|Noon meal formation at the US Naval Academy.|
Plebe Summer, at the Naval Academy, is about sacrifice. It's about learning how to deal with failure as a team. Even though I knew it was a training environment, it didn't make it any less stressful. We were constantly tested on more knowledge than anyone could learn. That was the point – learning how to deal with failure while being part of a team. Sometimes... many times... that meant sacrificing your comfort, enjoyment, or pleasure in order to help someone else suffering worse than you. As Plebes, we were all in it together.
We learned what it meant to have honor. We learned to never sacrifice others for our own well being, even when we thought we'd never get caught. This isn't something you do sometimes or most of the time, it's something you do all the time. It only takes one dishonorable act to forever taint your honor. We were taught a lot, at the Academy, even when it's okay to lie.
The Naval Academy challenges all of us in three key areas: military discipline, academics, and sports (all Midshipmen are required to play a sport).
During Plebe Summer, I was playing squash. Every afternoon, we went to our sport. Our squash practice consisted only of Plebes, and an old, retired, Navy captain who was our coach.
One Plebe, who was struggling to learn his required knowledge, didn't practice squash; instead, he'd sit up against the wall of a squash court and study his handbook. I could tell, by looking at him, he was stressed out.
After a couple days in a row, the squash coach told him to put down his book and play squash, which he reluctantly did. The next day, he was back at studying instead of playing squash. The squash coach snapped at him to put down his book and practice.
"Put down your damn Reef Points, pick up a racquet and get on the court," said the coach to the overstressed Plebe.
The Plebe appealed to the coach, thinking that this gentle old man would understand his predicament since he had once been a Plebe in the 1950s.
"Sorry, sir, I'm very stressed out," said the Plebe as a group of us watched the exchange.
The squash coach's patience had run out and he shot back, "Try spending six years in a POW camp and see how that stresses you out." Then he walked off.
Our eyes were as wide as saucers. This old squash coach had been a pilot, who was shot down in Vietnam, and spent six years as a POW. We scattered like roaches, onto the squash courts, and resumed playing squash. In that one sentence, we realized the indelible lesson that it can always be worse.
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