Small Steps Lead to Large Leaps for Doe
By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier
Moms across the country will spend Mother's Day thinking about their children near and far. The Doe family in Berkshire will be celebrating Mother's Day this year with a visit from their son Evan who joined the Naval Academy in June 2017.
Evan began his pursuit for entrance to the Naval Academy in his sophomore year of high school. Sylvia Doe, Evan's mom, recalled her thoughts as Evan began his quest.
"Along with feeling proud for his lofty goal came the realization "Oh dear, at what cost?" said Sylvia, knowing the dangers that military service could entail.
During the winter of 2016, Evan applied for the Summer Seminar at the Naval Academy.
Summer Seminar is the first step toward acceptance at the Naval Academy and requires accepted applicants to travel to the Annapolis, Maryland, where they spend a week on campus getting a first-hand look at life at the academy and what to expect the first year should they have the chance to attend.
The application to Summer Seminar counts as the preliminary application to the school itself, so applicants must take the process very seriously.
The time at the Summer Seminar galvanized Evan's resolve to earn a spot at the Academy.
"After the seminar, I began to look for nominations from senators and congressmen in Vermont," Evan explained, "every applicant has to get one nomination from a senator or representative from their home state."
Evan received nominations from all three of the politicians he contacted.
During his application process, Evan also had to participate in a physical test called the Candidates Fitness Assessment which consists of pushups, situps and running.
High school grades and SAT scores are also considered during the application process.
One unique piece of the Naval Academy application is the assignment of a Blue and Gold Officer to each applicant.
The Blue and Gold Officer is someone who lives near the candidate and has graduated from the Academy. The officer interviews the potential candidate during the application process and provides some support during the process.
After months of preparation and anticipation, Evan received the news that he had been admitted to the Academy on April 12th. Only about eight percent of applicants are accepted at the United States Naval Academy making it one of the top ten most selective universities in the country. Over 16,000 people applied for Evan's Class of 2021 and only 1,300 were admitted.
Evan's desire to serve in the military began close to home, and like many who choose to serve, it would take him far from it.
Sylvia could not be more proud of Evan, even if his choice of career would cause separation.
"As a Mom, to see your child succeed in achieving their goal is very exciting and heartwarming to say the least," said Sylvia.
Sylvia had the pleasure of watching Evan tackle each step of his journey to the Naval Academy.
"Evan consistently demonstrated his determination to succeed in various ways. After attending an athletic leadership conference in high school where a speaker shared that you are much more driven to achieve your goal if you put that reminder in the form of a visual, Evan quickly created his "bulletin board" and placed it above his bedroom desk. It was his daily reminder, and that's when I knew he was serious," said Sylvia.
Loren Doe, Evan's father, had served in the military, and Evan was eager to follow in his footsteps.
"My father was a former Air Force Officer, and he was my main inspiration and motivation. I wanted to be like him; I saw all that a military career can set you up for in life," said Evan.
Another inspiration came from Elisabeth Erickson, a Naval Academy graduate, who was doing her student teaching at Enosburg high school during the time that Evan began to pursue his goal to attend the Academy.
"I got to know her, and she suggested that I go to the Summer Seminar and the STEM camp that I attended my sophomore year. I listened to her and gave it a try. After meeting Midshipman at the camp and talking more with Ms. Erickson, I noticed how everyone who I knew who had gone through a military career were people who I'd like to be like," said Evan.
After thinking things through, Evan decided to aim high.
"The Naval Academy seemed like the 'best of the best' so I decided to shoot for it, no matter how hard it might be," said Evan.
In hindsight, Evan can't help but marvel at the circumstances that put Elizabeth Erickson in his path.
"The more I think about it, the crazier I think it is that she happened to be there when I was thinking about all this," marveled Evan.
Erickson attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 2005, and going on to serve six years of active duty before joining the reserves.
Unlike many middles school girls, Erickson was set on a military career and knew she wanted to serve. Her desire didn't wane through high school, and she kept her focus on the goal.
When Erickson met Evan, she felt like she had met someone who had similar goals to those she had in high school.
"There are a fair number of kids who want to go to the Naval Academy, and my usual reaction is to ask them what they know about it and why do they want to go. Evan was very serious about it, and as I got to know him better I got to appreciate his academic skills and also his integrity and his personality," said Erickson, "He's a good human being. Seeing him on the athletic field, I noted that he was an impeccable sportsman who would always do the right thing, and he always had great maturity. That impressed me."
When Evan received his acceptance letter, he notified Erickson of the Academy's decision.
"I was thrilled, but not surprised to find out that he had been accepted. He is the all-around stand out that the academy is looking for. It's very rewarding to be able to help a kid who is so motivated to achieve his goals, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future," said Erickson.
Evan checked into the Academy at 9:30 in the morning on June 29, 2017; he remembers waiting on the extensive lawn with his parents.
"I was with a bunch of kids who were going to go through the same thing I was," said Evan, "even though I was nervous, I was at ease with the idea of attending the Academy, and I was excited to get through it. I knew I had all the support I needed to get through it all."
Sylvia had thoughts of her own as she watched Evan prepare to walk into the Academy.
"On induction day, it felt like we were dropping him off at college. But at the end of the day, when he and his classmates marched into Bancroft Hall, and those giant doors slammed shut behind them, I realized it's NOT college. He has just formally committed to serve as a Naval Officer. And the reality started to sink in," said Sylvia.
Before classes began new members of the Academy, who are called Plebes, would be mentally and physically tested during a boot-camp style training period called Plebe Summer.
Plebe Summer lasts for six weeks, from June to August. The new students are divided into 15 companies with eighty Plebes in each company. Each of those groups is trained by a group of upper-class Midshipmen called Detailers.
"It's exactly what you'd expect--the yelling in your face and the pushups," said Doe with a chuckle.
During this exhausting time, Plebes are given a book called Reef Points which they must memorize.
"Whenever you're not doing something, you're basically staring at that book. It's your Bible for the summer, and you learn as much as you can out of that book," said Evan, "you could be asked to state something at any time, and you have to know it on the spot."
The Plebe Summer activities were focused on mental and physical training, but Evan noted that there were lots of team building and leadership centered activities that helped build relationships and confidence in the students.
"It wasn't just all about beating you down. There were a lot of fun activities too, like sailing and rock climbing, and obstacle courses where you worked with other Plebes. There were some things you could actually enjoy," said Evan with a laugh, "You can make everything a game, pretty much while you are there. If you can do that, keep your head down, do what you're told, and do the best that you can it's fun."
Overall Evan has enjoyed the process, although sometimes are harder than others
"When you look back it's all worth it. You can always look at the end goal and remember what you're doing it all for, and it doesn't seem so bad," said Evan of the Plebe Summer.
When the Plebe Summer portion of Evan's training was complete, it was time to begin classes.
"When classes started things got more comfortable. It's a close-knit community, one big family," said Evan.
Some of the intense physical activities were suspended to give students an opportunity to invest their energy in learning.
The school day at the Academy is similar to a standard college day with classes beginning at 8:00 and finishing around 3:00.
Unlike a regular university, everyone is in uniform, and the Plebes have certain responsibilities they must keep.
Plebes work out before class three or four days a week, and they attend Professional Knowledge sessions that sharpen their understanding of the military. Every Friday they must take a Professional Knowledge test on the military information they have learned.
The first year at the Academy all the Plebes take the same classes. Students study chemistry, calculus, government, English, boxing, wrestling, swimming, seamanship, and navigation.
After the first year, the students declare a major, and Evan has decided to pursue ad degree in Mechanical Engineering.
All Midshipmen at the Naval Academy must also take a physical readiness test each semester. In addition to the tests, there are military parades which include all the Midshipmen and formations that are completed before breakfast and lunch each day.
"It's a military lifestyle with the academics mixed in," said Evan, "I thought I knew what life would be like at the Academy, but you won't know what it's like unless you give it a shot and go through it. I've had a lot of unexpected things, but it's been good, and everyone is there to help you."
Evan grew up in Berkshire and attended high school at Enosburg Falls Junior-Senior High School. The transition from small-town life to the strenuous life at the Naval Academy may have been daunting for some, but Evan embraced the challenge.
"During the summer there's not a lot of opportunities to visit with anyone. You're going all day, and you're put to bed at 11:00. At 5:30 you're up and running. There's not a lot of time for socializing, which I think was the hardest part," said Evan who was very active in his high school community in both academic and athletic circles, "You learn a lot about yourself in the first six weeks."
"You think about what you just got into, this nine-year commitment, and it's a lot of weight on your mind. You just have to remember that the rest of the time isn't going to be as hard as the first six weeks. You have to break it down and enjoy each small portion."
For Sylvia, back in Vermont, there were photos of Evan that brought her comfort during the summer.
"It was a thrill to catch glimpses of Evan during his Plebe Summer through the Naval Academy Website. It was especially exciting when I got a glimpse of him laughing! I remember the joy I felt and thought to myself "okay, he's doing fine," said Sylvia,"It was obvious he was forming great companions, and as time has passed, it's apparent that he embraces and thrives in the Naval Academy's regimen."
There have been some pleasant surprises that have come Evan's way over the last year.
"Going from such a small community to the 5,000 Midshipman, I thought it might be hard to build relationships, but it's been the opposite of that. The Plebes are broken into companies of 40, and those guys are like your high school class. You see them every day, you eat lunch with them three days a week, and they have your back," said Evan.
Erickson, who has been out of the Academy for over a decade, hopes that Evan will take away some of the same things that she did from her time at the Academy.
"The Academy challenges you and tests your limits. You realize you can handle a lot more than you thought you could and that you can do things you never thought you could do, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. You are put in situations that you've never experienced before with people from all over the nation and the world," said Erickson.
Many of the lessons learned at the Academy come back to Erickson regularly.
"There is self-discipline and confidence that comes from doing something really hard. I think of that frequently, even today, when I'm challenged, and I feel overwhelmed. If I could handle all that I did at the Academy, I can handle being a wife, teacher, a mom, and all the other balls I'm trying to keep in the air right now," said Erickson.
Her current occupation as a teacher stemmed from her time in the Academy.
"The service aspect was a big part of my motivation to join the Naval Academy, and that service aspect is ultimately what drove me to be a teacher. I see teaching as a different way of serving your community and your country. You're helping to turn students into able, functioning citizens," said Erickson, who teaches Social Studies in Richford.
Erickson, who is a mother to two children of her own, would encourage them to follow in her footsteps if they desired.
"I would make sure that my children would want to join the Academy for the right reasons. It's a tremendous responsibility. You need to remember that you are doing this for the ethics of service; that's the only thing that will get you through the tough times. Nothing else will do it. It's also important to research what it means to be at the Academy and what the requirements are to get in and what it's like to be a Midshipman. There are many experiences in the Academy that regular college students will never have the chance to explore, but there are also many things that Midshipman don't get to do," explained Erickson.
One thing that Midshipman must consider is the lengthy separations from family and friends. As a mom, Sylvia has appreciated the host family program that the Naval Academy has set in place for the Plebes.
"Evan is fortunate to have been assigned a fantastic host family. They not only open their home to him but help in any way they can, especially transportation. Loren and I had the pleasure of meeting them and came away with the comfort of knowing that Evan will be enjoying their company very much and now has a 'home away from home,'" said Sylvia.
Evan will complete his four years at the Academy, and after that, he will spend five years of active duty.
"Always having the concern of what his future as a Naval Officer and the chance of being in harm's way may entail, is part of the sacrifice of being a Mom of a son in the military. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to accept, as so many other Moms have done and continue to do, never forgetting that he is in God's loving hands," said Sylvia.
Evan has plenty of years of service ahead of him, but he has his hopes set on home as well.
"I want to thank everyone back home. All my friends and family have given me a ton of support. I got a ton of letters over the summer," said Evan,"I want to come back to Vermont someday. That was one of my first thoughts when I got to Annapolis."
Many moms play a far deeper role in the lives of their children than they will ever understand. When asked about what part she played in Evan's success, Sylvia answered with wisdom and gratitude.
"I don't know what, if any role, I played in Evan's success at being nominated and accepted at the Academy, but I know I have had nothing but great admiration watching him, step by step, committing himself with so much self-motivation to his goal."