, and evening meal, the plebes had a lecture that evening on character in Alumni Hall.


Before departing, I had asked Jenny if she could get in touch with Rashawn's company officer.  I did not have a chance to speak with Navy Lt. Bryan Hart, and I wanted to know what he had thought of King's performance this summer.  Before I got to work the next day, I already had this response from him. 


"I have been thoroughly impressed with Rashawn's commitment to contribute to the Naval Academy, both professionally and athletically.  He balanced rigorous football training sessions with a heightened intensity during plebe summer without ever displaying signs of mental or physical fatigue," said Hart.


"His ability to adapt and accept feedback has allowed him to gain new insight into peer and subordinate leadership--qualities that will undoubtedly serve him well as a Marine Officer.  I would be fortunate to serve with young men like him, and those who possess his drive to excel, in the future," concluded Hart.


His words confirmed what I had witnessed for myself a day earlier - Rashawn King's plebes were in good hands.




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