Contact Us

7 Life Lessons From Plebe Summer

plebe summer Aug 04, 2019

Upon my completion of Plebe Summer in 2013, the Northern California USNA Parents Club asked me if I would write an article for its newsletter, The Scuttlebutt. They wanted to hear from someone who had just gone through it, what Plebe Summer was really about. Everyone knows Plebe Summer is a combination of lots of running, lots of sit-ups, lots of yelling, and very little sleep; however, they wanted to know the why.

Why do we go through Plebe Summer? What does it actually teach? 

So, I wrote this article titled 7 Lessons From Plebe Summer about 2 weeks after the completion of Plebe Summer. Try to remember at this time I was still very much unhappy at the Academy and wanted to leave. Even then, through the hate and exhaustion, I was able to recognize how crucial Plebe Summer was to my growth as a midshipman and as a person. Included below are those same words from 2013 that still hold true today.

The Scuttlebutt: 7 Lessons From Plebe Summer

By Grant Vermeer ℅ 2017

On June 28, 2013, I began my college and military career simultaneously at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The 7 weeks of summer before the academic year starts is “plebe summer,” the indoctrination to military life and what I can now see is a foundation for your entire career. It is notoriously difficult and for me as an eighteen-year-old battling a very intense case of homesickness, it lived up to its billing.

As I reflect now, just a few short weeks after my platoon commander gathered us together and informed us that plebe summer was over, he was no longer our “detailer” (think drill sergeant), but our company mate and our mentor. Hearing those words was surreal. Each day since then I begin to understand the foundation that was built in us as young men and women and as future leaders of sailors and marines.

My dad recently visited me and asked me what I learned during plebe summer. Sitting on a bench overlooking the Severn River, it was difficult to articulate but I told him for sure I was a different person. As we sat, [eating] street tacos he brought in from outside the gates of our campus and talked, I realized the lessons I learned this past summer were simple but profound.

These lessons will serve me well no matter what I choose to do in life and while I would never choose to repeat plebe summer, I am definitely better for it and grateful for these seven lessons.

1) Have a Mission – The United States Navy during plebe summer is teaching some of the basics of military life. They teach us to walk, talk, march, make our bed, care for our uniform and follow directions of our leaders. They never though failed to tell me why this was all happening. It was repeated regularly in different ways, from our Commandant to our detailers, to even the Chaplains during Mass. 

We were the future leaders of the Navy, Marine Corps and the Nation and that people would depend upon us for their lives.

Additionally, it is very important you have a personal mission, or more simply, a motivation that keeps you going and pushing through all the tough times. If you are able to reflect and give yourself a solid reason of WHY, it makes your situation have a purpose.

2) Leadership Matters – Throughout plebe summer I witnessed examples of great leadership. Those leaders came in different forms of authority, levels of experience and styles of leadership. It was the leadership of my company officer, my detailers, my coaches and some of my fellow plebes that made the difference in getting through the experience.

The words and actions of my plebe summer company officer are what got me through my toughest hour and the reason I am still at the Academy.

The power of an individual leader on one person especially in challenging times is immense.

3) Be Accountable – One of the five basic responses and the one I learned quickly is “no excuse sir.” (The other four are “yes sir,” “no sir,” “aye aye sir,” and “I’ll find out sir.”) Our detailers had creative and, at times, hilarious methods to remind any plebe that chose a different response other than the more appropriate “no excuse sir” when that was in fact the appropriate response. And at a certain point, “no excuse sir” was an excuse and we were not allowed to say that. Once I realized that no one really cares about all the excuses, rationalizations, etc. that we make about why we didn’t do something, it changes your commitment to be accountable, get done what you need to get done versus working on all the reasons you can’t do what you are responsible for.

4) Minutes Count – Time...its value and its management I quickly learned. A minute while holding a pushup or with your nose up against a wall can be an EXTREMELY long time. However, having only twenty minutes to shower, dress, clean my room, etc. teaches you that one can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time if that time is used efficiently and with purpose. I now use minutes carefully to learn things, get better at my sport, get stronger and accomplish all my responsibilities and be ready to help someone else get something done. I value time and the skill of its management thanks to plebe summer.

5) The Power of Focusing on Others and Not Yourself -

While struggling to survive plebe summer emotionally, about week three I realized that if I didn’t focus on my own survival but on helping others survive and succeed, the experience is much better and more motivating.

Once I made the shift in my head and trusted in that concept, plebe summer began to change for me (for the good).

Continually applying this concept of focusing on others versus myself makes all my challenges better and easier.

6) Mental Toughness

Plebe summer with its oppressive heat, sleep deprivation, constant criticism, and seemingly unending obstacles begins to wear on you. Life I am sure has many more prolonged and significant circumstances that test our mental and emotional strength.

I learned the technique of just getting through a day at a time, an hour at a time, a meal at a time and even a minute at a time.

I learned I can and will get through tough times and come out the other side a better me than before.

7) You Are in Charge of Your Happiness 

Happiness is a mindset that you can control. No matter how bad your situation seems, you can CHOOSE to be happy and enjoy the little things. Over 1100 plebes went through the very same summer experience together.

I learned by the end of this experience that each and every one of us chooses our attitude and mindset.

One can choose to be the victim of the harsh circumstances of plebe summer and dwell on comparing our experience to the relatively carefree summer of our civilian friends back home or one can choose to appreciate the unique training, experiences, and opportunities presented to Midshipmen.

This United States Naval Academy journey is coveted by so many and denied to over 90% that apply. I have learned to appreciate the opportunity and choose not to see the glass half empty, nor even half full, but actually so full that it is overflowing.

Once is enough for summer camp 2013 courtesy of the United States Navy. Yet I take away a deep appreciation of how it has already changed me. I know these lessons may already be evident to many of the readers of this article, but it took plebe summer to teach me them and I will have these seven life lessons for the rest of my life.

So dad, that’s what I learned during plebe summer.