Navy Midshipmen to Get Some Survival Tips From the Funnies

"Bravo Zulu, Don't Give Up the Ship" shows the perils of plebes. (U.s. Naval Academy)
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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Every summer, just about the time the mosquitoes arrive in earnest in Annapolis, a new class of midshipmen arrives at the U.S. Naval Academy to begin six weeks of rigorous physical training before the college year begins.

From Day One, it's clear that some of these recent high school graduates didn't get the message, and they lag behind, sweating profusely as their classmates do laps around the grounds.

A comic book may save future plebes, as they are known, from that embarrassment.

Yes, a comic book.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, superintendent of the academy, has trundled out the latest weapon in his arsenal of tricks that have helped make the brigade of 4,500 midshipmen more diverse than ever before.

"Diversity is my number one goal," Fowler said, in addition to fulfilling the academy's core mission to deliver leaders to the Navy and Marine Corps.

Although the faces in the new comic book to be distributed to prospective midshipmen leave no doubt that the academy is a multiracial, multicultural place, neither does the book leave any doubt as to what to expect when the plebes pass through the gates in July.

"This ain't no beauty spa!" says a young woman in the second panel of the book.

By the next page, calisthenics are underway, and at the bottom of it a young plebe is thinking, "So hot . . . so tired . . . you're not gonna pass out . . . you're not gonna . . . ," and then he topples to the floor.

By the time the book wraps up a dozen pages later, the midshipmen have shared their dreams of football glory, becoming Navy SEALs, grappling with pirates and going to medical school. And they've survived the rigors of plebe summer.

The comic is titled "Bravo Zulu, Don't Give Up the Ship."

Fowler's efforts to expand the academy's reach into communities and regions of the country that have delivered the fewest candidates bore fruit this year, when the academy received the highest number of applications -- 15,341 -- since 1992. This year also saw the highest number of minority applications ever: 4,384, an increase of almost 50 percent over last year.

"We're making people aware of the Naval Academy," said Fowler, superintendent for two years.

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