Naval Academy A New Life Experience

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Daily Record Photo/Rick Curl - Two area students have made the commitment to become midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, including Harnett Central High School class of 2017 valedictorian Chloe Bryan. Above, Ms. Bryan, right, poses with fellow Midshipman Deon Odom of Fayetteville and Blue and Gold Officer Commander Eric Benson.
Daily Record Photo/Rick Curl – Two area students have made the commitment to become midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, including Harnett Central High School class of 2017 valedictorian Chloe Bryan. Above, Ms. Bryan, right, poses with fellow Midshipman Deon Odom of Fayetteville and Blue and Gold Officer Commander Eric Benson.

By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff

There’s no doubt it takes a special breed of individual to have the dedication and commitment to join the military.

In the case of Harnett Central graduate Chloe Bryan and Pine Forest High School graduate Deon Odom, their commitment included four years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Both were athletes while in school and both were well-suited for the academic rigors that come with attending the academy.

Ms. Bryan is a “plebe,” or firstyear student, who was the valedictorian of her high school class in 2017. While at HCHS she was a team captain in two varsity sports and was a member of the band.

Mr. Odom was a captain on the wrestling team and finished in the top 20 in his class at the Academy of Information Technology at Pine Forest High School.

Those facts may seem incidental to their choice of joining the Naval Academy, but they are important to the appointment process.

Both were selected on the basis of academic and athletic prowess — and for good reason.

In the past, midshipmen were selected with a goal of seeing nearly one-third of them drop out of school, according to Blue and Gold Officer Eric Benson.

The Blue and Gold officer is the person who is the primary contact for appointees with the academy when they are candidates for appointment.

Now there’s a new focus, one that involves getting the most out of appointees while preparing them for service.

Tough These Days

“Back then one of the goals of plebe year was to (wash out) about a quarter to a third of our class,” said retired Commander Benson, who himself was a Naval Academy graduate in 1971. “I could not get into the academy today. My academics, my athletics and my community service, no way.”

Mr. Benson calls both the cream of the crop at their high schools. Now, both must be among the rest of the cream as they progress toward college degrees and selection as officers in either the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps.

“These kids are so much far better than I,” he said. “And I tell them they were the cream of the crop at their high schools. Now all of a sudden they’re going to be with 1,000 others who were the cream of the crop in their high schools.”

While both are facing the time management issues, the physical requirements and the academic responsibilities that go with their chosen course, both also face the task of becoming leaders.

When asked about what is the most difficult thing about learning to be a leader, Ms. Bryan cited communication.

“Being a plebe you don’t have a lot of leadership opportunities, but you’re being led,” she said. “So, something that I’ve admired in the leaders I’ve had is really clear communication, making their expectations really clear.”

She said it’s not always been the norm in her first year, citing some who have been put into the role without proper communication skills.

“We had some detailers over the summer that were not very good at communicating,” she said. “Then when we wouldn’t meet their expectations they would get very upset with us and we would be all very confused.”

Ms. Bryan cited the emotional aspect because of poor leadership as being a detriment. Also something she will use as a learning tool.

“It made things very emotional for everyone and I don’t see that as very effective,” she said. “That’s something that I really strive to do as a leader is to communicate really clearly.”

Different Skill Sets

Mr. Odom, who is in his second year in the academy, said leadership has taught him, if nothing else, humility.

He has learned, simply, some people are good at one thing and other people are good at others. It’s something he’s tried to include in his own leadership opportunities.

“You’ve got to realize that everyone is learning at a different pace,” he said. “So, it takes everyone.”

Many times when someone is cast into a role in the military, or in civilian life for that matter, they are faced with learning there are as many differences in people as there are people.

Both feel they’ve began to understand how to handle the diversity that comes along with their chosen paths and both feel they’ve become accustomed to the “melting pot” the military represents.

“There’s definitely some people that I’ve seen in my (class) who are interacting with people from the city and people from the country,” Ms. Bryan said. “It’s very different.” Mr. Odom stresses the different perspectives each person brings to the academy and the difficulties in understanding those differences.

“It’s not too hard to communicate, we’re all here for the same reason,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re brother and sister.”

Those differences in people is defined by the two midshipmen themselves. While Ms. Bryan is considering computer science and Mr. Odom has committed to the academic discipline, they both wish to head in separate directions when it comes to their final career path.

Ms. Bryan said she’s considering becoming a Marine Corps helicopter pilot while Mr. Odom wants to work in the cybersecurity field.

Regardless of whether one ends up commanding an aircraft and the other oversees the men who protect the country’s cyberspace, both believe the leadership that’s required of newly commissioned officers is inside them.

“I feel like we all have it inside of us,” Ms. Bryan said. “Especially when it gets put to the test. There are some really shining moments that I’ve seen in Midshipmen and I feel like I have that inside me, too.”

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