Each summer throughout their undergraduate education, ROTC and Naval Academy Midshipmen come together to embark on active duty training evolutions called summer cruises. Notwithstanding the similarity in the name, they’re pretty different from summer cruises on Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Lines. Rather, these cruises, courtesy of US Navy Cruise Lines, serve as comprehensive overviews to the different facets of the fleet, and allow Midshipmen to discover for themselves which community, which platform, and at times, which branch, they’d most like to give their time and service. Academy Midshipmen are afforded many opportunities to spend their summer in similar training evolutions, though ROTC Midshipmen are typically only given three opportunities to train with the fleet during the summer: a CORTRAMID Cruise following freshman year, a Second-Class Cruise following sophomore year, and a First-Class Cruise following junior year.
The cruise I was fortunate enough to embark on this year was my Second-Class Cruise. With summer having already started, I was still waiting to hear back from the office when and where I’d be sent out when I got a phone call the Thursday before Memorial Day Monday, informing me that I’d be training for about four weeks in Norfolk, Virginia, and would fly out that very Monday. I was told I’d spend my time on LSD-51, a Harpers Ferry-class Dock Landing Ship named USS OAK HILL, in honor of our fifth President’s home with the same name. LSD’s are an important asset to the Navy’s fleet because they are one of very few platforms which allow for mass transport of landing craft, amphibious assault vehicles, and Marines. To accomplish this goal of tactical delivery, LSD’s have large compartments in their aft ends which can take in water and allow smaller vessels to float inside, almost like a hangar bay for water craft. They’re pretty large ships.
Second-Class Cruises differ from the others in that they serve as opportunities to shadow enlisted sailors aboard the ship, in the hope that Midshipmen — future officers — walk away with greater understanding and appreciation for all that the enlisted do. As early as my days in high school marching band, I’ve always found much to gain from talking with and learning from subordinate members of the team, since their success will inevitably rest on your ability to empathize with and ultimately trust them to accomplish the mission.
I was given the opportunity to shadow an Electrician’s Mate, an E-5 with what seemed to be an unparalleled grasp of understanding for the electrical workings of the ship. Although I didn’t catch all of the electrical jargon tossed about the electric shop, I paid careful attention to the ways he helped those around him learn and stay engaged in the tasks at hand. I learned very quickly the importance of leading by example, as the enlisted crew would often remind me of times when officers failed to do just that. Like trust, genuine respect can take months and years to develop, but only a few minutes are required for it to be totally destroyed.
When we weren’t shadowing our enlisted and officer counterparts, engaged in ship-driving simulations (or the real deal…), or watching the countless flight operations take place on the ship’s landing pad, Midshipmen could spend time together at the recreational center, at Busch Gardens, and at the movie theater. I find that learning from those around us engaged in the same learning opportunities as ourselves can teach us as much, if not more, than those same instructors, and it was great to make new friends with similar interests.
All in all, I found the experience invaluable. I was reaffirmed in my decision to serve in the Surface Warfare Community, was reinvigorated in my love of learning and growth, and was forever impressed by the authenticity and genuine love of the country embodied by every Sailor and Marine aboard that ship. It has been an honor to learn from and alongside some of the finest men and women our nation has to offer, and I look forward with great enthusiasm to serving with them in the fleet.