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Naval Academy Sea Trials: 'Become one with the dirt'

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Don’t run at each other head first. Do aim for the head, and hit hard — soft hits might not count.

These are some of the rules of pugil stick jousting, as told to plebes by prior-enlisted Marines when they got to that station during Sea Trials on Tuesday. The Naval Academy ritual was an intense 14-hour event with 36 stations designed to build team bonds and challenge the freshman students mentally and physically.

The event comes at the end of the students’ plebe, or freshman, year.

Sea Trials spanned from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m., and activities took place both at the Academy and across the Severn River at Naval Support Activity Annapolis. That’s where the midshipmen were jousting Tuesday, inside a wooden ring.

The plebes were in helmets and pads, and if the gear fell off, the match was paused. Midshipman 2nd class Jake Parnell, one of the prior-enlisted Marines, said the exercise is meant to simulate close-quarters combat. The pugil sticks — similar in appearance to a large Q-tip — represent rifles with a bayonet on the end.

The jousts were between companies, and midshipman 4th class Jocelyn Sosa was in the 18th company’s corner. Sosa lost the first of three fights. Her company mates cheered her on, telling her to hit first the next time.

“It needs to be indisputable — indisputable,” another mid said.

She blocked one strike and then hit her opponent with what would be the butt of her rifle. She won.

“Let’s finish her Sosa,” one man said.

She won again, taking the match.

“I just knew that I had to be aggressive. I knew that the other fighter couldn’t beat me, because I had to represent my company in the best way possible,” she said.

Sosa’s older brother, one of the upperclassmen helping to run the event, watched her win. He said he was proud — and knew she’d be aggressive.

Midshipman 1st class Joseph Brugger of Pittsburgh is this year’s Sea Trials commander. “The companies that are successful are the ones that are able to come together and overcome and use each person’s strength.”

This year the stations were assembled to focus on teamwork. At the wet and sandy station at Hospital Point, the plebes lined up along the beach in something similar to a push-up position, and one by one their company mates crawled beneath the tunnel they created as waves broke on the shoreline. They squeezed the water out of their pants when they left.

A short distance away, plebes crawled through a muddy trench, again, while their company mates cheered them on.

“Become one with the dirt,” one said.

On the field at Hospital Point, one station had groups of nine students doing squats and sit-ups — while carrying a heavy log as thick as a telephone pole.

And at the obstacle course, at NSA Annapolis, there are logs to jump over. Deputy Director of Academic Advising Mike Williams ran beside members of the 20th company Tuesday morning. He said he planned on following the group the entire day. When cheering the students on he told them it might hurt now, but in the end you won’t feel a thing.

“All you’ll feel is proud,” he said.

One of the men he was cheering on was Midshipman 4th class Jay Jordan of Glen Burnie. Jordan said they’ve been up since 2 a.m. But it doesn’t feel like it when they’re all shouting and supporting each other.

“It’s been a really hard day, but we’ve been pushing through it as a team,” he said.

Companies receive scores at some stations, and the company with the best score at the end is named Iron Company and will be first in line to scale the Herndon Monument next week.

This year the 26th Company was named Iron Company, an academy spokeswoman said.

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