United States Naval Academy experience


Emily Wallace

She sent out the envelope enclosing her last application essentials on a Wednesday afternoon in 2013. Caroline Fender, West Ottawa Alumni of 2013, along with an approximate 10,000 other students, sought one of roughly 1,000 admittance letters. The eleven application steps were daunting at first; however, with the help of her parents, teachers, and other role models, she was able to complete them all in a timely manner. The decision came before the fifteenth of April. The United States Naval Academy at Annapolis had accepted Fender as a new recruit.

  When the first recruitment paraphernalia arrived from the United States Military Academy at West Point, it intrigued Fender. On a recruiting trip to West Point, she enjoyed both the people and principles of the academy. Fender1“I had always been drawn to the idea of serving in the military, and the academies were an option that seemed pretty sweet. . . After looking at West Point, I checked out the other academies, and eventually ended up picking [the] Navy. . . because of the opportunities that it offers as well as the network that it has with all of the graduates. . . the atmosphere, the swim team, and also the service selection that is offered upon graduation,” Fender said. She celebrated her new-found dream, yet faced opposition. Though adults around her, including her parents, fully supported Fender 2Fender, some fellow swimmers stated their disapproval. “[They] made comments about how it was a stupid idea as a girl and that I should just go party at another school. They also said I had better options and that I didn’t need to join the military,” Fender said. As discouraging as this was, Fender held on to her dream. Her determination led her to the USNA.

   Today, Fender works diligently to reach her full potential within the USNA. A grueling schedule  within the academy as a midshipman is enhancing her IMG_5466already strong work ethic .

05:30 – Arise for personal fitness workout (optional)

06:30 – Reveille (all hands out of bed)

06:30 – 07:00 – Special instruction period for plebes (1st years)

07:00 – Morning meal formation

07:15 – Morning meal

07:55 – Four class periods, 50 minutes each

12:05 – Noon meal formation

12:10 – Noon meal

12:50 – 13:20 – Company training time

13:30 – 15:30 – Fifth and sixth class periods

15:45 – 18:00 – Varsity and intramural athletics, extracurricular and personal activities; drill and parades twice weekly in the fall and spring

18:30 – 19:15 – Evening meal

20:00 – 23:00 – Study period

00:00 – Taps for all midshipmen

This rigorous lifestyle helps cultivate a mentality of honor, courage, and commitment. Fender believes it all is worth the extreme effort she puts in. “Sometimes it [stinks], but when you look at the end goal it’s all worth it. They Fender 3
love to throw [bull crap] at us, but in the end of the day I have great experiences that are shaping me and my future career, great friends and leadership, and I will get to lead our country’s future sailors and marines,” Fender said. For her, attending the Naval Academy has been one of the best decisions of her life.

   Fender’s high school years at West Ottawa prepared her for the difficulties of the USNA. “WO had some great classes that I took and it gave me a great academic base that has set me up to do well here. I had some amazing teachers that wrote me recommendations to get into the academy, but also who taught more than just school work,” Fender said. She thanks Instructors Michelle Stoel, Josie Cheney, Ken Strobel, Brian Taylor, and Paul McNitt for substantially influencing her success. Teachers like these at WO strengthen their students and help them reach higher. Fender’s story is one of many examples.

   Going into the USNA requires applicants to know without a doubt that they want to attend. Just like any other opportunity, the USNA holds many IMG_5807
advantages and disadvantages to consider. Fender offers some helpful hints for those considering a commitment  to the academy. “Look into what you want to do after graduation. I’m not saying you can’t change your mind, but don’t go to Navy if all you want to do is be an Army officer. It’s less about the place than it is about what you will be doing after graduation. In the same vein, if you want to be a SEAL or a Marine, don’t do Army ROTC or go to West Point because those will not put you where you want to be in a career. Keep in mind that while you IMG_5557may get free tuition, there is a price. Also, don’t neglect to consider how you’ll deal with your friends having fun in college (only at the Academies since ROTC kids still go to real college). Life is very restricted at the Academies compared to civilian college and sometimes that [stinks] to watch. . . [For me, it’s] totally worth it,” Fender said. With this insightful advice in mind, students can more easily feel if the USNA is right them. For many students, finding the right path is critical in setting their futures. Whether it be a similar military program, a college education, or work experience, young adults need to have an idea of what they want to do after senior year of high school.

   Although the USNA comes off as a strict, brutal institution, the midshipmen still have their fun. Generations upon generations of attendees have IMG_5550built up traditions over the years. Some are just fun and games that facilitate a lighthearted atmosphere. For example, Fender shares of a popular time for
jokes. “The week before the Army- Navy football game is called Army week and is just a week of pranks and craziness. The plebes [freshmen] are the ones that are supposed to do the pranks. [My] plebe year, we made a beach in our Company Commander’s room, complete with towels and beach chairs. Someone else made a fish pond with live fish out of the place our mattresses go in. We also put glitter in our Training Officer’s shampoo so when he came out to formation in the morning he sparkled,” Fender said. Other traditions bring the plebes together and encourageFender 4 synergy within companies. “I’m in 13th company, and our tradition is that we run the ga
me ball from Annapolis to wherever the Army- Navy game is held, which is usually over 100 miles, so we do it relay style through the night,” Fender said. These times make the academy entertaining and raise the spirits of the recruits.

   Hard work mixed with creative and funny experiences have caused Caroline Fender to grow tremendously from the girl she was when first sending out that application. Over two short years, Fender has put herself into her work and has demonstrated true resolve. The Academy seems to have been a rewarding choice for her years after high school.