Here is the second chapter in a series that will let you get to understand who I am a little better:
“Getting Schooled” (1994-2001)
At the age of 17, I began my application for the United States Naval Academy. The admissions process for Annapolis is grueling and includes several written portions, a number of physicals at a DoD hospital, as well as extensive physical fitness testing. Another hurdle to entry is that every applicant is required to get a congressional nomination before you can even be eligible for admittance. I was honored to receive the nomination of then-freshman Congressman Buck McKeon. After completing all of those steps, the Service Academies will look through your application for more than just grades or sports participation, they are also looking for well-rounded young leaders that have the required mental, emotional and spiritual toughness to make it through the rigors of the Academy experience. In the end, only about 1,200 applicants are accepted out of a pool of 15,000 nationwide.
In April of 1994, I received word that I was accepted and, on July 1st, I reported to Annapolis. I was officially a “Plebe”, the lowest of the low, but still a Midshipman at the Academy. The goal of Plebe Summer is to break you down so the Navy can instill in you the core values needed to be a successful Naval Officer. In housing terms, it’s like a frame-off restoration for your mind and body.
Day one was as intense as you can imagine. The longest day of my life. Shaved head, all-new wardrobe, yelled at for 18 hours a day… it was a blend of college, boot camp, and prison. When we weren’t doing push-ups, we were memorizing our “rates,” which were sayings or trivia we were responsible for knowing cold. If an upperclassman asked us to recite one and we didn’t know it by heart, it was 50 push-ups on the scalding hot asphalt. One hesitation and you were doomed. Between the yelling and push-ups, we took training courses, learned to sail, learned to shoot (I qualified as an Expert in rifle and pistol), and learned basic survival and defense skills. We drilled (marched in formation) at least 2 hours a day. Sleep was a luxury, not a necessity.
This continued for the entire summer of 1994 before classes began. “Plebe Summer” is one of the toughest military indoctrination programs in the world, and when it’s over, you still have 4 more years of intense military and academic curricula prior to graduation. Your entire freshman year is like being on lockdown, but with 18–20 credits of chemistry, engineering, calculus, history, and boxing classes.
My plebe year was one of the hardest times in my life, but Annapolis soon became more tolerable, though it was still tough. The courses were difficult, and we were enrolled in at least 15 credits every semester. We were also required to participate in a sport, and I was on the high-power rifle and rifle teams. I competed on 1,000-yard ranges with iron sights where I needed a spotter just to see the target.
Even summers were challenging at the Academy. Between academic years, we were required to go on “cruises” in the fleet. During my three summer cruises, I had the pleasure of serving with Marines in Quantico, Virginia and being part of a submarine crew aboard the USS Grayling for 30 days. The highlight for me though was getting my first ride in an F/A-18 during the summer of 1997.
During my last semester at Annapolis, I had the opportunity to attend Georgetown University for a master’s degree in National Security Studies. The program normally lasts two years, but the Navy required that I finished in one.
On 22nd of May 1998, I graduated from Annapolis near the top of my class. My dream had finally come true and throwing that cap in the air after four brutal years was an amazing feeling. Then, in December of that same year, I completed my Master’s program and graduated from Georgetown. I did not set any records, but the professors were amazing and the social life was important for me as a young man who had just served 4 years at a military academy. The next month, I reported to Pensacola for flight training.
In January of 1999, I drove to Florida in my 1986 red Porsche 944. During training, I felt like the king of the world. I was living on my own in Pensacola with a fellow pilot trainee and my only job was to learn how to fly. After completing some drowning training, parachute training, and navigation courses, I finally got to fly. What came next were the challenges of mastering the T-34C aircraft (which felt like a rabid Cessna on steroids) and having to actually make it through pilot training…