Stanford/Davis Freshman Orientation 1998:
Preparation and Change

Most of us grew up referring to ourselves in the first person. "I went to the store." "I have to go to the bathroom."  "I'm not sure." Within hours of their swearing-in as members of the Naval Reserve, however, the fourth-class midshipmen quickly learned the Navy way to present oneself.  Under this "Bob Dole approach," the above sentences become "This midshipman purchased an item at the exchange,"  "This midshipman requests permission to use the head," and, everyone's favorite, "This midshipman does not know but will find out."  This was but one of the many new ways of thinking, communicating, and acting that we learned during Freshman Orientation.  By the end of this stressful yet fun week, we found ourselves confident and prepared for four years of NROTC.

Freshman Orientation has been preparing fourth class midshipmen since 1977; this year, however, some changes were made to the program.  Gone is the flatigue-clad "platoon sergeant," replaced with a less intimidating drill instructor.  Orientation staff no longer yell or swear at the freshmen, and pushups are not given as punishment for making a mistake.  More sleep time is allotted (about eight hours per night), and talking in low voices during transportation to and from events is sometimes permitted.

Why these changes?  They arise from a Navy-wide shift in training recruits, which comes directly from the Chief of Naval Education and Training, VADM Patricia Tracey.  RADM Kevin Green, commanding officer of the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, IL (commonly known as "boot camp"), describes the new philosophy in a July 1997 Naval Institute Proceedings article, "Building Sailors Better":

The Navy's traditional entry into boot camp was a period of isolation, intimidation, sleep deprivation, and stress—mental, physical, and emotional....Too many recruits who later made it to the fleet were not meeting fleet standards, having learned obedience only through intimidation and having never internalized the core values.

In short, by reducing the intimidation recruits feel, they learn more, feel a greater sense of respect (for themselves and their superiors), and ultimately become better sailors.  During his welcome to the Stanford midshipmen this fall, CAPT Craft highlighted the importance of expecting the best out of people and preparing them for the fleet: During the draft, it was necessary to intimidate people into submission, but with an all-volunteer force, one must assume that people are just making honest mistakes.  Furthermore, it would be unwise to teach young midshipmen that the proper way to treat enlisted personnel is to yell at and abuse them.

Despite all these changes to the Freshman Orientation philosophy, the scope of this year's program followed an old French saying: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  That is, the more things change, the more they remain the same.  Frosh O remains a rigorous, stressful program in which one must remain "locked on" and ready for anything.  This includes everything from marching up and down the lovely Camp Parks Army Reserve Training Base to shoe shining to warfare briefs to practicing drill cards in bed.

When I asked my fellow midshipmen what they thought about the program, nearly all agreed that it prepared us well for life in the battalion.  They had nothing but praise for our drill instructor, MIDN 2/C Quattromani; several freshmen even said that "marching was fun."  Indeed, during inspection then-Staff Sergeant Johnson remarked that the fourth class drilled better than some of the upperclassmen in the unit.  Likewise, the fourth class seemed to enjoy the less strict talking policies; MIDN 4/C Hsu said that her favorite part of Freshman Orientation was "getting to know my fellow midshipmen…whispering in the Gomez-mobile."  (The Gomez-mobile, of course, refers to the NROTC van, expertly driven by newly commissioned ENS Dominic Gomez-Leonardelli, despite the general populace's disregard of its government plates.)  MIDN 4/C Foreman agreed, saying that "I think all of us appreciated the fact that we got…a chance to talk to each other."  The freshmen also praised the rest of the Orientation Staff, including Fire Team Commanders MIDN 3/C Breden and Moore and the officer in charge, MIDN 1/C Magnuson, for their good instruction and for "answering our questions."

So, despite the "kinder, gentler" Freshman Orientation, not much has really changed.  Frosh O is and will remain the challenging yet fun rite of passage to becoming a midshipman at the best ROTC unit in the country.

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©1996 By Luke Swartz.  All Rights Reserved.