There’s nothing really new about calling this time of year the Dark Ages, but it takes on a deeper meaning for first-year students at our military academies.
At USAFA, they’ve endured the challenge of I-Day and summer training and the abrupt introduction into the Cadet Wing followed by drinking from a fire hose of names, ranks, and jobs, along with an accelerated academic tempo, room inspections, and the host of other Doolie-centric tasks and responsibilities. They were given a short reprieve at Thanksgiving and, finally, a real break over Christmas to decompress and feel human, if only for a few weeks.
In those last days before going back, I could see the dread on my Doolie’s face. Every so often, she’d get melancholy, anticipating what was to come. It’s a different vibe than the days leading up to I Day. There were a lot more unknowns then. Going back for the second semester, the “new car smell” was gone and there was little doubt about what lie ahead. This is exacerbated by Winter Break where they had that extended time to sleep in, leave their bed unmade, eat junk food, and not worry about what anyone else thought.
But I’ve come to believe that the Dark Ages don’t get into full swing until February starts. Upon return in January, the cadets still have a “hangover” from being home for break. But when February arrives, there’s nothing for weeks – Recognition is more than a month away and Spring Break almost two months.
As my time at the Naval Academy continued, noticed that the Dark Ages had an impact on the rest of the Midshipmen and I’m wondering if that will be the same at USAFA. The second- and third-class would get a look in their eyes, too, because they knew the grind that lay ahead. And the firsties had their own challenges to wrestle with, not the least of which was upcoming service selection.
As a parent, there’s only so much you can do. I mean, we aren’t in a position to make weekly jaunts to Colorado Springs (though I would love to do that), so all I can really do is maybe write an extra note of encouragement or send a morale-boosting care package. At the end of the day, though, it’s really up to them to “embrace the suck” and find their way through it.
And as parents, we have to find a way to get through it, too. And, like our kids, we will.
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