SPHS Grads Finish First Year At Military Academies
By Peter Crispino
Last June, Erik Schuh and Stanton Johnson were busy graduating from Severna Park High School, making their rounds at the ensuing slew of graduation parties and spending time with friends at the beach for senior week. However, unlike the majority of their peers, a lazy senior summer of beach trips and college preparations did not await them.
Last summer, after the dust had settled from all the high school graduation activities, Schuh left for the Air Force Academy in Colorado and Johnson began his plebe year at the Naval Academy. And for both, so began the months of 5:00am wakeups, grueling physical conditioning and endless memorization of military terms and procedures.
The first summer at both academies immerses new students in a legendarily rigorous battery of physical and mental training. Basic Cadet Training at the Air Force Academy, also known as Beast, includes spending weeks outdoors at a training complex known as Jacks Valley, which Schuh described as a lot of yelling and crawling through barbed wire and mud, and getting destroyed hour after hour.
Plebe summer at the Naval Academy was no easier on Johnson, who considered the mental challenges just as demanding as the physical training. The endless memorization and recitation under fire was compounded by the unchartered stresses of having almost no outside contact besides letters.
The hardest part was mental just sitting there with no phone, no internet, always wondering what my friends were doing, Johnson recalled. We didnt know what happened in sports, had no idea what was happening in the outside world.
The physical demands subsided significantly once the school year began, but the mental rigors remained. The military academies are renowned for their multitude of traditions, most of which come at the expense of the first-year students. Schuh and his classmates, for example, had to run the strips requiring them to run between buildings along marble strips while carrying their backpacks in their left hand at all times.
At the Naval Academy, plebes have chow call, a process of standing outside your door before breakfast and lunch and screaming out the formation, uniform and daily menu to a superior, every minute, for up to 30 minutes before the meals, every day.
I cant explain how mad it made me, laughed Johnson, who is majoring in quantitative economics.
Unsurprisingly, both Schuh and Johnson said that the one thing they are most looking forward to this year is not being a freshman. They also both highlighted their end-of-freshman-year ceremonies as their favorite moment of the year. The pain and delayed gratification, however, is an integral part of bringing the group of first-year students together.
This is where you get your best friends since youve been through all the hardships together, said Schuh. Youre in it for the long run and youre willing to take the beating for the reward afterwards.
You have to come together or else youre never going to accomplish anything as a company, Johnson added. By May I knew everything about the entire life of every single one of the (40 plebes) in my company.
The second summer at the academies promises to be far more enjoyable than the first for both. After recently returning from a three-week sailing outing down the East Coast, Johnson will head to San Diego to shadow an enlisted member on a naval ship at the end of July.
Schuh left in mid-June for training including jump school, or parachute training. I cant wait, Schuh said about the prospect of jumping out of airplanes for three weeks.
Both former Falcons not only adjusted, but thrived in their first years. Johnson played for Navys sprint football team and will practice with the varsity team in camp this summer.
Schuh, who is majoring in operations research, made the prestigious Superintendents List which given to those who excel in academics, fitness, conduct and military performance. He also achieved a rare perfect score on the academys physical fitness test. Both young men noted how they have grown since they left Severna Park High School one year ago.
My whole mentality is different, said Schuh. I see the bigger picture, I function differently, and I have more energy and more motivation.
Schuh and Johnson follow in the footsteps of Sara Chapman, a 2006 graduate of Severna Park High School. After her time as a Falcon, Chapman attended the Air Force Academy, where she graduated in 2010. On May 24, 2012 she was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant at Patrick Air Force Base in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Chapman has also been presented with a nomination to medical school at the prestigious Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. She will begin her studies in August.
Both Schuh and Johnson recommended their schools to any local young men and women considering the military, even in spite of the maddening traditions, early wakeups and torturous summer of training.
I would definitely recommend attending the academy. I might not have recommended it during the middle of plebe summer but I recommend it now. Its one summer for the rest of your life. One summer of pain and suffering is worth it for having success for the next 60 years of your life, Johnson noted.