Naval Academy plebes get first taste of liberty

by Wendi Winters
The Capital
 It's been six weeks since Induction Day at the Naval Academy.
Also known as I-Day, that was last time many moms hugged their sons and daughters before releasing them into the annual ritual known as Plebe Summer, a grueling orientation to Naval Academy life.
Friday was the first day of Parents Weekend, the annual reunion for new midshipmen and their parents at the end of their first weeks at the academy. The campus emptied out within minutes of the plebes' release at 12:10 p.m.
While downtown Annapolis was thronged with plebes and their families gathering at eateries on Main and West streets, local plebes avoided the crush and vamoosed.
As Jill LaVeck hugged her daughter, recent Archbishop Spalding graduate Victoria LaVeck, she said they planned to get sushi and take it home to eat — and not risk getting Victoria's uniform dirty.
"We thought we'd go to a restaurant and just cover her up with napkins, but going home is easier," she said. A younger sister pantomimed covering her with napkins.
For her part, Victoria is hoping her maternal grandmother, Kay Rogers, will cook up her favorite dish of farm fresh lima beans. After that, she plans to sleep.
The signs of Naval Academy Parents Weekend were visible early Friday morning.
One mom from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, stopped into 49 West Cafe several blocks from the academy to grab a cup of coffee and some bagels with her husband and school-age sons.
She bore the hallmarks of a new Naval Academy parent: togged in white and navy, and sporting a Parents Club name badge shaped like the state of Louisiana with her name incised in white.
Her sons wore bright yellow T-shirts with "Naval Academy" emblazoned on the front in tall navy blue lettering.
A few hours later, peering around the hot metal bleachers set up in Tecumseh Court, Jim and Joan Dienstl, of Spooner, Wisconsin, wore polos with the words "USNA Grandfather" for Jim and "USNA Grandmother" for Joan embroidered on the left breast. They were waiting to embrace their grandson, Tanner Schafer.
Jim said he was a pilot in Vietnam and his son was a pilot in the Persian Gulf. Both were in the Navy.
"Tanner is hoping to be a pilot, too," he said.
The two looked up expectantly as hundreds of plebes began to pour into Tecumseh Court at 11:58 a.m. They were loudly chanting their company cheers and "jodies."
That USNA family — and several hundred more — will fill Annapolis all weekend, enjoying the tours on shore and on the water, and sampling the local crabs. This condition of traffic-clogging midshipmen and families is called "Mid-lock."
Until 6 p.m. Sunday, the roughly 1,184 plebes inducted in July who made it to this point have Town Liberty. That means they can't leave the Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., triangle, and must return to spend the night in Bancroft Hall, their dormitory.
Plebes, also called 4th Class midshipmen, must wear the "uniform of the day" while in public. They are not allowed to drive or drink alcohol, even those over 21.
For Plebes whose families did not make the trek to Annapolis, midshipmen sponsors provide surrogates. Many met for the first time last Sunday at Alumni Hall.
After a few hugs and tears, most plebes just want to do one of five things: sleep, eat "real food," sleep, check their cellphones and sleep.
"I'm going to catch up with my family and friends, eat some of Mom's food, watch the Olympics and nap," said Northeast High School Class of 2016 graduate Matthew Frazier of Pasadena.
When his mother announced dinner would be steak and lobster, his expression said, "The nap can wait."
Sherwood Forest resident Alana Phillips, a McDonogh School Class of 2016 graduate, just wants to savor a cup of coffee and catch up with friends. She hasn't tasted java since I-Day.
Crofton resident Miahnna Nguyen had a few unexpected surprises this summer. A stress fracture kept her off the track most of Plebe Summer. The first day she felt well enough to return, her company did a three-mile run on an obstacle course.
The end of the course was in sight when Miahnna, a South River Class of 2016 graduate, passed out.
"My squad leader carried me on his back the rest of the course," she said. "I woke up in an ambulance."
She's hoping an egg custard snow cone will soften that memory. She's also planning to curl up with the remote and gorge on recent episodes of "Gilmore Girls."
High school classmate Ethan Falsone isn't watching "Gilmore Girls." He's going to turn on the sports channel and catch up on important stuff — like his fantasy baseball team. He also plans to hang out with his high school friends before they go off to their college orientations in a few days.
"I'm proud of my son," said Ethan's dad, Jesse Falsone. "He wanted to go to the Naval Academy early on, since he was little. I'm proud he got here."
Ethan's mom, Laura Falsone, is still trying to get used to him being away.
"I missed cooking for him," she said. "Though I had to cook a lot less, I kept thinking he was there. We have a lot of leftovers."
A lunchtime meal in King Hall was open to plebes and their families. Most plebes, however, opted for either a meal Mom brought from home or a stop at a fast-food joint en route to a soft hotel bed.
Many said they are tired of cafeteria food.
"Definitely not King Hall food," said McDonogh School Class of 2016 graduate Piroz Bahar of Chester. "I really want sushi."
During Plebe Summer, he missed his girlfriend and family, and spending time with friends. Though he loved playing sports daily and receiving lots of letters, the most unexpected part of Plebe Summer, for him, was being told when to go to the bathroom.
"King Hall food is good, but it's not that great," agreed William Fujiawa, another McDonogh School graduate. He's looking forward to some sushi and ice cream.
When South River High Class of 2016 grad Caitlin Blanche said she missed her cats the most, her mother coughed loudly. "And, my parents. A little bit," she teased.
Caitlin is heading to a pool party and plans to eat steak, potatoes and ice cream.
Make that lots of ice cream. She hasn't had any in six weeks. She also wants to catch up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Caitlin felt she "sweated 24/7" during Plebe Summer, but thought the upper class detailers were "funny. The things they yell at people," she said. "It's hard to keep a straight face and not laugh when they're yelling — at other Plebes."
Unexpectedly, she has completely forgot her first three days as a plebe. "I have no memory of those days at all," she said.
William Fujiawa echoed many of his fellow plebes when he said the best thing about Plebe Summer was "getting to know my shipmates and discovering how resilient I can be."
Squaring his shoulders, he added, "I didn't expect to be challenged or pushed as much as I was."
©2016 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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