During the summer of 1996, photographer Pete Souza photographed one of the companies of the incoming class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The photographs here were made during more than 30 visits to the Academy. In April of 1997, Souza returned to the Academy with Journal E to record the comments of that class's experience. As you look through the photographs, click on the sound buttons to hear their remarks.
| Plebe Summer:
Accepting the Challenge
When I thought of photographing a story at the United States Naval Academy, I hoped to go beyond the ceremonial photographs one normally sees.
I was intrigued with being able to photograph "kids" just out of high school being indoctrinated into the military through an intense six-week program. Here were many of the best and brightest teenagers in America, The Class of 2000, some of whom would become leaders for the 21st Century. But they were being brought together from all 50 states in a setting completely foreign to most of them. I wondered if they really knew what to expect.
To document Plebe Summer, I suggested to the Public Affairs office that they let me follow around one company of approximately 80 Plebes (the "freshmen" class of midshipmen). "I need to have access to everything," I kept saying to Karen Myers, the media relations director. I felt, too, that if the same group of midshipmen saw me every day, my presence would be less intrusive resulting in more telling photographs.
The Naval Academy approved my proposal and granted me unprecedented access to Kilo Company for the summer. Marine Corps Captain Duska Pearson, the Kilo Company officer, allowed me to come and go as I pleased. I had planned to stay for a few days; instead, I ended up coming back almost every day for six weeks. This enabled me to photograph the Plebes on the best of days, and on days they probably would like to forget.
It was an incredible experience to document the Kilo Company Plebes. Many came in as nervous teenagers on Induction Day and began a never-ending challenge for six weeks. It was physically exhausting and it was mentally exhausting. Detailers (upper-class midshipmen serving as squad and platoon leaders) were in their face constantly. The first week, I'll bet that many of the Plebes wished they had stayed home for summer vacation.
As the summer progressed, though, they progressed. Sure, they were still exhausted. And they still had no time to themselves. And I'm sure they missed their girlfriends or boyfriends or their families. But their personalities began to emerge. There was even occasional humor. A couple of times I missed a day and one of the Plebes would laughingly say to me when I returned, "Oh man, you should have been here yesterday!" Inevitably, I had missed something that involved a particularly grueling incident-for them, not me.
As you view the photographs and listen to the audio, I hope you come away with a better sense of who these midshipmen are and what they had to go through during Plebe Summer. For me, it was rewarding to watch a group of "kids" who didn't know one another a few weeks before bond together as a squad, as a platoon, and as a company. They are kids no longer.
- Pete Souza, May 1997
Arlington, Virginia, USA
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