For 10 U.S. Naval Academy plebes, a recent experience showed them that even one year of military training has changed the way they approach a crisis.
Midshipmen 4th Class Madisen Grinnell, Brad Kadlubowski, Erik Sabelstrom and Harrison Yosten attended an Orioles game in Baltimore April 25, along with six of their classmates.
Getting to the city early, they stopped at a Subway down the street from Camden Yards to grab sandwiches – the same street where a group had gathered to protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who sustained fatal spinal cord injuries while in police custody earlier this month.
Some of the midshipmen were aware of the protests but didn’t give them much thought that evening.
“I’d read about it,” said Grinnell. “I didn’t realize they would be so close to Camden Yards.”
The protests began peacefully Saturday but became suddenly violent while the midshipmen were ordering their food and finding seats with approximately 10 other customers. The protesters began moving down the street, and without warning, a chair from outside hit the shop window. Another one quickly followed, breaking the glass and sending the customers into a panic.
The midshipmen helped the store manager direct people to the back of the store, away from the windows, forming a loose barrier between the civilian customers and the protesters who continued to pelt the windows with rocks as they moved down the street.
“The plebes were the last to seek safety and only did so after they made sure all others were safely away from the windows,” wrote Robert Oshinsky, one of the Subway customers, in an e-mail to academy officials. “My wife and children were scared but I believe a little less so as a result of the actions of the plebes.”
The midshipmen said they just did what needed to be done.
“I don’t think it occurred to any of us that we were doing anything special,” said Sabelstrom. “It would not be cool if a group of midshipmen were the farthest in the back.”
Grinnell had a similar thought. She heard someone directing women and children to the back, but she stayed in front with her classmates.
“You’re in the military,” she told herself. “You should be in front.”
“We shouldn’t be in the back of any kind of group. We’re in uniform,” said Sabelstrom.
Would they have reacted the same way a year ago?
“Probably not,” said Kadlubowski.
No one in the store was injured during the incident. The protesters continued down the street and after a few minutes, the midshipmen left and made their way to Camden Yards for the baseball game. After learning the protesters were expected to return at the end of the game, they left in the 8th inning to return to the Naval Academy.