I’ve been quiet for a while, but I’m back and here is my quick update. Lots has happened over the last several months. My daughter graduated from high school! Woohoo for her and for me! Teenagers are hard to parent and believe me, as many of you already know, this struggle seems to be a prerequisite to leaving the nest.
The man of my dreams (dear Greg) asked me to marry him. So… I sold my home in Nashville, and moved to Annapolis, MD right outside the U.S. Naval Academy. I will be teaching leadership at the Academy this Fall to our next generation of military leaders. It feels I have come full circle – back to where I started serving my country and where I learned so clearly – freedom is not free.
This past week at the Naval Academy, over 1200 young men and women were inducted into the next class of future naval officers – the class of 2027. Anxiousness and excitement filled the air as these young men and women raised their right hands and pledged an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” They became midshipmen.
Their journey of service to our nation has begun.
Most of these midshipmen arrived as civilians (although many were prior enlisted sailors and marines) from all 50 states and US territories. They reported to Annapolis wearing hair as long as they wanted and in clothing of any type, but all came armed with a dream of their futures as Navy and Marine Corps Officers. During the summer they will be transformed – broken down as individuals and raised back as a team. They will be told what to do, what to wear, what to say and perhaps more importantly, what not to say, and will begin to understand what it means to be part of something much larger than themselves.
I remember so clearly my first day at the Naval Academy – it is called Induction Day or “I-Day.” Like these new plebes, it was a day that changed my life forever. On July 6, 1979, in the steamy heat of Annapolis, I anxiously raised my right hand, took the Oath of a Midshipman, and became a member of the fourth class of women to enter the US Naval Academy.
In that fiercely intense moment, I knew the challenge of my lifetime had begun.
When you enter the Naval Academy, they strip from you everything that is familiar. They take away your civilian clothes and give you a uniform. They cut your hair. They tell you when to get up, when to eat, when to go to bed—breaking you down as an individual, then building you up as a team. They are developing midshipmen one day at a time. In the military, it is critical that you work as a team. Lives depend on it, particularly in combat. What you previously held to be true, that the individual matters most, is transformed to a new set of values, beliefs, and norms—that the unit or team matters the most.
A similar experience happens in boot camp or officer candidate school. But at the Naval Academy and at the other service academies, the drilling goes on for four years. Four long years. It all starts with the six weeks of plebe summer.
This approach may seem harsh, but it serves a crucial purpose given the military’s mission. When we are in the midst of life’s challenges, we may not always see or understand the larger purpose of what we are experiencing. But it is important to remember that it will serve us for the rest of our lives. My experience at the Naval Academy, and certainly plebe summer, changed me forever.
The young men and women of the class of 2027 will transform as I did and go on to serve our country during both peacetime and war. As a nation will ask a lot of them, and they will deliver. They will put their lives on the line, sacrificing their individual freedoms that we often take for granted.
As we celebrate Independence Day this year, let’s take a moment to recognize those who serve and live out each day knowing that freedom comes at a cost.
Freedom is never free. Never has been and never will be.
Want to know more of my story and what it means to serve? Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High.