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Plebes Complete at Home, Virtual Sea Trials BY MC2(SW/AW) Dana Legg

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 9, 2020) U.S. Naval Academy members of the Class of 2023, or last semester’s plebes, participated in ten and a half hours of rigorous physical and mental challenges during “E-Trials,” an event modeled after the annual Sea Trials training exercise, June 6.

Sea Trials is typically held in May as the culminating event for USNA plebes, and is modeled after the Marine Corps’ Crucible challenge and Recruit Training Command’s “Battle Stations”. Plebe companies are graded on their performance in various challenging physical activities as well as demonstrations of esprit de corps. The long day is rounded out by a presentation of the “Iron Company” award to the company with the highest score.

“It’s a test of teamwork and companies are forced to push each other to stay motivated through a long and grueling day,” said this year’s Sea Trials Commander Ensign Joel Schneider. “Sea Trials is often regarded as the championship event and at the end, an Iron Company is determined -- the company that gets to lead the charge when climbing the Herndon monument.”

Due to restrictions set forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, a traditional Sea Trials event was not possible, so this year’s plebes participated in the event as “E-Trials,” named for the electronic participation from home. Traditionally, Sea Trials is led by first class midshipmen, and those recent graduates of the Class of 2020 still undertook the task of designing the modified E-Trials for their plebe class.

“Ultimately, we knew that in order to be effective, we needed to create an event that required as little equipment as possible, could be directed remotely in a safe manner, and would still present the challenges Sea Trials has always promised,” said Schneider. “We joined up with upper level leadership at the Academy, and worked with the physical education department to put together workouts. We knew it would be a team effort.”

A schedule with workouts, water breaks, and check-ins with squad leaders was finalized and distributed via email to the E-Trials staff, the midshipmen who would normally run each evolution at a specific location on the yard during Sea Trials. The E-Trials staff created how-to videos depicting the activity at their “station” and instructed the former plebes how to safely and effectively complete that challenge. The midshipman staff was also tasked to complete an operational risk management sheet prior to beginning, listing all possible safety issues and how to mitigate them. After completion, plebes self-reported their scores to squad leaders before beginning the next exercise.

A virtual opening ceremony, featuring remarks from Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck and Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. T.R. Buchanan, as well as remarks from the E-Trials officer in charge, were emailed to E-Trials participants. E-Trials staff then took over the USNA Instagram page’s story, using it to post each workout for plebes to view before beginning each section.

Workouts began at 9 a.m., each section an hour long. Spanning ten and a half hours, with two breaks worked in, the physically and mentally challenging day concluded at 6:30 p.m.

“My favorite part was the anticipation of what was coming next,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Alex Hooker, who participated from Webster City, Iowa. “Every workout was revealed just before it started, so I was always on my toes and it made the day unpredictable and exciting.”

Sea Trials is designed to test and reinforce the bonds of the plebe class. According to Midshipman 3rd Class John Colbert, the plebe class used that strain as motivation.

“I’ve learned that in life, there are times when we are physically alone, but the bonds we’ve built with each other ensure we never truly are,” said Midshipman 3rd Class John Colbert. “People all over the country came together to complete this event, and in some ways, the distance brought us closer. As future officers, dealing with deployments and being away from family and friends will be hard, but we will rely on bonds we forge today to get us through.”

At the conclusion of the day, the squad leaders tallied scores and 12th Company earned the title of “Iron Company.” Typically, the week after Sea Trials, 4th class midshipmen complete the Herndon climb, with the Iron Company leading the charge to the monument. This year, the event was postponed due to COVID-19, and is not yet rescheduled.

As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the US. Navy and Marine Corps.

Created By
Dana Legg
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