After driving from Camp Lejuene, NC, we arrived at our Naval Station Norfolk penthouses- I mean rooms. Checking in to our individual carpeted rooms was a sea-change from the cement-floored squad bay in North Carolina.
Even though we know had hotel like quarters, we weren’t in Norfolk for vacation. The OICs assigned thirty midshipmen from our company to the DDG-75 Donald Cook. Colonel (then Capt) Cook, the first Marine captured by the Viet Cong, gave his fellow prisoners his medicine while allowing himself to weaken. He died after three years in captivity. His selflessness posthumously earned him the Medal of Honor and promotion to Colonel. Although the U.S. Military has its faults, citations from heroes like Col. Cook remind me about the honor in our profession.
We spent four days underway. The officers in charge of us midshipmen wasted no time getting us wet; our first exercise was the Damage Control Olympics. In the U.S. Navy, everyone must know the basics of damage control. Thus, the damage control-men taught us how to plug a broken pipe, pump water out of the ship, and don fire-fighting equipment; all while a very happy second-class petty officer sprayed us with water.
The ship did not go underway just for us mids. While underway, the crew simulated fighting an aggressive rogue nation, completed an underway replenishment from a U.S. Naval Service Ship, practiced man-overboards (no, nobody actually got to go overboard), and prepared for helicopter landings.
The skipper of the ship, CDR Bennett, invited the midshipmen to eat one meal in the wardroom in groups of four. Dining in the wardroom averred the Academy bond in the fleet. To break the initial awkward silence between the senior officers and midshipmen, we swapped stories of recent and old black N’s from Annapolis and listened to the officers brag about how much harder Academy life was “back in the day.” I’m sure this conversation has played out in every wardroom on every ship.
On Friday, we arrived back in Norfolk ready to do the same thing again next week, just underwater.