Monday, August 29, 2016

Exploring Kazakhstan: A Semester Abroad in Almaty

Midshipman 2nd Class Ian Best writes about his experiences during a semester spent studying abroad in Kazakhstan. 

As the ninth largest country in the world with a population slightly over 17 million, Kazakhstan plays an important role in the world. From a historical perspective, this central Asian country has formed the geological and cultural bridge between Europe and Asia for centuries. Traders on the Silk Road in Kazakhstan exchanged beliefs, information, and practices between these two continents.

Today, Kazakhstan continues to serve as a bridge between many countries and has an expanded influence on international politics. Of additional importance, Kazakhstani culture shares many similarities with that of the Russian tradition, including the widespread use of the Russian language.

The Naval Academy provided me the unique opportunity to spend the spring semester of the 2016 academic year in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan and its current largest city. Abroad, I balanced my studies with practical experience in an effort to both appreciate the cultural and political significance of Kazakhstan and to improve my Russian language abilities.

Photo courtesy of MIDN 2/C Ian Best

In Almaty, I attended classes at Kazakhstan National University in the International Relations Department through the American Councils Study Abroad Program. I studied Russian four days a week with Kazakh professors. They focused on phonetics, grammar, reading, and writing. Each day presented a new challenge: sometime my fellow classmates and I would present Russian articles and stories we had read, other times we would discuss new vocabulary and grammar.

My personal favorite topic was Russian idioms. Russian language is extremely rich; it is filled with sayings and expressions with fascinating historical contexts. I did my best to learn as many different idioms as I could so as to better understand the underlying Russian cultural significance and be able to converse more colloquially with the locals.

On Fridays, the American students studied Kazakh language, history, and politics. This was a particularly interesting opportunity for my classmates and me, as Kazakh is a Turkish-based language and shares very few similarities with Russian. We also learned in this class the important role Kazakhstan plays as a key nation in Central Asia and how it balances its many competing foreign influences.

Photo courtesy of MIDN 2/C Ian Best

But I did more than schoolwork. I often took advantage of the spectacular neighboring mountains by skiing or hiking through the foothills. West Point cadets Joseph Woolfork and Tyler Payne and I organized several trips with local tour guides. One trip, for example, found us summiting a mountain. On another, we hiked to a remote point in the hills to visit a century-old yet still functioning monastery.

Other excursions were directly sponsored by American Councils. Once a week, we would visit a site of cultural and often historical significance, ranging from museums to parks to falconry demonstrations. Toward the end of the semester, we traveled to Northern Kazakhstan to visit the cities of Karaganda, Pavlodar, and most importantly the capital Astana.

Each excursion provided excellent opportunities to practice Russian language and gain a better appreciation of Kazakhstan. I enjoyed applying the language skills I was learning in class to real-world situations. I could simultaneously expand my vocabulary and gain a deeper appreciation for this incredible country.

Photo courtesy of MIDN 2/C Ian Best

Not every midshipman is afforded the opportunity to directly experience another country for an entire semester. I will never forget my time abroad and will remain forever grateful to the staff members of the International Programs Office at USNA.

Not only will I fondly remember the incredible people I met overseas and the amazing adventures I had, but I will also apply the cultural and lingual experience I gained in my future career as a naval officer. I hope to bridge cultural gaps during my military career and ultimately bring diverging cultures into closer understanding to strengthen international partnerships.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Class of 2018 Commits to Active Service

By MC2 Tyler Caswell

The 1,053 midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2018 celebrated their commitment to five years of service after graduation at the annual Commitment Dinner Aug. 23.

Photo by MC2 Tyler Caswell

For the first two years of their education at USNA, midshipmen have the option to leave the Naval Academy without committing to active duty service.

When they return for their third year, however, the second-class midshipmen must make the serious decision of continuing their service for seven more years – two at the academy and five in the Fleet as naval or Marine Corps officers. This is when they sign their "2 for 7" agreements during a formal ceremony for each company in Bancroft Hall.

“Plebes come in on Induction Day and they make a big commitment in front of everyone,” said Lt. Mike Wallace, 4th Company Officer. “Over the course of two years, they truly develop into budding leaders that understand the gravity of why they are here and the purpose they are here for.”

The “2 for 7” agreement is more personal, said Wallace.

“Now they make the decision to continue on as individuals. They are committing to serve on active duty, and to lead Sailors and Marines honorably and with distinction,” he said.

After spending two years at USNA committing to professional and personal development, many midshipmen felt the commitment was an easy decision for them to make.

Photo by MIDN 1/C Dylan Prenda

“For me, the 2 for 7 was an affirmation to a commitment I’ve already had,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Adam Oster. “It really wasn’t a question of whether or not I would sign. I’ve been inspired by the experiences I have had with individuals who have attended and are attending USNA. The exemplary character, the success they have in service and in their civilian life, and the demeanor in which they treat others around them made me want to continue to be a part of the Navy.”

In addition to signing their individual service contracts, the mids collectively as a class sign the “Honor Scroll,” which they presented Commandant of Midshipmen Marine Col. Stephen Liszewski at the Commitment Dinner.

“Tonight is a night to do three things,” said Liszewski during his remarks at the dinner. “The first is to remember, the second is to reflect, and the third is to renew. Remember what it was that brought you to USNA, reflect on what you have accomplished in the two years you have been here and most importantly renew your faith. You have fantastic careers and futures ahead of you.”

Members of the Class of 1968, also known as the “Link in the Chain” class for graduating 50 years prior to the Class of 2018, were in attendance. Retired Adm. Mike Mullen – a member of the Class of 1968 – delivered the keynote address.

“The 2 for 7 commitment is a big deal,” said Mullen. “Someday you will be called to active duty to defend your country and potentially die for your country. You are an incredible minority and at the same time hold up a wonderfully strong pillar in our country. Never underestimate what you are and what you will do.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

USNA Beauticians Mark 30 Years of USNA Service

By MC2 Tyler Caswell

In just days, approximately 4,500 students making up the Brigade of Midshipmen will start the 2017 academic year. And after a summer away from Bancroft Hall, many will need a haircut.

A constant flow of midshipmen, officers and enlisted will enter the doors of the first wing in Bancroft Hall, where the buzzing of clippers will mesh with conversation as a dozen barbers and beauticians ensure their clients leave the barbershop looking better than when they came in.

For two individuals, this has been their environment for three decades.

Paula Clarke and Florence Jackson have worked side-by-side polishing midshipmen’s appearance at the U.S. Naval Academy Barbershop. As the academy prepares for the influx of midshipmen returning from vacation and summer training, Aug. 16 marks the anniversary of the day Clarke and Jackson began their USNA careers 30 years ago.

“Personally I feel like USNA is a part of my family,” said Florence – known to all her clients as Flo. “My father, brother and sisters all have worked here. USNA has been good to me, and I love it here.”

Both feel that the job they have allows midshipmen to walk away with confidence, feeling and looking a bit brighter than when they entered.

“It’s a privilege to be able to affect the midshipmen’s appearance, to be able to give them a little boost,” said Paula. “It’s an honor that during walk-ins, there are people that will spend their time waiting for me to be available. It makes me feel good to know they want me to cut their hair and trust me with their appearance.”

Midshipmen and officers return to see Paula and Flo, spanning from their time as midshipmen to years down the road as returning officers and instructors.

“I love the community here, I love watching midshipmen grow and even return as officers later,” said Flo. “I’ve had people return years after graduating to come see me, and that says something about this place and the people here.”

The walls of the barbershop hold photos of Paula and Flo working with midshipmen. Smiles are shared, emblematic of the priority they place on getting to know the people that sit in their chairs.

“The midshipmen all feel like my children,” said Flo. “They know that when they sit down with me, what we talk about is between us. I care about them on a personal level and want them to be comfortable when they sit down – and happy when they leave.”

A thirty year career at USNA has shown the two how much USNA values tradition, but also how it can change and grow to perform its mission to train future leaders.

“I came here as a beautician because the number of females attending USNA was growing,” said Paula. “Now it’s a regular thing, and it doesn’t cross my mind. This place has always kept its people in mind. Which is why I stay here, and why I want to keep working here.”

The two plan to remain at USNA to improve appearances, offer guidance and share laughs among the midshipmen and staff. For more information about USNA’s barbershop, visit

Friday, August 12, 2016

Class of 2020 Reunites With Family and Friends

By MC3 Brianna Jones

Thousands of family members and friends anxiously scan the ranks of the noon meal formation, in hopes of spotting the class of 2020 plebe that belongs to them. It has been six weeks since these loved ones said goodbye to their sons and daughters and turned them over to the upperclass midshipman detailers for Plebe Summer training. Plebe Parents’ Weekend, August 11-14, provides an opportunity for parents to reunite with their plebes after the intensive six weeks of Plebe Summer that paves the way to a midshipman's freshman year at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Plebe Summer, which began with Induction Day July 1, is a fast-paced, boot camp-style orientation that begins four years of preparing midshipmen to become commissioned naval officers. It challenges the new midshipmen to develop leadership ability, motivation, moral courage, teamwork and physical strength.

Even through the rigors of Plebe Summer, the class of 2020 has maintained a positive attitude and has already made an impression on their leadership.

“The personality of the brigade, to me, is driven by the senior class, and sometimes more importantly, by the plebe class,” said Vice Adm. Ted E. Carter Jr., superintendent of USNA. “The class of 2020 might be the most exuberant class that we have seen here in recent memory.”

The Class of 2020 is composed of men and women from all over the United States and includes 12 international students from around the globe. Only approximately two thirds of the class came directly from high school; the remainder came from four-year colleges or universities, directly from the fleet, or one of the preparatory schools around the country.

“This is the first class in any service academy history where congressmen and senators have made a nomination from every single voting district in the country,” said Carter.

For the family and friends reuniting with their plebes, it can be shocking to see how much they have changed. Parents say that the new mannerisms their plebes have adopted make them seem almost unrecognizable. They stand taller and straighter, pivot around corners, address everyone as “sir" or "ma'am," and say things like “where is the head?”

"Seeing him leave for Plebe Summer was exciting. It was heartbreaking and came with a lot of anxiety, but I’ve never been more proud,” said Tracy McClure, mother of Midshipman 4th Class Kyran McClure. “I’m just so excited to get my arms around him.”

During the four-day weekend, parents are able to see a formal parade, tour the dorms at Bancroft Hall, and meet with faculty and staff members to get a glimpse of life at the academy and what to expect during the upcoming year.

The Class of 2020 is scheduled to join the Brigade of Midshipmen during reform Aug. 18-20. At that point, the plebes will move to their permanent company spaces in preparation for the academic school year.

See more photos from Plebe Parents Weekend on the USNA Flickr page.