A Tourist in “Navy Country”
By 24340 Marsalie Mackenzie (Marsalie graduated as part of the class of 2009 with a Honours English degree. She is a MARS Officer and is presently at RMC doing post-grad work. This is her fourth e-Veritas article sharing her USNA exchange experiences.)
There are few things in this world more beautiful than Annapolis in the summertime; the picture of preppy perfection, the city is characterized by sunshine reflecting off of enormous white yachts, happy families sharing picnic lunches by the harbour and well-dressed couples holding hands, sipping deliciously over-priced lattes as they stroll down by the water. Annapolis, an historic city with a vibrant downtown core, attracts visitors from all over the United States who come to take in the sailing, the shopping, the haute cuisine and the US Naval Academy.
It wasn’t until I had been in Maryland for almost two weeks that I finally had the opportunity to explore the city. Searching my bags for an outfit that could be considered ‘dressy casual’ (see yacht club appropriate) I tried my best to channel Jackie- O, eventually deciding on a headscarf, boat shoes and a pair of oversized sunglasses. I fit right in; apparently, stereotypes are still alive and well in Maryland. As I began sauntering down Main Street, I promised myself that I would take this weekend (my first of unrestricted travel) to relax and enjoy being a tourist. I would be away from the Academy for two nights, certainly enough time to rest and unwind, maybe catch up on some reading…
However, I quickly realized that if I hoped to escape the Academy, even momentarily, I would have to get away-far away. As I navigated the backstreets of Annapolis, it occurred to me that I was in the heart of ‘Navy country’: Navy flags flew from every doorway, huge banners emblazoned with the words “Welcome back Mids!!” hung overhead, sports bars were screening reruns of Navy’s monumental win over football powerhouse Notre Dame, and all the storefronts in the downtown area advertised special military discounts. Midshipmen in their summer whites strolled by the shops and restaurants, chatting and eating ice cream, much to the amusement of the tourists. They good naturedly posed for pictures, and accepted thanks for choosing to serve and protect their country.
I was in awe– not just because I had never seen that much blue and gold in one place, but because I realized that in my fours years in Kingston, I had never once seen this outpouring of support from the community. The Naval Academy is truly the pride and joy of Maryland (probably the most accurate statement made in the Tourism Annapolis pamphlet); the Midshipmen are the lifeblood of Annapolis-their successes and failures shared in every way by the city that has adopted them into their hearts and into their homes. What is truly touching, though, is that this support goes far beyond banners, signs and flags; the citizens of Annapolis truly invest time, effort and money into the development of young naval officers. For example, upon entry into the Academy, each midshipman is given the name and address of a family in Annapolis that has agreed to ‘adopt’ them (unofficially, of course) for the duration of their time at Navy. For many Midshipmen, this arrangement gives them somewhere to go on weekends, a place to do laundry, watch TV, enjoy a home-cooked meal and interact with people outside of the Academy. So many families in Annapolis volunteer to house midshipmen that there is now a yearly competition. While some families inevitably end up disappointed because they live too far away from the Academy, or have recently had a mid, more often than not, midshipmen will end up with multiple families, alternating on weekends between the Smith’s pool and the Jones’ barbeque.
The pride that the citizens of Annapolis have for their young men and women in uniform is nothing short of inspiring, and it not only demonstrates the dedication of one community, but reflects the positive attitude that the American nation as a whole has towards their military. An African proverb once said that it takes a village to raise a child; I believe it is the same for training young officers. My roommate and closest friend at Navy once told me that everything at the Academy that had ever made her sigh or scream, laugh or cry, all became worth it when she realized that there was a city of 37,000 people who wanted her and her classmates to succeed. Though the Academy, like any other institution, has its imperfections, its relationship with the city of Annapolis is not one; in fact, Kingston could stand to learn a lot from our neighbours to the South. Although we may have tastier coffee, a better hockey team and a larger waterfront, we lack the displays of pride and support from the community that are necessary to help our junior officers reach their full potential.
Welcome to the Air Force Academy. You’re doing everything wrong!
Much like arriving at RRMC/CMR/RMC on the first day!