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Naval Academy welcomes plebes for unusually calm Induction Day under coronavirus pandemic circumstances

To call Induction Day at the Naval Academy relaxed would be abnormal.

The day is usually filled with detailers yelling at the new plebes to hurry up as they make their way through the various stations. Plebes would get uniforms and their hair shorn before being bussed to the Midshipman Store.

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But the 2020 Induction Day was during a global coronavirus pandemic. Nothing is normal.

Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and other restrictions in place to keep people healthy, I-Day had to change.

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Instead of one day, I-Day has now been spread to four days, with about 325 plebes coming each day, said Cmdr. Kelly Laing, officer in charge of Plebe Summer.

“[It’s] a year that’s very unique and very different,” Laing said during a press conference.

That difference was clear by the relaxed atmosphere, with ensigns commenting that it was far different than the I-Day they experienced. Everyone still dressed in their formal uniforms, although masks were now the accessory to wear. Some like Commandant of the Midshipman Capt. Thomas Buchanan walked around with an orange pool noodle. It was a social distancing noodle, meant to keep people 6 feet apart.

It was almost quiet, as there were only a few plebes at each station at a time. There were no plebes gathered in groups learning to salute.

But in two weeks, following a restriction of movement period, the plebes would get a taste of a typical I-Day, at least in terms of detailers yelling at them.

Another difference was the lack of parents walking the yard. While there were four parent information sessions offered, parents were not involved with I-Day. The typical Oath of Office Ceremony has been pushed back until after the restriction of movement period and will be livestreamed for parents, Laing said.

Parents dropped off their plebes — a drop off that required parents to stay in their cars — then drove away as their children took their place in a socially distanced line. First, they answered a COVID-19 questionnaire then had a temperature check.

Temperature checks were not limited to plebes. Anyone entering Alumni Hall, where at least half of I-Day stations were, was subjected to a forehead scan upon entering.

After a temperature check, plebes went to their next station keeping 6 feet apart from the plebe ahead of them. Ensigns and 2nd lieutenants would space out the new midshipmen as necessary.

Then the plebes made their way into Alumni Hall, where they were given name tags and assigned their “Alpha number,” similar to a student ID, 2nd Lt. Chandler Derbyshire said.

He was one of the recent graduates helping to man the various I-Day stations. He handed the plebes their tags, along with sets of pin backs. Plebes then had to quickly put on their tags as they stood in line before going to the next stations, mostly administrative work like travel reimbursement.

But before the plebes were done with Derbyshire or the others at the name tag stations, they needed to learn an important lesson. From then on, the first and last words out of their mouth would be sir or ma’am.

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“We call them sir sandwiches,” Derbyshire said.

Sure enough, he would ask if they understood. And the new plebe would have to respond, “Sir, yes, sir.” Some figured it out right away. Others took a second try before responding properly.

From administrative sessions, plebes went to different medical stations to be tested for COVID-19, screened for pregnancy, have vitals like height and weight taken and go through other medical laboratories. Plebes who went through these stations could be identified by bright blue bandages now wrapped around their arms.

Once their I-Day was complete, plebes would enter a strict 72-hours restriction of movement period, which gave the Naval Academy enough time to send samples to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be tested for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

If a plebe tests positive for COVID-19, they would be moved to a special isolated wing where they could be monitored, Laing said. Those who do not test positive will enter a two-week restriction of movement period. Each student will be paired with another student in a dorm.

Detailers also go through a restriction of movement period, which is why they were not at I-Day this year, Laing said.

As part of I-Day, there was a station for snacks as well as lunch. Because the students will undergo the two-week ROM, they were also provided laptops, monitors and surge protectors, which usually does not happen until after Plebe Summer.

The first two weeks will be moral and mental classwork, done digitally instead of in-person lessons. This will cover topics such as sexual harassment and respect for people from different cultures, Laing said.

Due to I-Day changes, plebes were asked to cut their hair before arrival. But some, like Kenneth Nguyen, an 18-year-old plebe from Portland, Oregon, did not quite meet the standards required for hair.

So Nguyen’s hair was sheared off at the barber shop.

Nguyen said he arrived Monday.

“It’s been really exciting,” the plebe said.

He applied to the Naval Academy as a first generation American, Nguyen said. He wants to give back to the country through his naval service.

After collecting gear, getting their hair to standards and picking up a snack, the plebes learned to tie their garment bags, now full with their belongings, so that it would be easier to carry to Mitscher Hall.

That was another change. A smaller bag because the plebes only received physical training uniforms and an undershirt instead of the uniforms they would typically get. Another uniform delivery will happen later.

Ariana Bryant, a 17-year-old plebe from Bennington, Nebraska, was one of the first plebes in her group to arrive. So far, the I-Day process went well, she said, with the process keeping people safe.

Bryant is looking forward to doing Plebe Summer with her fellow midshipmen and working with them.

Like Nguyen, Bryant wanted to serve her country.

“I felt there was no better place than the academy,” she said.

She will major in operations research.

She was soon joined by Grady Griess, 18, from Grand Island, Nebraska. Griess was recruited by the academy to wrestle.

“I chose it for all the opportunities I’ll have after the Naval Academy,” he said.

He arrived in Annapolis two days ago, he said, and Griess is looking forward to the grind of Plebe Summer.

“I’m excited for all the challenges we will face,” he said.

Once 10 more plebes joined Bryant and Griess, they were escorted by ensigns, who demonstrated 6 feet with a pool noodle, to Mitscher Hall for laptops, lunch pickup and to sign the Oath of Office.

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Although the ceremony will happen after the restriction of movement period, in order to receive medical treatment and gear, plebes must sign the Oath of Office, Laing said.

For the plebes, I-Day was finished once they were received for the restriction of movement period at Mitscher Hall.

But for the ensigns, 2nd lieutenants and staff of the Naval Academy, there were two more days of Induction Day, and at least 650 more plebes to process.

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