At the U.S. Naval Academy, every first-year midshipman (plebe) undergoes six weeks of intense training. During “Plebe Summer,” plebes are broken down by upperclassmen (detailers) so they can grow into world-class officers. This article offers a brief look at one of the world’s toughest boot camps, so you can learn how the Navy instills mental toughness in its officers.
It’s Not Personal
Throughout the summer, detailers issue impossible commands, give cruel tests and refrain from encouragement. Plebes are verbally abused for forgetting something as simple as the mess hall menu or a line of a poem in “Reef Points,” the school’s cadet handbook. The plebes who make it realize that the harsh treatment is designed to help them develop courage and fortitude.
This aspect translates well into sports. Want to get tougher on the field? When coaches give you a hard time, respond by pushing yourself, not developing a grudge.
Don’t Show Weakness
Because the Navy has no room for officers who quit, detailers zero in on plebes who show signs of weakness. If a midshipman is having thoughts about walking away, he or she will have plenty of reason to leave by the end of the summer. To avoid harassment, plebes quickly learn to become invisible by keeping complaints to themselves. Weakness is contagious, so if you want to be a team leader, you have to learn to suck it up when things get tough.
Effort Is Better than Talent
In each class, the plebes who perform best are almost never the strongest or fastest. They’re the ones who give 110 percent, even when the detailer isn’t looking. These plebes earn respect and end up becoming some of the Navy’s best leaders. Like the plebes who wouldn’t have been picked first at the beginning of the summer, you can be a team leader even if you’re not the most talented. When you dedicate yourself to outworking everyone else, you quickly gain the respect of both your peers and the detailers.
Want to experience the challenge of Plebe Summer for yourself? Check out our three tips for getting into a service academy.
Photo: Tommy Gilligan, U.S. Navy