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ANNAPOLIS, MD. — It was the first day of the rest of their lives Tuesday as 1,192 plebes said goodbye to their families and hello to the military on Induction Day at the Naval Academy.
Thousands of friends and family members gathered in front of Alumni Hall on campus here to wish their plebes well as they filed in. They emerged into the afternoon sun in their new white uniforms, hair shorn off, having been told how to salute and what to do when someone shouts “eyes” at them.
For the uninitiated, you’re to look at the speaker, barking out, “Snap, sir!”
Among the proud parents sending their kids off into the next four years were Capt. Bill Byrne, the academy’s commandant of midshipmen and a 1987 academy grad, and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld.
Byrne’s daughter and Winnefeld’s son are part of the Class of 2018. It’s the second daughter at the academy for Byrne — Ensign Brigid Byrne graduated in 2013 and reported to the destroyer Wayne E. Meyer in San Diego.
It was also the second I-Day for the Fornter family, of Erlanger, Kentucky, who waved goodbye to their daughter, Rachel, as she filed into Alumni Hall, where basketball games are held.
Four years ago, they dropped off now-Ensign Erin Fortner. She’s now in Norfolk, Virginia, her mother, Julie, told Navy Times, preparing to report to the destroyer Donald Cook in Rota, Spain, later this year.
It was much easier saying goodbye this time, Fortner said.
“We were a mess before,” she recalled.
Rachel Fortner said she felt prepared after seeing her sister go through the academy, but still nervous to go through it herself.
“I’m interested in flying, I think that would be pretty cool,” she told Navy Times. “Or surface. I’m pretty much good with whatever comes my way.”
The incoming freshman class has the highest percentage of women, 25 percent, since the academy began accepting female midshipmen in 1976. It’s great for the school, a spokesman told Navy Times, though it doesn’t reflect any change in the academy’s selection process.
“Having more women in the Navy, writ large, is a good thing,” Cmdr. John Schofield said. “It’s reflective of different leadership styles, talents, abilities and it’s phenomenal ... the fact that they choose to pursue that service here as opposed to an ROTC program or an Ivy League [school] makes us really proud about the quality of person that comes into the Naval Academy.”
Inside the hall
Once through the doors, plebes followed a chutes-and-ladders of lines and arrows from indoc station to station.
After barbers buzzed the men’s heads or snipped the women’s hair into unlayered bobs, Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Hunter, a 2014 grad, told them to “follow the green line and say good morning to everyone you see.”
Hunter is working at the academy before he heads to the The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, where Marine officers are assigned to specialties.
“It’s cool to see the other side of it,” Hunter said of coming back to I-Day. “I always tell everybody, make sure you’re kind of tough on them, because this is the only boot camp they’re ever going to get in the military. Marine Corps enlisted boot camp, [officer candidate school], that stuff is very, very tough. Be tough on them, make sure they earn it.”
They spent the rest of the morning signing paperwork, submitting to medical screenings and getting their first taste of military customs.
Looking bewildered, hundreds of new plebes formed up at a time to learn how to wear their uniforms, put on their covers and salute their superiors.
It was also the first big day back at the academy for the incoming superintendent, Vice Adm. Ted Carter, a decorated aviator and 1982 grad who was tapped in June to be the next superintendent. He has been president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, since July 2013.
Carter was around the yard observing the new plebes and is expected to take over as the supe in a few weeks.
Once the plebes begin the check-in process, they weren’t to see their families again until their swearing-in ceremony in the evening. After that, they’ll say their last goodbyes until parents’ weekend, when Plebe Summer ends and their families return to visit before classes start.
The next seven weeks mean no access to media, including television, movies or the Internet, and only three phone calls. The plebes put their cellphones in their backpacks and surrendered them to their upperclassmen detailers when they checked in.
Days will start at 5:30 a.m. reveille and continue until 10 p.m. taps, with hours of physical, leadership and military training in between.
“Pray for me!” Rachel Fortner said, as she filed into Alumni Hall.