What I know (and don’t know) about I Day and the summer to follow

The calendar has flipped to June and while there are a number of exciting things filling the days of the first few weeks, it’s no longer reasonable to ignore it. We are headed for Induction Day.

This will be my third I Day, second in the COVID-19 era. My first was my son’s entrance into the United States Naval Academy. As a family, we were woefully naive and unprepared. It was, without a doubt, my worst day as a father. My son and the rest of the family recovered, of course; he’s now an ensign working through nuclear training on his way to his first submarine assignment.

The view from the other side. (Photo courtesy of USAFA Webguy)

The second was last year’s incredibly anti-climactic drop off at the USAFA Prep School. Unlike all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the USNA induction, the Prep School drop off reminded me of the days when I drove my daughter to high school. Roll up to the entrance, say good-bye, and she’s off. Now don’t get me wrong, it was cool to meet the chaplains and Col. Youdarian, but there was no strolling the campus, introduction to all the academy-related organizations, speeches from leadership, and a closing ceremony after which we got to say good-bye one more time.

Now looms I Day 3.0 at the Air Force Academy. Based on my experience and what I’m reading on social media and official communications, there are some things I know and some things I don’t know.

✈️ I know my main coping mechanism won’t be fully available. During my son’s Plebe Summer, our family wrote a lot. And I wrote A LOT – every week I produced what amounted to a multiple page magazine with pictures, etc. and wrote two short cards. His mother and sister wrote at least one card per week and we sent a lot of care packages. While he appreciated all of this, I am certain it helped me a lot more than it helped him. And it seems clear that USAFA has different guidelines – only letters (no pictures, cards, or postcards) in plain white envelopes. That may change based on the squadron assignment, but early on, my cathartic outlet will be severely restricted.

✈️ That being said, I won’t be nearly as stressed out. While BMT was a challenge, my daughter made it through the Prep School year relatively unscathed. After our USNA I Day trauma, the next six weeks were a prayer marathon filled with hand-wringing and sleepless nights. I loathe the idea of my daughter being so far away for an extended period and know she will be challenged mentally and physically, but experience will have a calming effect.

Finding your kid in the faceless crowd is the sign of a good day. (Photo courtesy of USAFA Webguy)

✈️ I will be Waldo hunting. Well, that’s what we called it at USNA. It means poring over the photos of the Plebes (or now cadets) and trying to ID yours. Thank God for the USAFA Webguy program. Finding my son was a challenge (men made up about 75% of the class and he is about as average-sized as you can be), but one of the advantages of having one of the smallest cadets is it’s a lot easier to pick them out of a crowd.

✈️ We’ll be worrying about tryouts again. My son tried out for the Sprint Football team during Plebe Summer and got cut (though it all worked out in the end). My daughter has her eyes on the spirit team, so she’s been honing her gymnastics skills. So once again, we’ll be anxiously waiting for word, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst.

✈️ I will be counting down the days to Parents Weekend.

✈️ I will additionally be fighting the urge to plan a million things during Parents Weekend. When my son was a Plebe, I saw parents posting on Facebook about elaborate plans for Plebe Parents Weekend – trips to D.C., shows, etc. But a few “experienced” parents offered the best advice – let your kid take the lead. We asked our son if he wanted to stay in downtown Annapolis (DTA) or a bit further out. USNA is a tiny 338-acre campus smack in the middle of a bustling capital city while we all know USAFA is literally 50-times bigger, a good drive to town. So this was an important decision. He wanted to get away, so we honored that request and he mostly wanted to sit in the air conditioning and play video games with his sister. So we did that. We’ll try to follow that same advice with our daughter, though I am confident of few things – we will eat at MOD Pizza and we will consume ice cream. Other than that, it’ll be her call (to be clear, those will be her call, too, I just know my daughter).

✈️ We will treasure every moment. We put things off during our son’s time in Annapolis, figuring we’d do it his senior year – things like the International Ball, etc. COVID had other plans. So we have committed to seeing it, experiencing it, eating it, drinking it, being a part of it. Every chance we get. So even when things get stressful, we will try to remind ourselves that while this is a roller coaster ride, it is much shorter than it seems.

✈️ It will end. The only advice I gave to my son during Plebe Summer that matter was, “they can’t stop the clock.” My advice to my daughter (and myself) is the same. If you are going through the worst 30 minutes of your life, you are 30 minutes closer to the end of BCT. Same for parents. The clock will continue and it will all come to an end, for good or ill.

For now, though, it’s time to enjoy these last few weeks of near-normalcy. Reality can wait until later in the month.

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