When Scout parent Matt Testerman heard that in 2009 his troop visited West Point, he formed a plan.
You see, Testerman is a graduate of a different service academy, Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy.
And in the spirit of the Army-Navy rivarly, he wanted to take the guys of Troop 336 to see his alma mater.
“When I heard that Troop 336 visited West Point two years ago, I wanted our Scouts to visit the Academy—and reach their own conclusion as to which one is better!” he said. Testerman returns to Annapolis next year as a professor.
Last month, Testerman got his wish. Twenty-five Scouts, parents, and siblings from his Pittsford, N.Y., troop loaded up and began the seven-hour journey south to the Maryland site.
Once there, Troop 336 got its first taste of the Army-Navy rivalry on the hardwood at Alumni Hall, where the Navy’s men’s basketball team played Army. The Midshipmen beat the Black Knights, 75-58 in a game that illustrated the rivalry’s passion. The Scouts even got into the spirit, shouting “Go Navy, Beat Army!” alongside the Midshipmen. Testerman must have loved that.
The troop’s quarters for the weekend were aboard three Yard Patrol boats moored at the pier on the Severn River. These are the vessels that train midshipmen in seamanship and navigation.
Scouts accustomed to a spacious, plush bedroom at home were in for a surprise aboard these boats. The boys slept six to a berthing quarter, and each bunk had three levels. The bottom and middle beds were fine, but the top one offered just inches to spare with pipes running above an unlucky Scout’s head.
This type of sleeping arrangement is not for the claustrophobia-prone. But then again, those afraid of close spaces probably wouldn’t join the Navy anyway.
The next morning, the guys got a personalized tour of the Academy from Midshipman 3rd Class Ian Sonnenberg, an Eagle Scout from Vernon, Ill.
Sonnenberg majors in aerospace engineering and Chinese and serves as tour coordinator for the 400-member U.S. Naval Academy National Eagle Scout Association.
Sonnenberg explained to the Scouts the Academy’s mission: to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically. “Does that sound familiar?” he asked. “Think of the Scout Oath—to ‘keep yourselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.'”
On the tour, Troop 336 saw gold-painted footballs in trophy cases that symbolized Navy victories over—who else?—Army. Photos of Navy Hall of Fame athletes lined the walls, including such legends as quarterback Roger Staubach and basketball great David Robinson, a three-time Olympian.
Those legends made careers out of sports, but that’s not the case for the majority of Midshipmen, Sonnenberg said.
“This is a military institution that trains officers for the Navy and Marine Corps,” he said. “It is extremely difficult to receive an appointment, so if you want to come here, make sure you focus on your studies, especially math and science, and keep in great physical shape.”
Pointing to the Olympic-size pool and a 10-meter diving platform, Sonnenberg joked, “And you better like the water!” All midshipmen are required to jump from the platform, roughly one-third the distance from the top of an aircraft carrier to the ocean.
“It teaches you courage and to be brave,” Sonnenberg said. “When you’re up there, it’s a long way down, but you master your fear.”
Finally, Sonnenberg guided the troop to the chapel and then to “the coolest place at the Academy:” the crypt of John Paul Jones, father of the U.S. Navy. His remains were buried in France for 113 years before being discovered and returned to America in 1905.
So after this once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Scouts, what’s next, Scoutmaster Bob Cooper?
“First West Point, then the Naval Academy,” Cooper said. “Now we have to figure out how to get to Colorado to see the Air Force Academy!”
Thanks to Troop 336 assistant Scoutmaster Tony Hoppa for sending me the story idea and information, and to parent Matt Testerman for taking and sharing his photos from the trip.
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