Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Kids wrestle, step on each other’s shoes, crawl out windows.
Societies have often tried to whip their young into adulthood with calculated brutality. Yet even this, intolerable as it is, probably causes less pain — and may even give rise to less brutality in the long run — than our practice of training young people to feel anxious and guilty if they allow themselves to be caught maintaining a rigid moral attitude.
— The Vanishing Adolescent, Edgar Z. Friedenberg
"My first three weeks, I called home four times wanting to come home."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
The beveled-domino shape of Hyatt on the Bay looms monolithic in the electric-lit dark of San Diego, as tourists/conventioneers buzz about giddily as hummingbirds, whilst I sucks dry a Coors Light on the patio of Kansas City Barbeque and listen to chatter regarding part of a movie made here....
"I wish I didn’t have to wake up and put a uniform on every morning or make formation."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
“...Tom Cruise plays the piano...”
"...sleazy bar scene..."
“...don’t remember any of it...”
"I can’t stop loving my dad because he sent me here."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
I bleakly remember Top Gun (one of Hollywood’s more iniquitous efforts at exploiting teenage narcissism/ignorance/amorality via outright filmic distortion of warfare’s true heart); and I note, penetrating from far overhead, an invisible whump! whump! whump! smothering all city sounds, then fading toward Coronado. (Apparently nobody else notices.)
"We have a large population of foreign cadets— Latin America, Europe, but mostly Korea and Thailand."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Superstretch limousines whiz by emptily and return every five minutes full of pretension. Skaters strut in neo-postpunk uniforms of affected nihilists, searching for things to piss on, daring for eye contact (actually, skaters are easy to stare down), sucking on cigarettes in perceived perpetuity, aggrandizing their brittle egos watching things remindful of parents scurrying scared back to hotels. Clomping of horse-pulled carriages and sharp bells of trolleys partially foist an early-century facade, till a real train rumbles by, vibrating like the earth’s core, sending thonged tourists flapping in hysterics.
Cute waitress (more cutely named E-l-y-s-e for Alyssa), who’s maybe old enough to legally serve beer (and/or tickle tips out of old farts’ fancies), patronizes shamelessly...
“Is everything okay, hun?”
(Hun? Why don’t ya change y’r tag to Stella, babe?) Just fine, thank you.
“ ’Nother beer, hun?”
“Right back, hun.”
(Oh, for God’s sake.)
Flipping through notes, I see an old pattern emerge: my heart lies far away, while devils lure larger pieces to remote and odd places. Five days ago I drove I-5 north 35 miles to Carlsbad (a day early) to sneak a peek at a dinosaur. I exited onto Carlsbad Village Drive, drove west seven lights, took a right, drove north on Carlsbad Boulevard to Cypress Avenue, hung a left, continued to Ocean Street, and parked. Short walk later (following a sign), I stopped beside a chapel (my backside to the Pacific) and nodded to a tall boy descending concrete stairs. His black sweats were emblazoned “ANA” in gold block letters.
“Where’s the office?”
Conversation went something like that; anyway, I’d found my destination. Here was not remote (houses and tourists abound), but it certainly seemed odd. ANA stands for Army and Navy Academy, an anachronism in reverse, a piece of the past pulled to present (or at least still alive). Here was a military boarding school — boys only.
I had to laugh.
Head heavy in preconceived notions, I couldn’t help pondering the unique possibilities I imagined (in knee-jerk fashion) to be peculiar to these places. Having climbed the stairs and entered the grounds, I saw that the place was pretty much deserted (field trip, I’d been foretold); there was a handful of boys roaming (all in identical ANA sweats), one of whom (’bout 110 pounds’ worth) was notably of European descent; and because of that (and his uncanny resemblance to Patrick Swayze, the actor) I nodded...
.. .and kept on walking.
'There’s an unreal aura surrounding the place; I pivoted 360 degrees and presumed... marooned beside the sea within the half-antiquated confines of whitewashed compound, the hard eyes of Purple-Hearted Marines peering, the communal toilets and the company showers, 300 boys young as 12, the irreplaceable slices of their childhoods handed over.. .just say, G’bye, Mom, So long. Dad, Where are the girls?
“Your Coors, hun.”
Elyse removes a plate of gnawed cobs and hickory’d-chicken bones, ’nother silent limo glides by, window beams illumined; again, invisible whump! whump! whump! of monstrous blades resonating, then fading, northward this time toward Camp Pendleton over Carlsbad.
“Help you, sir?”
A pip-squeak of a uniformed boy (80 pounds) standing under his shiny-billed cap (tagged SHIN M.) smartly had marched smack in my way.
I pivoted again, surveyed the scene. Dorms, cottages, classrooms— all loosely connectingover a multiple-acre campus—create a sort of fort, all windows/doors facing in; from spacious lawn and old trees bordering Carlsbad Boulevard, a tall facade of Spanish-colonial arches devolves seaward and dominates; moreover, from there to Ocean Street, sidewalks and noticeably trod trails lead to the chapel, rec hall, and academy store—wholly perched above its priceless stretch of private Pacific surf.
“Where’n hell’s the office at?”
Michael (I learned) is the pip-squeak’s American name (a seventh grader from Korea). He escorted me to a white trailer trimmed in navy (color scheme of all older buildings) rooted dead center of campus.
“Commandant’s office,” he said.
Strips of AstroTurf led separately to two doors (one closed) accessed by sideways-attached stairways. Entering left (open door), I removed my hat (a long-instilled habit) and faced (what I thought were) two adults. Introducing myself and my business (believing they already knew), I relaxed in the warm confidence bred of their unassuming smiles.
“Um, sir,” one said, “you got to talk to him.”
Him was neither of them (they were just big kids), but rather a man in a uniform pointed at through an open hatch, a man who’d long ago grown up. He was leaned back in a chair behind a desk, one leg up, arms crossed ’cross his chest, his face turned frozen, those atavistic eyes locked and loaded on me.
“Your check, hun.”
“Visa, MasterCard, Discover.”
No American Express?
His tag read MUHS (pronounced myews), and he’d popped out of his chair when I said I was a "retired” Marine. Shook my hand. Turns out we’d both been assigned (nearly the same time) to First Battalion, Fourth Marines — he in Alpha, me Bravo — though we never actually humped into each other. Fate left me wounded, physically disabled, and prematurely retired by the government; eventually I became a teacher. But I’d always wondered what became of boys like me, boys who (unlike me) stayed in the Corps. Especially ones like Muhs, who (beyond all possible belief, back then) became “one of those sadistic and demonic” Marine Corps drill instructors. He and I talked a lot. We talked of tragedies in life; he said he’d lost a daughter.
“Lost that morbid sense of humor too,” he said, “lost all that stuff.”
And he admitted getting in trouble once as a DI for being too mean.
“Corps’s been forced to change its ways,” he said.
“If not its purpose,” I suggested.
After 20-plus years in the Corps, Muhs hired on at Army-Navy Academy as a TAC (Trainer, Advisor, Counselor), one of many “tactical officers” on campus (most of whom are retired Marines, most with Purple Hearts). Why he was hired was never discussed, but I wondered how a “too mean” Marine handled being a TAC to a bunch o’ rambunctious boys.
“Hard,” he said.
“I like to yell.”
“Yeah. I wanna grab ’em, shake ’em, yell at ’em, make ’em understand things.”
“I can’t do that here.”
Dawn arrived gray and chilly next day. It was 6:20 a.m. Boys wore blue trousers, battle jackets, and “piss-cutter” hats (like upside-down canoes).
They stood at parade rest. Yawned, coughed, nodded. NCOs barked (“Straighten up!" “Eyes forward!” “Stop moving!") in voices deep, some cracking, some high. Youngest cadets “sucked in" their childhood bellies. Roll was called (Companies snapped to attention. Squad leaders about-faced, “SQUADALL PRESENT!" Company commanders about-faced, “COMPANY__ALL PRESENT!" Battalion executive officer (high on red steps beneath white columns) turned to the battalion commander (uttering inaudibly), returned and gave an order. Companies right-faced. Forward marched. Malcontents removed from formations, ordered to face walls, held their arms out, their James Dean sneers cracking their hairless faces. Squad by squad, single file, cadets descended (step, pause, step, pause) somnambulistically into the deep, steamy warmth of a mess hall.
This I observed in pause.. .as I might the sight of unicorns, having suspected their existence.. .and a few crooked chuckles. How in hell had this place survived the hippie-dippy days? What is this place? Who are the adults? The boys? Birth of the oldest seems just two days ago to me, that’s all. Time flies. And so does the bullshit. Particularly about schools. Model programs rewrap the same ideas, over and over, in different ribbons and prettier bows. Ah! something new: the children need to discover, not be taught. Yeah, right. In kindergarten, maybe. Before puberty, maybe.
“The administration of Army-Navy Academy — in other words, the adults — is not organized along military lines. You can look at it and see a chain of command, with the chairman of the board at the top, then the superintendent and the headmaster, and under us, we have our responsibilities. The cadet battalion [student body), however, is organized like an army battalion: a battalion commander, an XO, and a five-person staff in charge of five companies. The administration of the school isn’t reflected in that at all. It operates, basically, as would any high school administration.”
Speaking is Colonel Steve Miller, superintendent of Army-Navy Academy, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He says that the management structure at ANA has undergone recent change. “We now have two heads of the school, a superintendent and a headmaster, as opposed to a single president as in the past.” The headmaster (Fred W. Heinle, Ph.D.) is responsible for academics and athletics; the superintendent is responsible for the military program, campus life, and campus plant (facilities and maintenance). As superintendent, “I’m deeply involved in the budget process, planning and pulling the reins to keep the expenditures within budget.” As well, discipline is Miller’s responsibility, which is handled directly by the commandant of cadets (a West Point graduate) and about a dozen TAC officers, who each “serves as a sort of dorm father’ for all of the kids in his company. The TACs are all retired Marine Corps or Army, except one, a retired police officer, who served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.”
Miller graduated from college in 1970, then went on active duty in the Army in the quartermaster corps, which is to say support. Over a 20-year period, however, he served in a quartermaster capacity only twice. He had more overseas assignments than domestic, his first in Ethiopia, where the Army Security Agency operated “this little stratospheric research station, quote-unquote. Actually, what we were doing, guess I can say this 25 years later, was peeking in on what the Russians were doing with their communications.” Next came the obligatory tour in Vietnam (“right at the tail end”), then back to Europe. “My last three years I was in a NATO assignment in Heidelberg, Germany; there I did basically the same thing I had done in the Army, which was strategic planning for support of a war in Europe, should it come. I was on a team that was responsible for looking at the long-range aspects of the stability of logistics and support of the Soviet Army, and we were also making some prognostications about when the Berlin Wall would fill and Communism see its last days.”
You were predicting that? “Yes, we were, for up to a year before it actually happened. And we just missed; we were guessing December of 1989, when it actually happened in November. And the chaos that ensued, that was fairly easy to predict too. There was basically no infrastructure that the Soviets had not brought with them, so if they pulled out, then you were going to see total chaos for a couple years.”
And then human nature would rear its ugly head.
People jumping around singing “Give Peace a Chance” while scrambling for chunks of the wall to sell.
Absolutely no understanding of mankind’s eternal dark heart.
So what’s idyllic Eastern Europe look like today?
“Awful. I mean, if you can imagine for 30 years these people knew that Communism wouldn’t last forever, so they did nothing to improve industry. The pollution in the Communist countries was just horrific, because protecting the land and environment meant nothing to them. All they wanted was to use the land, use the people, for their big totalitarian machine. And they did that. And now it will probably take them generations to clean the place up.”
Ironically, the end of Miller’s military career (and teas of thousands of others’) coincided with the fall of Communism. Suddenly there was no war, no war threat, and no need for 500,000 U.S. soldiers in Germany or anywhere in Europe. "Almost overnight, I concluded that I was not going to make colonel and certainly not one star. So my wife (who was teaching for the Defense Department at the time) and I made the decision to leave. Of course, a retirement check is nice, but neither of us now had a job.”
Alter returning to the States, the Millers settled in Southern California, near relatives, and began looking for employment. “I tried my hand as a stockbroker and decided that really wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life." A couple of months later, he got word that Army-Navy Academy had an opening for a senior Army instructor (SAI), the person in charge of the ROTC program. Miller got the job and began work at ANA in August of ’91.
A retired lieutenant colonel (experienced at high-level military intelligence) functioning as SAI in a small school's Junior-ROTC program, indeed, is a bit like a Ph.D. in physics teaching pre-algebra; thus. Miller’s evolution to superintendent became inevitable. “Technically, as far as the government is concerned. I’m still senior Army instructor, as well as superintendent, but we will be hiring another person shortly to fill the SAI position. Although I’m not presently teaching any classes, per se, I do help TAC leaders get ready for the annual inspection, and I see the battalion commander and staff officers practically on a daily basis.”
Which raises the question: is preparing future soldiers the aim of an institution dubbing itself Army and Navy Academy?
Miller, who bears a striking resemblance (in face and poise) to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General )ohn M. Shalikashvili allows himself a foretelling laugh.
“There are two things we are not,” he says, “and first is a reform school. Some parents bring their kids here thinking that, but we don’t take ’em; if we know that a boy has been told by a judge, ‘Go to a military school or go to juvenile hall,’ well, he’ll have to find a different military school. And the other thing we are not is a recruiting arm for the armed services. Now, having said that, I’ll tell you that, of the kids who stay in a JROTC program through graduation, almost 50 percent go on to the armed services in some fashion, whether it’s college, an academy program, or they enlist. And I don’t know what the breakdown is, but a very high number get scholarships. As well. 50 percent of the Army ROTC scholarships go to kids who have been in the JROTC program, which is saying something, because the ROTC college scholarships are as competitive as West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. This year we have one boy going to Annapolis, one boy going to Air Force Academy, and three boys who are getting ROTC scholarships.”
In the wake of upheaval at Southern bastions of male-only military colleges, such as the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, under siege by females for admission, how does ANA handle similar inquiries?
“With a lot of discouragement. We recently had a young lady inquire, and what it came down to was that the father was told by the chairman of the board, ‘Look, if your daughter applies, we’re going to accept her. But you have to know that we’re not going to change our program. We have an all-male school, we have an all-male sports program, and we have all-male dormitories — all these all-male things.’ At this point we’re not positioned to set whole dorms off-limits to males, to put in bathtubs, that kind of stuff. As it happened, this young lady was a good athlete, and her father wanted a school with a good women’s program, and we simply can’t respond to something like that. We’re a tiny little school. So she decided to enroll elsewhere.
“And since then, this school has become firm in believing that single-sex schools have a place in our society, especially for boys; that absent the distraction of the sexes mingling, youngsters can better focus on academics and growing up. There’s plenty of time tor involvement with the opposite sex later on. We’re firm about it, we see nothing wrong, and we’re not going to change. We’re going to stay a boys’ school.”
“My name is Tony Carter, and you probably wanted to know, Ray, where I came from, what I’m doing here.”
As strongly as Superintendent Miller is remindful of General Shalikashvili, Mr. Carter brings to mind (minus acerbic tone) Andy Rooney of CBS’s 60 Minutes. “One of the reasons that I’m here is that I went to a boys’ boarding school, all boys, as it turned out, a long time ago at the Hills School in Pennsylvania; and, of course, I went into the service for a while. I was in the Navy, but it was the tail end of the war. and I never actually got to fight. So I ended up going to Princeton and graduating from there and then went on into the international food business for many, many years. I worked up through the marketing end of the business, then became regional and then general manager, and lived in many parts of the world, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, Japan — a varied international career. I retired in Los Angeles, where I was offered a position in the school business. I was always interested in education, so I took the job as business manager for the Westlake School for Girls in Holmby Hills; it’s in the Bel Air section, you know, the Bunny Club or whatever it is.. .what’s his name?”
“Hugh Hefner, that’s it. And who’s the guy who has all these television shows? Huge house?”
“Bigger house...anyway, the name escapes me, but it’s a lovely area, old part of Beverly Hills, and that’s where I was for about 10 or 12 years, at the Westlake School for Girls; and eventually it merged to become co-ed with our brother school, the Harvard School for Boys, which at one time had been a military school. It was on the other side, North Hollywood. Anyway, I stayed on there for 2 or 3 years during the merger. Then I decided I would try retirement. My wife had a boy who lives near Carlsbad, so we moved down here, and not wanting to just do nothing, I wondered if they needed any help at the Army-Navy Academy. So, we contacted Dr. Heinle, said if they ever needed some part-time help, you know, and that sort of volunteer effort turned into a more or less full-time position.
“My main job here is to support our director of admissions, Margarite Daniel, and perhaps the fact that I have been through the process in a boys' school helps to some extent. I’m the one who usually gets the initial inquiries, counsels the parents, tells them about the school. Normally, they’ve usually heard about us from somewhere. Often it’s word of mouth, or from a magazine like Sunset. So we go through a basic-information sheet, find out the name and age of the boy, name of the inquirer, usually mother or father—sometimes uncle, aunt, grandparent, things of that nature—and make sure first of all this is the right kind of school for them. In other words, we start in grade 7 and go through grade 12. Occasionally we get an inquiry for a girl, but as you know, Ray, we don’t have girls at the academy. Our feeling is that there are less distractions for the boy, and I think that as a result the boys are able to get a. little bit better education. That’s been my own personal experience, even though it was a long time ago.
“We ask, Why’d you change from one school to another? Things of that nature. Is he your son or stepson? or.. .we get a lot of inquiries from broken families, if you will.. .sometimes both of the parents are out of the picture for one reason or another.”
This is a military school, I know, but — I want to be sure I have this right — ANA isn’t a reform school?
“That’s one of the things we stress, because a lot of the boys have that feeling, that this is a reform school, that it’s only for bad boys. And that’s not our academy. As a result of that mis-assumption, we end up with boys sometimes who’re a little afraid of coming.”
Margarite Daniel has entered the room and joins the conversation.
“At some level,” she says, “each boy has to convey to us, you know, that they are willing to be here and try their best; but problems you encounter are (a) fear of being away from home, and (b) just fear of not having the comforts of home. Most of our kids come from various advantaged lifestyles; they’ve sort of been given everything, never had to work for anything, and consequently they have no pride of self. They’re lacking something. And they keep looking for it in the outer world, from other people. But no one can give them their sense of self. So here we use the military system, its structure, order, ranking — where boys earn more responsibility with more privilege—to help develop pride and self-esteem. You know, once a boy has his sense of self, he’s better able to contribute.
“We really have three main objectives, the first being academic; that is, we want all our graduates to meet the entrance requirements for the University of California system. Next most important, we want strong participation in our athletic program; we offer 13 sports, and with only 250 boys, chances are a boy can get on a team. It’s not like at a high school with 2000 boys, where only the champions or superstars get on the varsity. And third most important is our JROTC program, which starts in grade nine.”
Tony adds, “It’s a leadership training course designed to build self-esteem, self-confidence, respect for authority, all those good things. And it’s that combination of those sort of three objectives, as Margarite has explained, that turns out a good boy here.”
What does it take to get in?
“We look at every boy as a whole, as an individual,” Margarite says (setting off an alarm in my head; bullshit! ding! ding! ding!), “but in general, we’re looking for C grades or better. However, if they had a term of Ds or Fs due to a life change or a school change or just adolescence itself...you know, at 13 or 14, socialization becomes more important than academic performance. And that’s when we get most of our calls. So we look to make sure the potential is there: IQ test, reading-comprehension test, personality assessment test, writing test, that sort of thing. And then we look at what teachers say about them.”
From the school they came from?
“Right. We look at recommendations from math and English teachers, a guidance counselor, a principal, and someone who knows them outside of the classroom. When they come in and do a tour, we try to get to knew them a little bit on a personal basis, kind of size them up, you know, chemistry-wise. They then have interviews with myself, with the commandant of cadets, and with the headmaster. And then we all put our heads together to make a decision.”
What do you mean by advantaged backgrounds?
“It’s not inexpensive,” says Tony. “Tuition [’96 to ’97 is] $15,430. Plus eight or nine uniforms, and that’ll run about $1900 and hopefully last a couple years —boys do grow. There is a one-time enrollment fee of $1000. Year one is about $20,000.” “But I don’t mean so much in terms of monetary privilege," Margarite clarifies. “We have students here whose parents work two jobs, single moms working two or three jobs, kids getting help from the grandparents. Rather, privileged in the sense that they have no sense of appreciation or respect for what’s been given to them. So they come into this environment, which is a little more stark, and they start at ground zero. They have to earn their respect, earn their place, and recognize there’s somebody else on this planet besides themselves.”
How many boys last all six years?
“From seventh grade through graduation?”
“Very few, maybe 10 to 15 percent.”
“It seems that the mentality we see most is that parents call us ’cause there’s a problem. Their son’s in a school where there’s too much distraction, both parents work, parents can't be there, they can’t handle it, and they don’t want their child to waste his high school years. So they call us to take care of the problem. They bring their son in, he does very well, goes from a 1.5 GPA to a 3.8, and they figure, Well, the problem’s solved! So they pull their boy out the following year, he again fails miserably at his old school, and then they call us again.”
And they can’t figure out why.
“We don’t claim to perform any miracles,” Tony says. “Parents think they’re going to send ’em here for a year, we’re going to clean ’em up, shape ’em...”
“... we don’t profess to do that. I mean, we’ve got the structure, we’ve got the program, we’ve got the environment, but it takes time for a lot of kids today.”
“Then there’s the media...”
“...um...we’re always a little leery. It doesn’t seem like the media look very kindly on us. We’re this mysterious entity over here, this strange little community, this military boarding school, and the media try, you know, to make us into some Peyton Place. Drugs, for instance, is the big hot button now with the Drug-Free America campaign. And we have a zero-tolerance policy. Get caught, you’re kicked out. Even if they admit, they’re gone! Whereas in our fellow school, Carlsbad High, for example, they have a ‘three strikes’ policy. You have to get caught three times before you’re even suspended. last year we had a pretty incredible time, losing about 17 kids, which is less than 10 percent of the population, but 17 kids is 17 kids. So the media picks up on that, starts to focus in on us, when the drug problem is at Carlsbad High, where there’s dealing right on the playground, where you can be caught three times and then you’re suspended. Here it’s once and you’re expelled.”
“But we’re sorry,” Tony says, “we stick by our guns.”
WILLIAM TROUSDALE (Curator Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution) speaks in a voice mildly suggestive of Robin Williams; other’n that, his large head and small body fit perfectly my presumption of a scholar spending an adulthood in esoteric seclusion.
“When I could no longer do archaeology in the Middle East,” he explains, “because of political and military conflicts, I began to study the early explorers of the Middle East, who ail turned out to be British military, and this led me to why they were doing the exploration, which was.. .uh, empire expansion.” (Add to this voice a trace of sardonic William F. Buckley Jr.) “Then I began to write books on the colonial wars. And then I became interested in military schools. I first started working on one in France, over 1200 years old, which closed forever in 1991. There I learned that the United States is the only Western country that still has private military schools at the secondary educational level. So I began visiting schools in the United States and came to the conclusion after a couple of years that there *ere not too many points of comparison between the one in France and the ones in the United States but that the ones in the United States were worthy of a book. There are too many for me to visit all of them, so I am concentrating on the ones that are still single sex, for boys only, because that was the nature of the one I’d written about in France.”
You weren’t in the military? “No, no! No connection whatsoever with the military.” How did you pick this particular school?
“Army-Navy Academy is one of no more than a dozen left in the United States—single-sex, boys' military boarding schools.”
(He laughs, after a pause, eyes on me, cautiously.)
What accounts for the demise in single-sex boarding schools?
“It’s no one factor. There were over 500 of them in the ’20s and ’30s. I think a great deal of it began during the antiwar movement, beginning with the hippies..." (he drags the word out) “.. .anti-authority, the Vietnam War. And this is also the period that many of them that did not completely fail became coeducational in an effort to keep alive. It worked for some, not for others.”
There must be quite a difference, one school to another?
“Not as much as you would think; it’s as if they all read each others’ rule books. I think they all have the same goals in mind, to build self-confidence, a sense of personal worth, creating an ability to accept direction, guidance, orders, and turn out good citizens. They’ve never been designed to turn out soldiers, and a comparatively few go on to military careers from military schools — I would say certainly less than 10 percent, probably more like 5 percent. This is true of all of them. It’s not their function. Many of the ones on the East Coast were founded before public education was available, founded as private schools, usually by either wealthy industrialists or people from the church who wished to instill a sense of Christian morals and integrity in the young. Some of them on the East Coast are still religious affiliated, and the farther south you go, the more emphasis there is on the religious side of the school. Catholic and Baptist.”
I’m curious about your archetypal British boarding school, with its coat and crest. Does it parallel the boys-only military school?
“There’s a closer parallel between the British schools and our private schools in New England, like Andover and Exeter and Choate; they all wear non-military-type uniforms, but they do not have the discipline programs that the military schools have. That’s not their emphasis. Their major emphasis is to attract the children of the wealthy, an unruly student at Exeter is unlikely to be expelled if his father is a multimillionaire. But the/re not my interest. I’m more interested in the philosophy behind the military school, which emphasizes both the academic side and the necessity for discipline. And the military school is coming back, and it’s coming hack for the same old reasons and some new reasons. I’ve talked to parents on the days that they are touring the campus, and I remember one parent who said, every day when their son left for public school, it worried them he’d get shot or knifed or beaten up or be given something with drugs in it. And they wanted to put him someplace where they didn’t have to worry. And I’ve questioned some of the students touring: Is this your decision? Would you like to come here? Are you being forced by your parents? They all said: No, I’m just having too many problems in public school, too many things getting in the way of getting an education. There is a total lack of discipline, you know, in the public education system. It’s virtually in a state of chaos.
“I’ve found that in military schools, the school tends more to back up the decisions of its staff who have disciplined a student for one reason or another; if he or his parents come and complain to the school, the school will stand by its own. That’s because they don’t have to worry about being fired because of the parents’ opinion; whereas, in public schools they do. Also, I think students at a military school get more individual attention than they do in a public school. Increasingly so, public schoolteachers see their profession as just an eight-hour-a-day job. There’s really very little else they can do. Whereas in a military school, both the military officers and the faculty have a greater sense of dedication to the job they’re doing. Since their charges are here 24 hours a day, a lot of them fed they’re on call 24 hours a day if they’re needed.
“As well, I read in a manuscript of this French school, where they started wearing uniforms at least in the 1500s, that the purpose of uniforms was so the rich and the poor would be indistinguishable, they would all be dressed the same. Now, I’m sure the rich students still had ways of letting the poor ones know that their families had more money, because in those days the wealthy students arrived with their footmen — in their coaches, and their horses—just as today they may arrive in their Ferraris; but kids are going to wear their own uniforms anyway. Kids wear gang clothes, which of course is uniform — declares him as socially superior, as tar as they’re concerned—and they can intimidate the kids who are not in gangs, and that sort of thing.”
Have you read Pat Conroy’s novel Lords of Discipline, centered on intimidation and hazing in a military school?
“Highly fictionalized. Not very accurate. I spent a lot of time in Virginia Military Institute, and they do not have that kind of formation of kooks; that’s all fiction. The rule books of all military high schools) specify that any hazing or disrespect of one cadet toward another is an offense, they might call part of orientation ‘Hell Week’ just because it’s intense physical training. And there’s really very, very little comparison between places like the Citadel, VMI, and your secondary-level military schools like ANA. In my experience, boys graduating from secondary military schools are more mature than men going to the Citadel and VMI. Those I regard as sick schools.”
“Spend a week at one — see the kind of man who goes there. They have definite psychological problems; that’s why they’re there. They have difficulties in relating to other human beings, especially women, which is why they desperately do not want women in their schools. And you don’t find very many graduates from military schools going to either VMI or the Citadel. If they do want to continue with the military, they want to go to one of the service academies — Annapolis, West Point—not places like VMI. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last ten years around VMI, long enough to figure out what’s strange about it.”
The second day was long in the tooth. I'd spent most of it wandering and observing, trying to be unobtrusive in civilian clothes, checking my watch for appointments. I'd met Colonel Don Lewis, commandant of cadets, exactly at 4:30 and followed him into the west end of the dominant administration/gymnasium complex, through an austere room enhanced by classical music (where two black cadets at enforced study, relaxing at lewis’s candid salutation, reciprocated in street idiom about musical preferences) into Lewis’s equally austere office. Colonel Lewis, an impressive man (tall, rugged, part African American, part American Indian), sat himself behind a desk, leaned back, put his feet up, laced his fingers behind his head, and began to speak in a literate, laconic manner almost browbeating in its nakedness.
"Today is my birthday. I am 41 years old. I graduated from West Point in 1978 and spent 14 1/2 years in the Army. I was a major when I decided to leave, had a knee injury, couple operations, wasn’t getting any better, but that was another lifetime. Two years after I left the Army, I accepted this job.
“The mission of the commandant is to assist the cadet to become a responsible young man. Period. We are not academicians; we are not purely in charge of discipline; we are here to nurture the cadet in the lifelong process of self-discipline, ensuring that he understands the rules of society and can live within them. I report to the superintendent; he reports to the chairman of the board. I’m in charge of campus life, the 16 hours each day cadets are not in class. And if for any reason a cadet is thrown out of class, he reports to me. He marches. For 16 hours every weekday, for every weekend hour, cadets fall under the responsibility of me and my people.”
You live on campus?
“I live on campus, yes.... Come in.”
An even more imposing black man, a TAC tagged HATCHETT, enters the open hatchway.
“What’s his status?” says Lewis.
“Still UA,” says Hatchett. The conversation is brief and cryptic, but I gather that some boy is AWOL and “in a world of trouble.” Hatchett leaves, while Lewis resettles himself and proceeds.
“They used to call this place the West Point of the West, because there is no other military high school west of the Rockies. So my competition is...” (he leans his head toward the room where the cadets study) “...THERE IS NO COMPETITION! So I can proudly say that I AM THE GREATEST! THE BEST! HIGH SCHOOL COMMANDANT OF CADETS WEST OF THE ROCKIES, because there is no other.”
Can you tell me about your job?
“Well, I’d first like to talk about what my people do.” Okay.
“Because they’re the ones— they work, okay? I don’t.” Okay.
“Uh...that’s not totally true...but they’re the people who work directly with the cadets, the company TACs—like Major Hatchett, who you just saw — and Major Graves. Major Graves just returned from a ski trip with the cadets; he gives everything to this school, uh, to his guys, down in seventh and eighth grades. And it takes a definitely unique person to deal with boys that age. He’s not much bigger than they are, that helps; but the key is that he knows everything there is to know about his cadets. I, on the other hand, deal through my TACs, and I don’t even try to know everything. We pick our TACs very carefully. We look for people who are accomplished, men who’ve done well in their military careers; becoming a first sergeant, for example, is not an easy task. Not everybody I’ve got made first sergeant, but I am saying they’ve done something.”
Would you say 80 percent of discipline is handled at the TAC level? .
“Yes. I handle the more serious cases, when a cadet’s done something he can be suspended or dismissed for. I’m automatically available 24 hours a day, always have a beeper on, and if there’s any significant problem, it automatically comes to me. This kid we were just talking about, for lack of a better word, let’s just say he had a nervous breakdown; too much got built up inside, and he exploded in an all-out attack. Unacceptable. I could punish him for that. But we’re trying to identify the root of his behavior, if we can do that, then we can assist him to.. .assist him to become better ”
When do you kick a kid out?
“You start with the Honor Code. The Honor Code says that the cadet does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do. Same code they use at West Point. The code the cadets live by. The clincher is nor tolerate those who do. In other words, if a cadet knows someone who’s stolen, lied, or cheated, it’s his responsibility to address that problem. Addressing the problem can be confronting him and advising him to turn himself in; and if he doesn’t turn himself in, you report him. Sometimes a cadet doesn’t believe he’s violated the code, even when he has. We have a cadet now who does not believe he stole another cadet’s sweater. He claims he found it. And he did find it! It was left out in formation, and he picked it up — name was hard to read, washed out — but rather than coming forward and asking, Whose sweater is this? he kept it. He’s been wearing it ever since. The moment when he should’ve tried to find the rightful owner and didn’t, he stole the sweater. So he was referred to an Honor Council. They will meet Wednesday and decide if he’s guilty. If he is guilty, they will recommend a punishment to the superintendent; the superintendent will take it under advisement, make a decision, and then I will execute that decision. It’s not cut-and-dried — honor involves intent, did he intend to steal? — but if he is found guilty, then he will be disciplined and conceivably dismissed.
“We don’t routinely try for dismissal, simply because if we dismiss him we can’t help him. At certain times, though, dismissal is the only thing. There are offenses for which a cadet will be dismissed: weapons, drugs, grievous bodily damage. Other times, you have to consider the interests of the organization. If a cadet does something so bad that the integrity of the institution is going to be harmed, then, even though I may really want to work with this boy, that cadet is going to be dismissed.
“And I don’t necessarily need the Honor Council to tell me someone has lied, cheated, or stolen. I can prove it for myself. Or they may admit it to me. We’re not thoroughly modern here, but we do use the tools available. For example, we’ve had theft problems. So we painted some $20 bills and left them out in a cadet’s room, knowing that some cadets would steal them. And they did. And when we went through formation and checked, there were two parties with blue hands. I suspended both cadets.
“I’m emphasizing the Honor Council more this year. I want to make sure that the cadets are dealing with honor, conceptualizing it, nuking honor part of their own standards. The guy who goes home on weekends, for example, and does marijuana: well, I care if he does it. I care no matter where he does it. We have a zero tolerance on drugs. lust year I definitely cleaned the house on drugs, which is why we had a lot less use this year. At least, perceived use. I can persuade a cadet from using drugs. How do I do that? By letting him think we might be looking at him, okay? If I just have a suspicion he’s doing it, I’m gonna call him in and tell him. Now, if I have a snitch come in and tell me — I don’t call ’em snitches — if I have a cadet come in and say that Blah Blah is using drugs, well, maybe the cadet just has an ax to grind; but if I can corroborate that with somebody else saying it, then I’ll test that guy.
“Usually, cadets just tell me. Honestly, if I call ’em in, they tell. If I ask ’em, Are you using drugs? they will admit it. Even without me ordering a test. Because they think my information’s better than it really is. They think I’ve got cameras all over the place. Now, can I say beyond a shadow of a doubt we don’t have anybody using drugs? Absolutely not. Can I say we have a good likelihood of catching somebody doing drugs? Yes, I can. Drugs is one area where cadets will tell on each other.”
How about cigarettes?
“Cigarettes are a problem. They’re easy to get. And we have cadets who are addicted — many cadets from Asia have smoked since childhood — and if a kid i s addicted to nicotine, it’s pretty hard for him to quit. I tried to get some [ nicotine] patches for kids, but I can’t find a doctor who will prescribe them for minors. It really comes down to the idea that there are two types of smoking: (a) there’s smoking, and (b) there’s smoking in a cadet billeting area, which I punish far harder than I punish smoking in an open area. If a cadet smokes in his room, he comes up and marches immediately one hour, gets restricted to campus for that weekend, and gets an ‘unsatisfactory citizenship’ grade for that grading period.
That’s the first time. Second time, all that plus he loses a rank. Subsequent times? Well, we haven’t dismissed a cadet yet for smoking, but we may have to.”
So what’s the deal with the kid Major Hatchett came in about?
“He took off without letting us know where he was going. First time, he was gone for ten days. I could’ve dismissed him for that. But Major Hatchett interceded, because he knew what the problem was. Now he’s gone again. The parents have no idea where he’s at. Major Hatchett’s gonna find out what’s going on. This kid has got some personal problems. We have a large population of foreign cadets— Latin America, Europe, but mostly Korea and Thailand — who normally pose few problems. But when they do have a problem, it’s significant. When you have a kid who just comes in from Korea, it’s a big cultural shock. And I can excuse one time, but...
“Sometimes I get in trouble, you know, one cadet gets treated one way, next cadet another..."
Accused of not being consistent?
“Yes. And I’ll take that. Once we start dealing with consistent kids, then I’ll start dealing with them as if they were blocks. The point is, we’ll go the extra step with kids. Sometimes that’s what’s necessary. I’ll just give you a little of my history and then I’ll shut up. I had four companies when I was in the Army, two tours with the Rangers, four tours with airborne units. I’m not saying all that just to pat myself on my back, but in all but two of my almost 15 years in the Army, I was in direct control of soldiers. That’s a lot of leadership experience. I know better how to lead than to manage, all right? They’re totally different skills. And that’s good, because here you have to lead. You can’t just tell kids what to do. You use all the good things they teach you in the Army to assist cadets — not just manipulate them — in becoming responsible young men.
“The irony is that if you have a perfect system, you’re not going to be respected. I mean, if I had a system that every single time catches a kid doing something wrong, then they will never do anything wrong. But that doesn’t reflect life. We want the academy to reflect life. I tell cadets: Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you; maybe I punish you pretty hard, but that’s because the first time you didn’t get caught. And one thing I can honestly say, I have never, ever — not even in the Army—punished anybody who didn’t deserve it. Here, I think there really is a perception of justice.”
Doesn’t take long in war to learn more about life than others learn in a lifetime; but when a booby-trapped 82 mm mortar blew shrapnel into Henry Hatchett’s gut and killed two men, he’d already put in 16 months in Vietnam. And he hadn’t been serving drinks to rear-echelon mothe'fucks either. He started with Third Battalion, Fifth Marines — you know. Dodge City, Booby Trap Heaven, and Liberty Bridge...
“...blow it up one day, rebuild it next...”
Then he went recon: A Shau Valley,Central Highlands, Trong Son Mountains, six-man teams, helicopter inserts, like in that recent Hollywood movie Dead Presidents....
Presidents, the movie; d’you see it?
“No, I didn’t.”
It had scenes of a Marine recon team.
“Well, I did the real thing, know what I mean?”
“There was no show, no makeup, no phony stuff...lot o’ stuff you see, you know.. .this was the real deal...knew what we were doing...running our butts off all the time...all over the place...be runnin’ Ho Chi Minh Trail, trip and roll right out o’ Vietnam into Cambodia.. .get right up and keep runnin’ back into Vietnam...know what I mean? You told the average person that you actually ran when you were in a combat situation, they would think something was funny. But it’s different out there gathering information, when your purpose is to observe the enemy, get the numbers...and escape, you know...not get caught. That’s the game.”
Retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major (military’s highest enlisted rank) Henry Hatchett — Major Hatchett here — is the senior supervising TAC officer at Army-Navy Academy. He speaks in a surprisingly soft voice, his facial countenance devoid of malcontent; even before the interview. I’d presumed great respect for this man—call it a bias. He’d entered the Corps in 1961.
“I was a Hollywood Marine,” he laughs (meaning boot camp MCRD, San Diego, instead of Parris Island). “And of course, I was 0311 (infantry Marine], but at my first duty station, in Hawaii,I played football and wrestled. I was the 193-pound Interstate Champion. In 1964, I was escorted by then-Second Lieutenant Brantner (later Lieutenant General] to the Pan Am Games trials. I won my first two matches, and in my third one, my opponent did an arm drag; I resisted and dislocated my shoulder. Never got to go to the Pan Am Games.”
From there, Hatchett instructed rifle marksmanship at Quantico, before pulling embassy duty in Buenos Aires, then his 16 months in Vietnam. After two months’ convalescence and promotion to staff sergeant, he came back to Camp Lejeune and the Special Warfare Training Center.
“And to make a long story short, I was chosen to become an instructor. So I went to Ranger School, Fort Benning. Then to Extreme Cross-Country Cold-Weather School up in Alaska. We learned to cross all these silty streams —stick in our rifle barrel, pull it out, there’d be ice on it — that type o’ thing. learned how to climb on glaciers with ice pitons, you know, livin’ in glacier caves. Then, of course, crevasse-rescue techniques, rappelling into crevasses — that’s an experience you’ll never forget! Throw a rock in there, you don’t even hear it hit the bottom. That's frightening. Probably the most frightening thing I did up there: rappelling into a glacier. Then having to come back out. I mean, knowing that what’s really supportin’ you up there is a bunch o’ guys with ice axes. My God. And the purpose of all this, see, was for me to be able to teach this stuff.”
“Which led, well, believe this or not — understand, here I’ve been to all these schools, you know, and here I’m now teaching mountaineering, teaching cold-weather training, here I’m this rough-and-tough instructor, and here I’m standing on this 125-foot cliff teaching guys to rappel — my driver comes and yells up, ‘Gunny! Come down! You got a message.’ ” Tap!
(Hatchett punctuates with his Marine Corps ring.)
What was the message?
“Report to 8th & I.”
(I look at him blankly.) “Course, you know what 8th & I is?”
“You don’t know Marine Barracks 8th &I in Washington, D.C.?"
“Commandant of Marine Corps?”
Yeah! yeah! Commandant’s house!
“Yeah, Silent Drill Team, color guard, Friday evening parades. And can you imagine the contrast between being a complete field Marine, I mean, extreme field Marine, like I was at the time, to being an 8th 8c I Marine?"
You guys’d go to the White House?
“Sometimes, yes. So you can imagine..."
(I interrupt and relate a boast told by an acquaintance bragging he and his Marine bud-dies’d gotten drunk and “pissed on Bill Clinton’s lawn.”)
“Somebody told you that?” Yeah.
“Anybody tells you that, they’re lying! Anybody tells you they went to the White House and did anything like that is a liar...” tap!"... flat out, straight up, they are a bald-faced liar. They’d have been arrested in a heartbeat. I mean, there’s so much security there, you wouldn’t believe it. No Marine would have the gall to go down there and do something like that. I went to the White House — what they call Ceremonial Guard Company— and anybody tells you they did that is liar.”
What was your job?
“I had three jobs: I was company gunnery sergeant for Ceremonial Guard Companies, I was operations chief, and I was drillmaster for all the evening parades at the commandant’s house, and also the Iwo Jima Memorial.”
You called cadence?
Hatchett laughs, “There’s no cadence at 8th & I. See, people don’t realize, except for right face, right shoulder arms, port arms, and order arms, there are no commands given at Marine Barracks 8th & I. There are really two kinds of marching, right? You got the regular marching in the Marine Corps; then you have the kind of marching you do at Marine Barracks 8th & I, which is so superior. Regular marching in the Marine Corps, you know, as far as styles and drills, is not really a lot different than the way the Army marches....”
Wait! wait! wait! Doggies don’t march worth crap!
“Well,.the discipline is much more rigid in the Marine Corps, way you hold your hands, way you look, even how you hold your mouth. Here’s how to create the perfect parade face, the one that’s blank and doesn’t say anything but says everything. Close your mouth, take the tip of your tongue, put it behind your two front teeth. Keep your eyes open., .that... see? You have no idea what’s on my mind. But if I have my mouth open, or if I grit my teeth, or if I smile, you can always determine what I’m thinkin’. With this.. .yeah, that’s it... now put your tongue behind your top teeth, close your lips, see? Tongue’s in there, so now you can’t be closin’ your mouth so hard it makes your veins pop out side o’ v^ir head and all that stuff.”
So where’d you go from 8th & I?
“Went to First Sergeant School, then right hack to recon,” he laughs. “But I wasn’t really going out with the teams and doing inserts and all that stuff. You don’t do it at that point. You’re still staying in shape, but no inserts. And now I got senior sergeant majors saying, ‘Henry, you’re gonna be a sergeant major, so you need to have some diversity in your experience,’ know what I mean? ‘You need to get some experience in the support arena.’
“So I go to ELMACO — Electronics-Maintenance Company— they repair high-powered radios, radar, things like that. But that was too easy for me, see, so the battalion commander and the sergeant major, they decided I need a bigger challenge and transfer me to [ Headquarters and Service). And this is. my First encounter, my first experience ever, with WMs.”
“Yeah, well — woman Marines — BAMs is a bad word, know what I mean. I mean, I had heard horror stories about dealin’ with WMs. And I just didn't want to do it. But I had no choice. I got orders and was instructed to get on down there and get on with the job. Well, it turned out I had between 500 and 515 people in that company, a big company, but — 73 WMs...”
“Well, I asked myself many rimes. What have I got myself into! But it turned out it was a real...a very...uh...rewarding experience. ’Cause just like men, a lot of them were good, proficient, very professional...and... some of ’em were a big problem. The thing is, one WM with an attitude is equal to five male Marines with an attitude. You just can’t deal with 'em. I mean, you.. .you...you can’t deal with ’em. You gotta watch every last thing you say or do. One WM can ruin your career in a heartbeat!”
Okay, so you survived the WMs.
“So I survived it for two years, until December of 1981, when I got promoted to boot sergeant major, and I got assigned to a small air squadron. And all of a sudden the commander and senior sergeant major decide, again. I wasn't being challenged properly. See, every time I had an easy job, you know, that’s the sign I’m not being properly challenged. So they put me in HMH 464 —a helicopter that was brand new at the time, a really big helicopter, bigger’n the Chinook, bigger’ n the Flying Crane, bigger’n all them, faster’n all them, more versatile, could fly by itself — tremendous lift power. You hover that helicopter over this trailer, it would blow this trailer down.
“There I had a pretty easy time, about 340 Marines, all top of the line, all handpicked guys, ’cause the squadron’s new, helicopter’s new. I had a really rewarding experience. Did a lot of flying. Flew across the United States and back in those helicopters. They can refuel in the air, you know. It’s common, today, but back then, to look up and see a big huge helicopter flying behind a Cl30 — I mean, just that it could keep up with a C130! And places we went... from eastern United States to Central America and return in a night. Awesome helicopter!
“And after that, I went to Special Operations Capable Marine Amphibious Unit, commonly known as SOCMAU. Excuse me for laughin’, but we start talkin’ SOC, man, we’re talkin’ dive, we’re talkin’ fixed rope, we’re talkin’ hostage rescue, we’re talkin’ SWAT stuff! Stuff not normally done by walkin’ Marines. It was all just startin’ up. And me and this young colonel, Colonel Hopgood...' course me, boot Sergeant Major Hatchett, you know...‘You two fools go out there, y’all take over and let's get this thing goin'.. .know what I’m sayin’?”
D’you make the Gulf War?
“No, I didn’t. By then I’d been in almost 30 years. I was about to go—everybody anticipated there was gonna be a lot of Marines get killed when the ground war started—and I was part of the relief. But once they realized the war was going to be over so quickly, they dismantled us, and I just went to being division inspector until I retired. And that’s when Mr. Williams contacted me to come down here and check out Army-Navy Academy.”
“Commandant of the Army-Navy Academy.”
Well, who’d I just talk to?
“Lewis. Lewis came after Cargile. I came here, worked one year with Williams, then Cargile did it one year, then Lewis took it,” he laughs, “now he’s been here a year.”
This place’s not much like the Marine Corps.
Think it should be?
“No, I honestly don’t think it should be. That is not the purpose of the ’military’ here. The military here is used to subject the boys to a minor degree of regimentation: get up in the morning, brush your teeth, shave your face, comb your hair, go to formation, be on time, look good, keep your room orderly, be respectful, to be responsible. We’re not trying to teach ’em how to go out and be the world’s greatest soldier and get a Purple Heart. Goal of this academy is to help a boy learn how to be a really good citizen. When boys come here, all of a sudden they gotta go to a room, they don’t have a TV, don’t have a phone, don’t have a refrigerator, can’t be up after 10 o’clock, have to study every night: that right there is a tremendous change in a young man’s life. Then there’s the leadership aspect. Nobody’s ever gonna give you 100 percent if you just tell somebody to do something; so you’re challenged with persuading these young boys that all this stuff is the right stuff, show them what benefits they’re gonna get from it. And that’s a challenge.”
How does your Marine Corps experience translate to here?
“My experience has allowed me to deal with every kind of personality that I meet here. People here got a whole bunch of different personalities. The parents have different personalities. The kids have different personalities. My co-workers have different personalities. And my experience has taught me, I think, to be tolerant, patient, and look at things people say from different angles, different ways. Sometimes people talk, you know, and you’re offended right away by what they say. But I’ve found you can avoid being offended if you put yourself in their shoes, look at yourself through their eyes, and see what they’re really trying to project. And I’ll tell you, the main thing is patience and wisdom to hear the whole story, not just a little part of it, especially when you’re talking to kids. If you talk to the average child here, they’ll tell you that probably 90 percent of the adults they talk to don’t listen to ’em, because they don’t value that child’s opinion. They don’t think what he’s saying means anything. Which is a very serious mistake. You have to listen to what kids are saying. And understand why they're saying what they’re saying, or you can’t deal with^ny problems that they have.”
Is that the role of a TAC?
“Big role. I mean, we got so many roles here. We got the role to maintain good order and discipline; we got the role to counsel and encourage kids when they’re down; we have a role of protecting them; we have a role to try to mold them into good young men. We’re their mentors in a lot of ways, you know, a big brother. Lot o’ things boys ask me, they’d never ask their friends. They ask you very personal questions sometimes — personal as far as they’re concerned. Some o’ these boys never been on a date before, you know. ‘What do I do when I go on a date?’ Like when they have one of their dances, and they gotta go pick up a girl. ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And the reason they ask me is, I believe, because I understand what it is to have integrity.
“See, one of the major, major, major things here, in dealing with these young boys, is you must have integrity with them. In other words, if they don’t believe what you’re saying, if they ever catch you in a lie, you’re gonna have problems. But if they believe that you have their best interests in hand, and what you say is true, then you can talk to them any way you want to. ’Cause they trust you. That’s my experience.”
Tuesday morning, dull and again gray, a wiry seventh grader of olive complexion, dark eyes, quintessential voice, and precocious personality, spells for me his name.
Isn’t that a disease you get from drinking bad water?
Where’d you go to school before here?
“I was home schooled.”
“Most people you talk to will say they don’t like it here.”
(Bugle sounds for breakfast formation.)
I need a guide for junior school tomorrow.
“Ask for me!”
After breakfast (younger boys dashing for room inspections), I walk with my guide (a tall, calm senior) to his English class. He explains that the north lawn is for seniors only, that seniors can stay up later, that nobody hassles with seniors, that recently seniors (tacitly) have been allowed to keep “huge stereos and speakers.” I relate Commandant Lewis’s rationale of “more things I give, more things I can take away.”
“That would be him. In the six years I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of commandants and a lot of new administration, and some things I don’t agree with, but there’s not much I can say about it.”
He was a West Point grad. “Yeah. Guess he’s had a lot more military experience than I have. So maybe I’m just an 18-year-old who knows it all.” Senior English class (male teacher in tweed jacket, boys grouped in discussions on styles of essay) is remarkable for its small size (11 students). Second period is freshman JROTC class (my guide acts as teacher’s aide) instructed by a stocky black in camouflage fatigues, Sergeant Magwood. Magwood (normally an active-duty Army MP) introduces a video, “...if you really set your mind to something, if you’re really determined to be somebody, to accomplish something in life, you can do it; like Colin Powell, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs... Eisenhower started off and moved all the way up to be president.” Called LET-1 (Leadership Education Training), the class is mandatory. One boy sucks on a lollipop, as famous voice narrates (“.. .13-day, code name Operation Overlord...”), as black-and-white footage flickers, as nobody appears riveted.
Walking to art history class, I note seventh- and eighth-grade boys (unlike older cadets) carry all their books to every class. Why?
They ever get lippy? “Yeah, we make ’em march. But when I was in seventh grade, they made us do pushups. The board of directors banned that, though, because parents and cadets complained. Personally, I didn’t think it was too hard.” Does develop body tone. “Exactly, self-improvement.” Another video (regarding Frank Lloyd Wright) puts one Asian boy to sleep; seven other seniors jot notes copiously; a woman’s low, seductive voice articulates artsy-fartsy things. Then the voice becomes Wright’s (“...the older countries, if we could only get rid of them first, we could have a future...”) as cameras pan bombed-out cities of Europe.
“In here, the shades are always pulled,” says my guide. “Lots of guys fall asleep, but this is my favorite class.”
The teacher (in slight British accent) quickly summates, “As you see, the walls aren’t really supporting a lot of weight, so a lot of light comes in, goes out, and makes a building function differently, you know, than if everything is closed in and dark.”
We walk to Crean Hall, the latest product of an ongoing, 15-year remodeling project. “The original halls were all created for Army hospitals. They used to call the old one ‘Pain Hall’ — crappiest hall on campus—and every seventh and eighth grader got it.”
“My name’s David Parmer, 18, and I’m a lifer. There’s only four of us who’ve stayed on here all six years. One’s from Oceanside, one Japan, and one other’s from California. In college I plan to study history and specialize in foreign affairs and hopefully join the Foreign Service as a representative from the United States in Germany.
“I was originally raised in Heidelberg, Germany, where my father was in the Army Dental Corps. I moved here directly from Colorado, where my parents got divorced. My grandmother lived in Pasadena, and she researched schools for me. My first impression of Army and Navy Academy was I wanted to come here. Then my first three weeks, I called home four times wanting to come home. At first, you’re the led, not the leader. You stand in formations, you go to all the messes, you do what you’re told. If you screw up, somebody screams in your ear. But as a leader, you supervise all of the led. The higher up the food chain you go, the more responsibility you take. And sports is a big thing here. From 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 every day, cadets participate in sports. I’ve been on the swim team, diving team, water polo team, and wrestling team.
“As battalion executive officer, this year, I’ve felt a lot of pressure — pressure to maintain a 4.0 GPA, pressure to accomplish my military duties, pressure to complete college applications — but there’s no way I was gonna dropout And I haven’t had anybody yell at me this year. The only people I’d get yelled at by are the superintendent and the commandant, and that’s only if anything goes wrong. I get along pretty good with the superintendent; I meet with him once a month, and I have catechism classes from his wife Thursday nights. The sergeant you saw today, I usually talk to him about my military training. Otherwise, I don’t deal much with the adult staff.
“ Things I miss about public schools.. .obviously the women. And sometimes I wish I didn’t have to wake up and put a uniform on every morning or make formation; I wish I could sleep in a little longer and not have to eat in the mess hall every day, I wish I could hang out with my friends and have a car. But I get to do that stuff on weekends, anyway. My best friend goes to Grossmont High, and whenever I’m home, I hang out with his friends. They think it’s strange here, though. ‘Wow, what’s it like being away from girls?’ But since sixth grade, I haven’t dealt with girls on a day-to-day basis. In actuality, I think that’s better. Here I’m not distracted. I can focus on what I’m doing.
“And we have dances here. We started a new relationship with a Catholic girls’ school in El Cajon. My girlfriend was on the ASB there, so we hooked up the schools together.”
She still your girlfriend? “No.”
TV news arrived at noon to film the corps of cadets, shoot some clips of marching, interview two Russian cadets, etc.; administration, faculty, and a few proud parents beamed. The corps is divided into five companies, the largest company is composed of ANA’s marching band. A “showcase” event for media, boys were definitely not expected to be boys. Chants filled the air.
“Who’s the best company?” “DEL-TA COM-PANY, SIR!”
The percussion kicks in (TA-DAH dum-dum-dum-BOOM) and off they go. At tail end of the junior schookrs (Echo Company), I see the kid who looks like Patrick Swayze walking, not marching, trousers pulled half down his butt.
Afterward, cadets huddle below their barking battalion commander high on the red steps; nearby, the histrionic voice of Major Graves lashes ferociously at the fractious boy. “If this company LOSES... ” his veins popping “... it’s your FAULT! Out of the WHOLE camp corps, YOU were the WORST! The WORST” Graves’s hands cling to his own pant seams (attention style), torso bent at the waist (Japanese style), face smack in “Swayze’s” face, spittle flying. “Don’t make any PLANS for the weekend! NO PLANS! I’m keeping you ABOARD this weekend! YOU HEAR? NO PLANS!” Graves turns, stops, turns... “the WORST!”.. .marches off. The chastised boy shuffles after, mumbling, “'this is bull....” Later, kids wrestle, step on each other’s shoes, crawl out windows, as Beaver Fever walks by.
That kid who got his butt chewed?
Yeah, what for?
“Flipped off the TV camera guy.”
“Yep! Now he’s gotta march for, like, 12 hours....”
Later, meet up with Parmer and head to next class. Cigarette butts litter the ground. “Guys cheat the system," he explains. "They find little places, but I bust every smoker I see.” A tall teacher passes, and a nearby cadet addresses, “Hey, dude!” Teacher pauses, turns, “Cowabunga, man," he says. “What’s with all the dude’ stuff?” “Sorry, sir, Mr. Tadder.” We enter a classroom located across the street from the main campus. I sit in the back, beside a dumpy-built Mexican boy with a gutter mouth.
“We don’t give a flying foke!" he says. “We’re seniors, an’ we don’ care!"
A darker-skinned boy in glasses jokes with a friend.
Dumpy chides, “Hey! How come you talk like a nay-gro?"
Teacher’s young, obviously uncomfortable, and pitifully inept at curbing the trash talk.
“Take out your texts,” he says.
Another boy grabs a book off the teacher’s desk and scoots to his seat.
“I need that,” teacher says.
“Menzie, you in trouble now,” says Dumpy.
(I squirm in the absence of adult control.)
“We don’t give a foke.” Teacher must pull the text from “Menzie’s” hands.
(Hoots go up.)
“Take out your notes,” he says, “and be ready for a quiz.” Dumpy snarls, “You won’ give us no quiz. I know you!” (Oh, God! I hate punks! A fantasy hand throttles this fat lump o’ shit’s throat, other hand slaps...“Hey, pig foke!”...slap! slap! slap!...SLAP!)
“I’m cadet/Lt. Col. Barnett Harris, the highest-ranking cadet in my class, and the battalion commander of the Warrior Corps. From the start, I always knew that I’d be battalion commander when I was a senior. And I am, because I worked my butt off.” (I relate the incident in Parmer’s class.)
“Oh, he’s a schmuck.” What constitutes a “schmuck”?
“A teacher who...”
...no. I mean...
“... Isn’t aware of the system here.”
“The education here.. .they have a set curriculum, obviously. The headmastcr [Or. Fred Heinlej has really been instrumental in writing a curriculum for every single class; but really, the classes here are only as good as the teacher. For example, last year I was in Mrs. Sloan’s [advanced placement ] biology class — like a college course, superadvanced — we actually did DNA splicing and genetic engineering and all this crazy stuff, right? But she taught it so I actually understood it, you know, she taught it until I understood it. She wasn’t just concerned about her paycheck. She came here at night, all the time, teaching us one-on-one. And that’s the kind of teacher you learn stuff from. Now she’s not here; but I’m not in that class anymore. So I got everything I could get out of that class, sucked the juice right out of the orange. And I just am lucky, ’cause for every class I’ve had, I had the best teacher here. So, here — anywhere, I guess, but especially here — it’s the teachers. And of course, a student who doesn’t care isn’t going to learn anything. . .but good teachers motivate students to care.”
Are you a lifer?
“No, sir, I came here as a freshman, because, well, I was this really bad boy.”
“No, nothin' like that, I was just stupid. I started a forest fire.”
“And that was just one of the things I did.”
Court order you here?
“It was a court suggestion. I had, like, a 2.0 and was just headed in the wrong direction; so my dad sent me here. And out of spite I was gonna show him I could handle this place. And after a month I saw how my efforts were rewarded; I got double promoted, got ribbons and stuff, and...this was really cool! And I saw the guy in charge of us, Mitch Martin — he’s at West Point now, 20th in his class, looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger — and he’s a legacy around here. He was my idol. And then he became my big brother, showed me what he does, how he does it; ever since. I’ve wanted to be the battalion commander. The respect he got was pretty unique.” How do you get respect? “Set the example, have military bearing.”
What is military bearing? “Way you carry yourself, not being timid, not being afraid of basically anything; an air about you that you know you’re in charge, that you’re responsible for everybody in the academy, that you have all the rank and weight on your shoulders.”
Ever forgive your father for making you come here?
“Actually, I can’t stop loving him because he did. This has been the greatest thing ever to happen to me. Before I came here, I was headed for juvenile hall. I was a screwup. This place turned me around. Whatever I wanted was here — be on the rifle team, golf team, swimming team, football — in football I was a starter for four years! I could never do that at a regular school, you know, ’cause I’m just not an athlete. When I first came here, I was just a short, fat kid. football was the best thing for me.”
Are you Norwegian?
Portuguese? German? Hungarian?
“My dad’s American, and my mom's Japanese.”
“Glad I don’t look it.”
Your dad’s what?
“American, just American. New Yorker.”
Was he military?
“Yeah, he went in the Marine Corps at 15, before they had computers; they found out two years later, so they gave him a convenience discharge, rather than a dishonorable, because he’d already gotten the Bronze Star and Purple Heart — had served his country.”
“No, World War II.”
World War II, no way!
“My father’s almost 70; he was, like, 50 when I was born.” Oh.
“I used to think he was outdated, when he’d speak about duty, honor, country, loyalty, integrity, you know, like, What are you talkin’ about. Dad? They thought that stuff in the ’20s! I don’t need that. But that’s the way you gotta be. That stuff is right! You’re either an honest man, can look yourself in the mirror, or you’re one of those people who is ashamed and lives his life miserably. This school made me mature enough to understand that my dad actually knew what the hell he was talking about.”
Are cadets aware of some o’ the TACs’ histories?
“What do you mean?” Well, like, Donovan? “Yeah, Marine Corps sniper, Vietnam, Ninth Marines.. .Walking Dead.”
Major Hatchett? “Hatchett! Regional sergeant major, badass Marine!” Muhs?
“First sergeant in the Marine Corps, great guy!”
I saw a kid get his butt reamed today, is that the procedure if somebody’s lazy, or whatever?
“To chew ’em out?”
“Yeah, we don’t hit ’em; in fact, the only kind of physical punishment is to have ’em hold their arms out. Some say this school is ‘looser’ than other military schools, but the thing about this school is that it’s kind of a microcosm of the real world. In the real world you can’t make somebody drop and give you pushups; you’ve got to lead them by example, by your own motivational skills. And this place teaches you how to do that through experience, being out there in formations, gettin’ guys up every morning and in formation, proper uniforms, shoes shined, hair cut. You get guys this age to do that, that’s a pretty good feat. If you can motivate kids to do that, then when you get out in the real world, you have some pretty good leadership skills.”
Ever have anybody, you know, tell ya...
“ ‘Go fuck yourself ’?” “Yeah.”
“Well, that’s tough; when somebody does that, it’s almost beyond your control. You go to the TAC officers, one of those Marine Corps DIs, to go get the kid out of his bed; or, you try to, you know, talk to ’em, tell ’em, Hey, you’re destroying your own life; your parents are puttin’ up roughly 20 grand a year, as much as Stanford costs, for you to come here and what? Screw yourself up? be a flunky? For some reason, I can usually get through to people. I hate it, but screw it. I’ll do it.”
How ’bout the social thing? No girls hanging all over you? I’m sure you get asked. Hey, don’t you miss the chicks? What’s your response?
“Generally speaking, I don’t speak to those kind of people, but my response is that it’s definitely helped me. If I had that distraction here. I’d still be headed to juvenile hall; in a traditional school, lot o’ guys do poorly, ’cause it’s not ‘macho’! So they put on a show. I mean, I did that! And in some classes there’s the one really hot chick, so you don’t do any work, ’cause you’re concentrating on other things. Well, when you think about it, God, if you get a good education, you get to the college of your choice, then later down the road, say you’re 25,30, your whole future is set, money’s in the bank. Then you go and try to pick up women. I mean, think about it. Should ‘hustlin’ chicks’ be your priority now, so you don’t get an education, so you don’t have a future, so down the road you’re saying, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ ” Ever get hassled by ‘townies? “Funny thing, I have never gotten any trouble. Ever! Others have trouble almost every single time. From across the street, somebody’ll yell, ‘HEY, FUCK YOU!’ and come over, want to fight, but nothing ever comes of it. When I walk through town and there’s townies, it’s just, Hi, what’s up? and I keep on walkin’. I don’t understand how people get in trouble.”
“Just the local wildlife.”
Where to next year? “United States Naval Academy.”
You’ve been counseled? “Already been there! I went to their Naval Academy summer seminar, and they made sure you knew how tough it’s going to be.”
Gonna go Navy or Marine? “Navy. See, my ultimate ambition in life is to become the ambassador to Japan, and the Navy’s more, you know, intellectual. In the Marine Corps, what do you do? You go, kill, come back. That’s it. I mean, that’s what my dad did, and we need that, but it’s not what I want. I want to be in command, like of a battleship, you know. That’d be great. From there, I want to be a naval attache, work in the embassies. And I want to work in Washington, D.C. To be an ambassador — Japan’s a pretty decent world power — that takes a presidential appointment. So, I figure if I can make it to flag grade, work in Washington, hopefully get a fellowship at the White House—and all these things I can do through the Navy — then eventually I’ll be in a position to be appointed ambassador to Japan.
“So far, I’ve had a great education. I feel pretty prepared for college. And I’m not naive, I know it’s going to be tough. But I know one course at the academy’s gonna be easy.”
Like “I’m going to be the ambassador to Japan.”
“#$% A&( )(& Japan.”
Patrick Swayze’s name is Scott Weber (pronounced Webber), 14, eighth grade, high cheekbones and a killer’s blue eyes; looks like a wrestler.,..
(In fact, if this were my school, Weber’d be the first kid I’d recruit; he’s no punk, I can tell. I can tell lough in a glance.) “Where are you from?”
(I tell him.)
“Is it nice there?”
Snowin’ when I left. (Dressed in full-body wet suit — black, red, purple, SKI LTD. emblazoned white ’cross chest, thigh — Weber holds his upright board like a pal, the cold surf lapping at his heels.)
Saw that man yellin’ at ya. “Major Graves.” Why’s he so ticked?
“Um, ’cause he said, like.. .I missed formation here? and I was there?...” (typical of his age, Weber narrates via short questions) “...and I was pretty late? but he said I didn’t show up? but I did?”
Somebody said you flipped the TV guy off.
“Yeah, right.. .like I’m that stupid... people blame stuff on me.”
Why’d your parents send you here?
“Because.. .get a good education. But I don’t know, it’s hard, all day...I’m, like, livin’ with the same people...so this is weird.”
Graves on your ass a lot? “Yeah! A lot.”
Ever talk to a TAC about it? “Yeah, but they don’t do anything...’cause, like...Major Graves is higher rank? so they can’t, you know.. .do anything?”
Gonna hang in?
“I don’t know...probably to the end of the year, if Major Graves doesn’t.. .if he gets cooled down, maybe. Like, if I was a day student? could go home every night? if I didn’t have to stay here...every weekend?...like I do.”
CADET/SERGEANT RYAN HANSON, 14 years, eighth grade, is a day student. Before he came here, he attended Earl Warren in Solaria Beach, where “so many kids were in class, if you didn’t understand somethin’, you were just lost. Here, there’s more teachers, and they take the time to help you. My mom wanted me to go to a private school, ’cause she saw my grades going down, so she gave me all these brochures. I saw the brochure for here, went on a tour, and I liked it. My mom was really happy? but my dad, he didn’t like it. My parents are divorced, see, and my mom thought I needed a male role model; here there’s a bunch of ’em, (he laughs] so my dad didn’t like that idea. He said I should just live with him and keep goin’ to the same school.
“But, uh...the male-role-model part’s not why I needed to go here; at my old school, I couldn’t learn — too many distractions. So now I go here, but I live at my dad’s house, so he’s happy. He’s closer, so it’s more of a convenience; and aLso, since I was, like, five, I always lived with my mom, so it was time to live at my dad’s house. I have to get up at 5:30 to pick the bus up, and it’s about 40 minutes to heie, but I like it better.
“Some o’ the people that say, Oh, man! this school sucks! are, like, I don’t know, more mad at themselves; they’re just not happy. But here, I feel like I’m learning a lot more, ’cause if you have any problems, you just got to ask a teacher and they help you, ’cause they don’t have 35 kids in class. And I like to surf— I like surfin’, surf with my dad all the time. He’s a big surfer. But the waves aren’t real good here.
“Got this bracelet from my dad, when he went to Jamaica; my step-mom lives in Jamaica. I get along with her real well, lot bettcr’n other people. Some people blame their stepparents, you know, sending ’em to boarding school. I mean, I’m not sure about it, but some say their parents made ’em come here, but I don’t know.
“Major Graves, he’s sort o’ the dad of the junior school; he treats us with respect, if we treat him with respect, but if you do something wrong, he can act mean — like Weber, he was marching wrong. And the TACs, uh, they’re pretty hard-nosed; I don’t know, ’cause I don’t interact with TACs that much, ’cause I leave early.”
You get preferential treatment?
Kids accept the fact your mom works here?
CADET/SSGT ERIC C. BODEN-HOFFFER, kind of a different kid, languid speech, slight East Coast accent, says his mother said, “I either go here or some other place, where, basically, they got you. She’s a nurse, but she’s workin’ three different jobs to keep me here. I came here last year, my freshman year. Wish I could’ve come sooner. I love this place."
“This is the type of environment I like, where my time is structured, where I can’t just go, ‘Uhhhhh, I think I might want to eat....’ And they got all this fun stuff that we can do.”
“I don’t mind it. As far as I see it, I’m getting my exercise, and I’m learning for my future job. See, I got this all figured out: I’ll go to West Point, become an officer, retire in 20 years, get a nice fat pension, then go on into law enforcement or something, stay in that and retire, get another fat pension, and never have to do anything anymore.”
“This school is so hard-pressed for money.”
“If you got any brains, they’ll accept you — they need the money. Because they’re going through this whole rebuilding process, and all this stuff, and they’re replacing these buildings, making new libraries, so they have to have the money coming in. But I think we’re gettin’ such a good reputation that we’re drawing in the kids that we want.” Gotta a few yahoos here, you say?
“Oh, yeah! There’s people who, in any other condition, would’ve been kicked out, but you gotta pay the bills somehow.” Nobody gets kicked out, huh?
“Oh, yeah! last year we had the.. .infamous.. .um.. .drug epidemic. I'm, one of our teachers was found to do drugs, and she had invited some cadets over to her house, and they were caught doing drugs over there. So, we had a whole bunch of cadets kicked out.”
One of your teachers?
“Spanish teacher. And during that whole time, this school went upside down. During the assemblies we were told, Please don’t talk to the reporters! Send ’em up to the commandant’s office. Then one night the classes decided to have their own little demonstration, senior class out there on the Senior lawn, everybody else out here on this lawn. They were trying to get up a petition to get some of the kids back in, because supposedly they had eaten cookies they didn’t know were laced with cocaine....” Cocaine?
“Um, I believe the teacher smoked marijuana, but I believe the kids only did cocaine.” That’s a relief. Were police involved?
“I don’t know about that; I do know that the night we had thus demonstration out here, this car drives by, and — I was lucky enough to be the roommate of a particular cadet who’s not here anymore — he decides to yell TOWNIE! — that’s our little slang term, ’cause they all hate us.” Yeah, yeah.
“So he does that, and everybody heard it, so everybody runs to see what was happening, and suddenly a gunshot was fired in the air, and everybody just scattered after that. And ever since, we always joke that we should’ve opened up with our rifle team....” “OVER THERE’S A MAN WHO WENT TO SCHOOL HERE IN 1952.” Looking up, I see Major Hatchett at the trailer, pointing me toward a tall man and a short woman, pondering the immense roots of an ancient tree.
NYAL STAMOULIS’s wife wants the tree...
“Dear, this gentleman’s doing a story on the school.” “Oh!.. .that tree! How old’s that tree?”
“It was old then; you’re talkin’ 40 years ago when I was here.”
What brings you back? “Actually, we’re just vacationing in Coronado, rented a car, driving around, goofing off, reminiscing a little bit, you know. I graduated from here in ’54. Looks pretty much the same — a few new buildings. I was talking to that gentleman...” ...Major Hatchett... “...just telling him, you know, I think a lot of these kids are sent here, because their parents don’t want to be bothered, though it’s not so bad, today, seventh grade on. When I was here, some boys spent their entire childhoods here, which is sad, you know. Of course, anymore with these drugs and stuff, all the peer pressure, maybe parents just can’t handle ’em.” “Nyal said some of the parents were in Europe, and the kids didn’t have anyplace to go.” “They’d never show up and see ’em, you know. I mean, it’s crazy. Then they’d have summer camp, and they’d put ’em here in summer camp too. They just didn’t want to be bothered with the kids.”
“And why were you here? maybe we ought to ask.”
“Well, I was only here for my last two years of high school, you know, and I was home in the summer and Christmas and all that; hut that wasn’t the case with a lot of ’em.”
Take it you didn’t spring into the military.
“No,” he laughs. “I went on to the University of Utah. If there’s anything this place taught me, it’s I didn’t want to be in the military! You see, most people go into the military, because they perceive it as being glamorous; but after they go through two or more years of this bullshit, they don’t ever want to go back to the military again, know what I mean?”
“My roommate here—we lived right there — his father was a general in the Marine Corps. And he came here once or twice and took us to dinner out at Camp Pendleton; I remember it was four bits for a steak or something.”
“And another thing that stuck in my mind were those BAMs! I remember watching ’em drill out there, and I’d never heard such language — sounded like a coal mine. Anyway, he became commanding general on Paris Island, back maybe ten years after we’d graduated, when 12 recruits drowned, notorious thing. Of course, that wasn’t any thing compared to what was going on in the Russian Army, they (dually killed some of their recruits on purpose.... * (Gerardy’s voice cracks over the P.A. “ATTENTION ALL CAMPUS! ATTENTION ALL CAMPUS... I mean, you have to maintain discipline, that’s one thing, but you can overdo it. Bad thing about the military is it tends to attract a lot of sadists, you know, and if they get in a position of power, hoy oh boy! And! mean students!"
Were you hazed?
“Oh, I don’t know that it was that bad; I can remember marching around on this damn thing for hours, you know, and I hadn’t done anything! Couple guys got in a fight and I watched ’em. T hat was it. They assigned me after-hours marching, in a circle with a rifle, forever."
“I told Nyal he was probably guilty of something. Tell him how they lined you up for dances."
“Well, I was tall, so they’d find a girl who was as tall as me, and that’s what I had for a date; she’d be six five or something.”
“Nyal was six foot five when he was 12!”
“But as much as I hated this place, I was probably better off.. .wasn’t gettin’ enough guidance at home, you know... parents fighting all the time... though it wasn’t as much fun as a public school.”
Don’t know if this interview’s going to take place. Weber’s wrestling (kicking the ass of) some kid; he seems to be a “detached” boy, unhappy look on his face a lot, but he’s in his element now.
On the large lawn that centers the rectangle formed by the unconnected halls McClendon (west), Dorman (north). Hoover (east), and the commandant’s office/trailer (south), Weber’s Huck Finn voice and laugh narrate the scene, boys wrestling like lion kits, their newly emerging aggressions too long suppressed. Boy on bottom is getting “tortured” in grab-ass, the only expression of affection permitted boys.... “O-w-w-w! my balls!...” “...ha! ha!..."
“...he’s shoving his FINGER up my...”
“.. .n-o-o-o-o!.. .Weber... o-w-w-w-w..."
(Another boy jumps atop Weber...)
“.. .get the fuck off me!” (He does...) “...uhg-g-g-g-g-g-g...” “...cool down, you guys are lookin’ hot...”
(Weber takes the boy to his back in a “cradle.”)
“...you’re pinned now, bitch!..."
“...get off me! I swear I’m gonna beat y’r fuckin’ ass...”
“...YOU’RE A BITCH!...” “...O-W-W-W-W-W... GET Y’R FINGER OUTTA MY ASSHOLE, BEECH! YOU’RE A FAGGOT! I’m gonna kill you when I get out...”
“...fuck you ...”
“...lie down, puta...”
Four other boys are crowded in Scott Weber’s small Dorman Hall room; supposedly, I’m here to interview Weber, but the entourage comes with the deal. Here are two small beds (neatly made), two corner desks (I sit at one), walls adorned with posters, surfboards leaned sideways. Everybody’s dressed in sweats (still perspiring from completed play), one boy bouncing a small ball, Weber kicked back on his bed.
Weber, are you a spoiled rich kid?
“Poor as hell!”
Where’s home? “Temecula.” Tuh’muk’you what? “Te-MEC-u-la...it’s an Indian word or somethin’? I live in pro’bly the biggest neighborhood? and we just go to the paintball field? or Storms’ baseball stadium? go left into old town Temecula, and where the hot rod show is? and, uh, whole bunch o’ bikes? they...they get busted, like, the motorcycles doin’ wheelies? and, like, rev up the engines so fast? and, like, the cars? pedal to the metal? or something like that, and the cars spinning there without even going? and, like, spinning, going from here to there? car goes VVVSSSSSSS but it was going slow? like, barely even moving? and he tried to go? and it would just stop? and the tires? they just blew? ’cause it’s spinning so much? and the cops? they just busted ’im ’cause he tried to peel out.”
And your point is...
“I don’t know.”
“He lives in Temecula.” “Yeah, I live in Temecula. ’Opt this summer... I’m s’pose’ t’ live at my gramma’s.”
Do your friends say you’re crazy to be here?
“They don’t even know what it’s like. Hey think it’s cool. They think. Oh, m’God! that’d be so rad! I mean, ’cause they think, like, the beach.. .same way I use’t’ think before I...”
...the marching... “...marching sucks!”
So, did Major Graves punish you?
“Yeah. He made me march.
I don’t care, like, this whole year, I’ve had to march at 20 hours.” Weber, are you a shitbird? “Yeh...”
“.. .but I’m better’n a shitbird, ’cause, like, I’m the worst... ’cause, like, other people...I’m that kind o’ guy that other people just blame crap on me? and I don’t care, ’cause it ain’t me. Just some stupid.. .like marching? It’s not gonna teach me anything. But I don’t care. I mean, marching, okay, you get punished for one thing you did, but then you can go right up and do it again. T hey have no security here whatsoever.”
What do you mean?
“You could walk right off the campus anytime you want.” But you have formation hundred times a day.
“Oh, I know, but see, me and Munninger, we went AWOL a bunch o’ times and never got caught.. except one day... they're so dumb, they don’t even know. They don’t even notice. And the seniors here? I’d hate to be a senior here, because I’d be just like them. I mean, I’d wait my whole life just to pick on some little eighth grader. That’s how everybody is. Everybody...” “...you have to be...”
“.. .that’s just the way. Can’t change it. No way of changing it. And I don’t care if people are tellin’ me what to do? just don’t want people, like, tellin’ me just for the hell of it. Just ’cause they like it. That’s stupid. And Major Graves.. .he fools with our minds. He’ll go something, uh...”
“... why'd ya do it?”
“Yeah, Why'd you do it? He’ll say, Someone told me you did it Then go up to somebody else, Why'd you do it? Someone told me you did it! you know... and he’ll know who did it. And somethin’ else that stinks in this school, like, you tell the truth to somebody? and you get in trouble for it. Go to ’em and tell the honest to God truth? and they think you’re lying. They don’t even trust you. Major Graves says we’re all s’posed to trust one another, when he doesn’t even trust anybody.”
Lot o’ kids smoke cigarettes round here?
“Oh, God! I could be smokin’ right now, lights on, blinds up... I could walk out on the field and smoke and they wouldn’t notice. I could walk straight to the bathroom, or to the drying rack, walk in the drying rack and be suspicious..."
“...with no clothes or nothin’...”
(Somebody starts whistling knowingly.)
“How come you didn’t get to go home last weekend?”
“Last weekend?” (Laughter.)
"... for being around Cruise when he was smoking.
“...and you weren’t, however...”
“I didn’t do anything, I didn’t even say anything, so I got in trouble for it, and...”
(One boy affects coughing.) “...uh, and lister lit up a cigarette...”
“...shut up! I wasn’t smoking...”
“.. .so were you.. .we were • all smoking; but I was like, you know, coughin’..."
“...and we got busted for that, but then, I coulda gone home? but then my mom? she got all sick? too sick to pick me
up? my dad, he’s in Chicago? and next week he’s in San Francisco.”
Kids ever get in fights here?
“.. .almost knocked somebody...”
“...like, all dizzy...”
“.. .in the bathroom, started kneeing him right in the head, like 20 times...”
“...he’s one o’ those kids you’d call a shitbird or somethin’ but worse? ’cause he picks fights with everybody...”
“.. .oh, I know, he talks too much.. .he’s racial.. .like Oh, your mom’s so raw or Hey! ya know Joe...”
(I point to a poster of a girl in a swimsuit above Weber’s head.)
Thought girlie pictures weren’t allowed.
“Doesn’t matter unless she’s naked or somethin’...”
(Weber’s roommate hits the side of a fold-up desk; drops open.)
“WHO-O-O-O-A...” ‘The sta-a-a-sh!” (laughter.)
“It’s just for at night, when Weber, you know...”
Well, guys, I think that’s my cue to leave.
“Wanna take a picture?” No thanks.
“All right. It’s Ray, right?” Yup. Scott, right?
“Yeah. See ya, Ray.”
See ya, Scott.
“MY NAME’S STEPHEN B. GRAVES, and I’m the junior-division commandant I’m retired Army, first sergeant, infantry; spent 2 years, 11 months, three days first hitch, all of it Vietnam, three tours, III Corps area, along the (Cambodian border. Never got dinged, lucked out, ’cept for this little bald spot [laughs, pointing to head]. Then got out for a while, then back in, put in a little over 20 years, and retired about 5 years ago.”
(A poster in his office reads “QUESTIONS ANSWERED/ Prices: Answers $5; Answers Requiring Thought $10; Answers Correct $20!”)
“My job here comes with 59 seventh- and eighth-grade boys. With those kids, I get a lot of baggage—good and bad. Obviously, there’s 3 great difference between boys’ needs this age and the older boys’. To start off, homesickness is a big part. Unlike the upper-school cadets, these boys will break down and cry, a lot. They don’t want other boys to see ’em cry, ’cause it’s not macho. But they come to me, and letting them cry, letting their emotions be known, means an awful lot. They really need, at this age, someone who’ll actually listen; they’re not used to having someone who’ll sit down and listen to them, who’ll treat them like a person, instead of a little kid who’s in the way.
“I live on campus. Good news is. I’m here quick! Sometimes when they get up, often when they go to bed, throughout the night, may be a small problem or a big problem — homesick to you-name-it — they’ll come knock on my door, sometimes I’ll go home, and they’ll be on my front steps waiting for me. Without really getting into depth on family histories, we get a lot of kids from broken marriages; some people, they’ll just drop a kid off. For example, one boy, his parents just don’t want him, just put him here and abandoned him. Flat out. And that’s not normal. Normally, the families support their kids while they’re here; but this kid, if he does something wrong, they don’t want him. He went AWOL once, and the consequence was he was to be suspended, sent home for four to five days. But his father says, ‘If he can live on the street for one night, he can live there for five more.’ He’s in the eighth grade. So I made an offer to take care of him, personally, fortunately, the grandparents got involved, but sometimes we have to go a step further to help a kid.
“We try to mirror everything they do in the upper division. We do use the honor system and send kids to the Honor Council; usually, however, because of their age, I can get it out of them clear-cut-and-dry, and it’s a waste of everybody’s time to send them on to the Honor Council. They don’t know the difference between quibbling and lying. When they come here, their beliefs and values and ethics and character are ingrained because of the parent; if they’ve got good parents, we end up with a pretty good kid. And we have some great kids right now, and we’ve also got five or six who are really hurting us. A rebellious kid, just wants to defy authority, doesn’t want to take orders, it’s for the betterment of the school that he doesn’t come onboard; in other words, if we can’t bring him around in a reasonable amount of time, he’s dismissed.
“They’re counseled, re-counseled, poked, prodded, guided by hand to where they need to go. I’ve got one right now, nameless, but he just has a bad problem with his parents; and here is a home for some kids like that. Since he’s been here, you know, couple hellos, attaboys, he’s doing great! Just gave him a double promotion. What I’m trying to get him to do is quit judging his parents, quit leading their lives, allow his parents to make their mistakes—be a kid. He’s trying so desperately to lead his mother’s life, doesn’t like it that she’s selling the house, that she’s dating someone; and it’s the same thing from the father’s end of the divorce. So really, he’s struggling to lead both their lives, instead of saying. Hey, I got my own life.
“We have day schoolers here too; as a whole, when they get here in the morning, they’re treated the same. If they’ re gonna be good, they’re really good. Most of our day students are excellent. A couple come in who’re very wiry but a delight. I’ve got one — the little marks on the wall behind you is his height; been doin’ that since he’s been here. He comes in, takes his medication. He’s extremely hyper.”
(I’d seen him runnin’ all over, pointing his finger at everybody, goin’ bang! bang! bang!)
Do you have a hard-nosed side?
“Yes. And they know when that is. They mess around a lot, jump around a lot, play a lot,but they know where the line is. 'They never cross the line on me. They treat me with an awful lot of respect, because they know I know the position they’re in with their families. One of the things I do control is promotions; they won’t be promoted unless they’re above a 2.0, and they understand that.. .uh, little boy right here... [points to picture under desk glass]... received a 4.0, so I gave him a special promotion to sergeant.
“And their conduct must be good, or they will not be promoted. Their rooms must be orderly, and tidy shouldn’t try to hide things. .(he picks up a long stick attached to an angled mirror]...this’s for when they hide things up high, ’cause I’m short.... “No! I will find it!”
Wednesday, last full day, spent the first part sleeping in. When I found ( ierardy, he was complaining, “...right in the jaw.” Why’d he punch ya?
“ ’Cause he hates me.” Oh.
“He was talking out in class, and we’re supposed to be quiet, so I said something, and he decked me right here.”
With a full fist?
“With two knuckles, like this."
So not an all-out punch.
“Yeah, it was! He hit me hard as he could. When you hit someone like this, it targets the muscle right here. Now my entire muscle spasms, and I can’t even open my mouth.”
Seems like it’s working pretty good.
“It works, but it hurts. ”
I follow Gerardy to class, don’t stay long. Visit some teachers. TheyTe all impressive, energetic, good humored, totally in control. One, Mr. “Old Jack” Cargile (two other Cargiles, son and nephew, also teach at ANA), is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel (infantry), and he wears a Purple Heart lapel button. We talk of the Ninth Marines — the
“We saw ’em quite a bit; they came out and supported us. We’d gotten stuck just outside of Khe Sanh near the rock quarry, we lost a whole bunch o’ guys, and they lost a bunch. In fact, the CO of Alpha 1/4 was with us, was wounded with us...medevac’d...later he was killed. I’ve thought about going back to Khe Sanh sometime.” They’ll let you in there now. “I’m sure there’s a lot of mines still there.”
It’s been pretty well policed. “How ’bout those hills?” No, still no man’s land. (Bugle sounds.)
Main events on Wednesdays are (1) it’s camouflage day (new uniform this year) and (2) the weekly assembly. Boys fall in by status (elite in junior school, designated by turquoise berets, is Stoll’s Guard); “unhonored” cadets, like Weber (ranked “absolute lowest"), wear goofy-lookin’ duck-huntin’ caps (“these suck”). Command’s given. "Doubletime, move it!” Cadets clap to every other step; the chapel fills. Assembly begins in one-fifth the time it might take in a public school. Cadets recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem (not a single mocking note uttered).
Warrior Corps sits in a whoosh.
“Good morning, leaders!” Superintendent Miller opens.
“Who can tell us what pro patria means? Right, 'for country.’ ”
Miller’s speech regards Aaron Burr (“man without a country”); teachers sit up front facing the corps; junior schoolers sit in back (nobly resisting instinct to squirm), Miller’s “message” whizzing over their heads like physics; intimidating silhouettes of TACs block the exits. In the end, they all stand and sing the ANA alma mater.
If not for high voices, this might be a Rotary meeting.
Later, cadet/Lieutenant Colonel Harris admonishes the corps (gathered below him) in a rousing pep talk. “This is the time of year when things start to fall apart! Right about now. This is where people start trouble. WF.’RF. NOT GONNA DO THAT! I’m not gonna go down like that! You guys are not gonna go down like that! You’re gonna stick together for the whole year! DO NOT GIVE UP! Everybody in the entire academy right now — the ENEMY is the I AST STRETCH! Do NOT fall apart! This goes for every aspect of cadet life—avoiding an excuse to fight! keeping your radios down! acting like gentlemen — members of the Warrior Corps! Are you going to fall apart, companies?”
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO FALL APART, SIR!”
“Then don’t forget it! Ever since I’ve come to this company, all of you gentlemen have done nothing but improve. It has been constant improvement! Look at yourself. I want you to think about what you guys were like just four months ago. Think about that! Who is the best company?
“(CHAR-LIE! AL-PHA! BRA-VO! DEL-TA!] COMPANY, SIR!”
“Never! Never! Never! forget this.”
I won’t, I think — staring out from 14th floor, Hyatt on the Bay, day’s first lethargic light — forget any of those days; 2:00 p.m., yesterday, the Honor Council convened (inside the teachers’ lunchroom) to decide the fate of the boy who’d “stolen” the sweater. Seven cadets (all elected by the corps) and their advisor, Cavallo (who's lived through four wars), received the accused (a gangly ninth-grade boy, rumpled hair, looking scared) and his accuser. Honor Council President Blair Belluomo (who’d said to me, “I voted to expel my best friend once”) led the proceedings The accuser offered his evidence, then (looking the accused in the eye) concluded:
“It is indeed true that is a thief! It is indeed true that is a liar! It is indeed true that he is a manipulator of the truth!” “Your charge says ‘theft,’ ” said Cavallo. “Do you wish to add the charge of ‘liar’?”
“Yes, why not?”
The accused offered no witness (“I was joking!” his only defense) and pled “not guilty.” Faculty representative for the accused, Bruce Haggerty (chairman of Social Science Department; former University of San Diego and Palomar College professor), leaned to me.
“I cry when I see things like that,” he whispered.
Accused, accuser, and Haggerty then left the room. Deliberations began.
“What a cock,” said David Parmer (looking at his notes).
“A serial number is as good as a name.”
“When we were younger, it was ‘finder’s keepers.’ ” (laughter.)
The accused was returned, verdict was read (“guilty—lying and stealing”), the guilty saluted, the guilty left.
“He thought he was going to be found not guilty,” said Belluomo. “He’s scared.”
Afterward, I met up with Gerardy, we walked toward the pool (swim meet versus Carlsbad High).
“Was he found guilty?” he asked.
“Is he gonna be expelled?” “Nope, almost. Took three votes. Decided they’d put him on probation, take turns being his ‘parent,’ get him turned around. Plus he has to march till hell freezes over.”
“That’s what I like about this school, but I bet 95 percent of junior schoolers say they don’t like it.”
“Like this is a reform school or somethin’.”
“This is a reform school....” (I think I know what he meant.)
Regarding the drug incident involving an ANA teacher, Superintendent Miller explained to me, upon a subsequent visit, that “Last year we had three cadets visit one of our apartments (we have faculty apartments, a teacher was living in the apartment). She invited them in and fed them brownies with marijuana in them. In fact, the boys went over there asking, because they had heard that she, not dealt in that sort of stuff, but made it available and had told kids that ‘Come over any time.’ At that point no one had ever done it, but these three boys decided to do so. And she had to order out, apparently, and the boys enjoyed a brownie or two. And one of the guys, it ends up, goes someplace and gets somebody to buy him a six-pack of beer, and he’s found later down on the beach — you know, in public — and was brought back on campus and later was dismissed. The other two boys, I think, were sophomores. We did urinalysis testing, of course, which came back positive, and they were also dismissed. And the teacher was fired and removed from campus. One parent sued the school for reinstatement. They lost the suit. It wasn’t even brought to trial; it was dismissed by the judge.
“The board is adamant, the Parents’ Council is adamant: they don’t want drugs on campus; they want violators gone. If it’s a minor case, we will take the kid back the next year; he has to sit a year out, demonstrate that his grades haven’t deteriorated or have gotten better, and that he has gone through a certified drug-counseling program. And we have two or three boys who are back this year, and we’ve had no incidents. We have the option to drug test them randomly, after they’ve returned. We do. They’re clean. So that part of it works for us.”
I must say, from the point of view of a visiting writer, that my several days at ANA were unusual for various reasons, but in particular, because I was given carte blanche to go anywhere, talk to anyone, ask any questions, and take any pictures I so wanted ("We have nothing to hide”). Peggy Hanson (former director of marketing and recruiting) provided every scrap of information and/or access that I requested. Her assistance is tremendously appreciated.
And finally, I called the school two days before graduation and asked to speak to cadet Scott Weber. While waiting for him to be paged, I learned that he recently had been double promoted to corporal. Scott seemed genuinely happy to talk to me but said he would not be at ANA in the fall. He wasn’t sure where he would be, but he thought maybe Texas.