In early August my 19-year-old son and I drove from Virginia to New York City where I left him at the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College, also known as Fort Schuyler, where he entered a four-year course of study that will lead to a position as a licensed merchant marine officer. (See the college's website at www.sunymaritime.edu.)
He began with a two-week "indoctrination" session; sounds ominous, right? Call it boot camp. Two weeks of being rousted out of bed at 5:30 AM (my son previously considered 5:30 to be a PM time only), going to bed many, many hours later, and in between lots of running, push-ups, sit-ups, drilling, marching, lectures, standing at attention, polishing brass, being screamed at and other fun things, all at the gentle hands of upperclassmen eager to share the pain of their own indoctrination experiences of a year or two ago. At Maritime College new cadets are not called plebes, they are called MUGs, meaning "Midshipman Under Guidance," also meaning the lowest form of human life on campus. But anybody ought to be able to put up with anything for two weeks, although in fact a few young people decided the life was not for them and left. My son, I am happy to say, was not one of them.
On August 23 my wife, our 14-year-old daughter, and I were back in New York to see our son graduate from indoctrination, along with about 350 of his newest and closest friends. If I may say so, my son was quite the handsome young man in his dress white cadet uniform. (He said he had spent an hour and a half the previous evening ironing the creases into his uniform, this from someone who had never touched an iron before in his life.) It was a moving experience for the parents to see all those new cadets march smartly onto the parade field when many of them barely knew their left foot from their right foot when indoctrination began. Using binoculars we were eventually able to spot him in the ranks.
In the invocation before the graduation, the college chaplain gave thanks for the "miraculous transformation" of the young men and women out on the field. I don't know that there were any miracles performed on my son (other than responding to the aforementioned 5:30 AM wake-up calls) but we did find an energized, confident and poised young man rather than the sometimes-difficult teenager of two weeks earlier. Maybe that does qualify as a miraculous transformation.
I was born and raised in the Midwest, far from any blue water. Never did I imagine that someday I would live on the East Coast just outside Washington, DC, or that I would become a volunteer crewman on a tall ship (as I once was), or that I would be a volunteer crewman on one of only two surviving World War II Liberty ships (as I am now), or that I would be the webmaster of the premier (OK, only) website dedicated to the Armed Guard and the merchant marine – or that my son would choose to pursue a career as a merchant marine officer. Life has a way of surprising you, doesn't it?
I am immensely proud of my son but a little apprehensive too. It will be a long, challenging road for him, between now and graduation in four years, but he is bright, personable, determined and stubborn. He is an athlete, an Eagle Scout and, for six years with the rest of his family, a volunteer crewman on an ocean-going vessel. I hope he will succeed and I expect that he will. As time goes on I will report on his experiences.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled message board.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster