Early in a plebe's career, he or she is convinced that their class is going to be the next black cloud class. There was one in 1959, and another in 1968. What that means is that the plebe class isn't recognized, that is, gain all the priveleges of a midshipman (note that we accepted all the responsibilities of a midshipman back in September), until third class year. But as the USAFA and USMA have been recognized in the past 3 weeks; and Navy plebes got a few new priveleges, we're getting a little concerned about our own recognition. Things were going well before spring break. We passed our 7th of 10 plebe knowledge test as a class right before exam week, and we finished our mural on "zero deck", a major privelege and step towards recognition, which, during Indoc, I never could have imagine being a part of. But the plebe comes to realize that recognition will come eventually. By March 1, we knew it was coming soon. Our recongition steps were being rushed, as if there was a deadline. No more than six, then five, more weeks of plebedom. Then after spring break, our plebe train seemed to have derailed.
By October, we had learned that there are reasons that plebes get recognized as surely as the flowers bloom in spring:
The first class gets anxious about licensing exams, and having finished their resume building, have no interest in chansing plebes anymore. As a matter of integrity, you recognize 'em and give them all the priveleges they the plebes had started to take when they came back from spring break (doors closed during the day, unauthorized food buying and order out, talking in the passageways, not running outdoors, etc).
The Third class gets a little fratty after getting back from sea, and by playing on the same sports teams with plebes. By that, they start skylarking--"fraternize"-- with plebes. And the 3/c realizes that the 2/c will become a different breed- "petty firstclassmen", in just six weeks. The 2/c will start becoming responsible in general, so they'll look to the hopefully recognized plebes to be friends with. And there are good and bad reasons to "frat". First off, it's a good means to pass tips to the underclass for going to sea. Next trimester, the 4/c becomes the 3/c. We take charge of marching plebes around during Indoc, and we go to sea. Once you recognize the plebes, 4/c can frat safely with 2/c and 3/c. So there won't be any more talk of a certain 3/c being too "friendly" with a plebe.
Yet, sometimes, flowers don't bloom.
Our new Commandant, an anti-excessive/underage-drinking zealot (not a bad thing?) from the Naval Academy, where that culture of no tolerance to that sort of thing has been going on for a decade now, met with KP's unofficially laxer, rather European, attitude towards having a "good time". It may have not been luck. Administrators must have been concerned with the ever-increasing count of midshipmen receiving alcohol hits.
There is no one reason for this increase. Midnight musters on Saturday nights were introduced, and that revealed some plebe revelers. Some of the upperclassmen were reliving their plebe days through stories we brought back; certainly, not more than a few wanted to stop the stories from coming in, even if it could keep a few plebes from alcohol hits from increasingly more vigilant senior classes. Plebes who had a "good time" had been spared from the maximum penalty, which was saved for the 1/c and 2/c who did the same; and it didn't seem to some to be a big deal.
So the Commandant comes in and lays down the law. Across the board minimum of 10 weeks restriction and 100 extra duty hours for that kind of case. The subjective "Do not, Do not embarrass the Academy" has been replaced by the new Navy standard of "No underage drinking; if you're old enough, you stop after three drinks". Quite Clear. Plebes are responsible for each other, and by accepting that responsibility for your classmates, three plebe alcohol hits under the Commadant's watch, and recognition is out the window. But you can't change a culture overnight; especially if it's St. Paddie's Day. Altough the hit count remains unofficial, our class did it. We're the black cloud-- black out-- class of 2015.
Black cloud? That's another word for recognition. It means that you're class is done with the plebe system. Plebes for life. Close your door, listen to music. Yet our firstclassmen were quick to assure us that a speedy recognition is still possible. When we have completed all the steps (which could happen by the original deadline that we felt that they aiming for), the seniors would ask the Commandant to reverse his decision. In the meantime, we would have 'earned' recognition; and that is enough to get a bit of respect and a set of privileges.
I think we can get our train back on track.