By Nayana Davis, The Baltimore Sun
8:50 PM EDT, July 1, 2014
Netdao Yutakon of Nashville, Tenn., was still shaking her head, getting used to the lightness two days after her waist-length hair was chopped off to meet Naval Academy regulations in time for her freshman year.
"It was like losing a best friend," said Yutakon, an 18-year-old graduate of Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Tennessee, as she fiddled with the locks that now come just below her ears.
At least Yutakon was spared the razor. One by one, members of the freshmen class who didn't have their hair cut before Tuesday saw their locks vanish with the quick work of a barber — a ritual that was among their first tastes of academy life in Annapolis.
Yutakon was one of nearly 1,200 in the Class of 2018 to attend Induction Day on Tuesday, marking the start of the academy's Plebe Summer.
Over the next seven weeks, recruits will run more than 100 miles, complete more than 3,000 push-ups and sit-ups, and consume more than 4,000 calories a day. The training regimen includes swimming, martial arts, rock climbing and obstacle courses, plus course work in seamanship, navigation, sailing and other disciplines.
Perhaps most jarring, recruits will also be cut off from all television and Internet access, and permitted to make just three phone calls in the seven-week stretch. They won't see their families again until Plebe Parents' Weekend in August.
Early Tuesday, members of the new class reported to the academy's Alumni Hall, where they went through medical examinations and administrative processing and were issued equipment.
Even with the loss of her hair, Yutakon was feeling good about the start of her academy experience.
"I expected it to be a lot more stressful," she said. "I thought I'd be getting yelled at a lot more."
Brady Whitfield, an 18-year-old from Roanoke, Texas, was similarly optimistic about the grueling weeks of training ahead. "I'm really excited for what's to come," he said. "I know it'll be intense, but I'm ready for it."
His dad, Jay Whitfield, 50, was a little more nervous.
"I do worry a bit because we're not able to communicate with him as much as we'd like," Jay Whitfield said. "There's a lot of unknowns, but he's very tough-minded."
The new academy class consists of 1,192 students — selected from a pool of more than 17,600 applicants. The plebes include 889 men and 303 women — for the first time ever, females make up a full 25 percent of the recruit class. Minority candidates total 402, and 13 are foreign nationals, according to Navy officials.
"Our incoming class of 2018 is … indicative of both our determined recruiting efforts and the ongoing appeal of service among America's youth," said Cmdr. John Schofield, a Naval Academy spokesman, in a statement. "We're proud that our selection rate continues to place us among our nation's most sought-after universities."
About 85 percent of midshipmen receive a bachelor's degree from the four-year program, then go on to five years of military service, officials said. Sixty-seven members of the freshman class are already enlisted personnel.
Late Tuesday, plebes took the oath of office outside the academy's Bancroft Hall — the last time their families would see them until the end of their summer ordeal.
Those who have gone through Plebe Summer in years past were amused by the optimism of the recruits.
Ben Groves, a 22-year-old ensign who graduated from the academy in May, was among those directing newcomers on Induction Day.
"It's definitely a culture shock," Groves said. "They have no idea what they're in for, but if they're meant to make it through, they will."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun