The 95th Corps of Cadets arrived like all other classes of plebes – with uncertainty about what awaited them and full heads of hair. The hair didn’t last long as their heads were shaved within moments of their parents’ departure. As for the uncertainty? It was clear almost immediately that the challenges of the plebe system at VFMAC are difficult and surmountable.
“Each plebe class is different,” said William Mott, OBE, MVO, Garrison Sergeant Major (Ret), Commandant of Cadets. “They are different from those who came before and experience different leadership among the Corps of Cadets. This group met the rigorous standards for entrance and are individually strong quality individuals. And they are benefitting from a strong nucleus of Cadet leadership.”
Among the first lessons the plebes begin to learn are the customs, regulations, and expectations of them. Known as knowledge, the details are in book form and plebes study the details, are tested on them, and must demonstrate how they live into them. They learn quickly that success is not individual and that individuals succeed only when the group succeeds.
“Each plebe comes with the unique and individual experiences of his or her life to date,” said GSM Mott. “At VFMAC, we want them to see they can be so much more. We build them into leaders.”
Almost immediately, the plebes learn that the Five Cornerstones of Academic Excellence, Physical Development, Personal Motivation, Character Development, and Leadership are the new definitions of their lives and that they must learn to live into them.
“They all have the ability to incorporate them, on a daily basis and they do learn to use them better, more wisely,” said GSM Mott. “It is all related to the individual’s daily experiences here and how he/she learns how to deploy the Cornerstone they require.”
The plebe system lasts until leadership believes the plebes can meet the responsibilities and requirements to earn the privilege of becoming a Cadet – training weekly on those activities they need to demonstrate at the time of the Forge Stakes for VFMC ECP candidates and the Crucible for VFMA and VFMC Citizen Leaders.
Cadet and Staff leadership is deeply involved 24/7 so that each plebe gets the help they need in all facets of VFMAC life and has the opportunity to lead. “I get reports everyday on how they are all doing,” said GSM Mott. “One of the great things about VFMAC is we are close to the plebes – in fact, all of the students at all levels. With that sort of engagement, we see young men and women who would never think of themselves as leaders emerge with a level of confidence they never knew they had. For others, they may have arrived with average grades and are becoming gold star students. It is what we do here.”
In mid-October the plebes went through the Forge Stakes and the Crucible – the comprehensive physical and mental testing to challenge what they had learned through the plebe system. Events included long runs, carrying gurneys with filled water jugs, relay races, night land navigation, movement with weapons, paintball, swimming in uniform with acrylic weapons, and a cannon pull, among others. At the conclusion of the Forge Stakes and College Crucible for Citizen Leaders, the plebes received their Capshields. Academy plebes received their Capshields during the Parents Weekend parade.