Were it not for the silver-dollar-size scar on the inside of his elbow, the legacy of an AK-47 round, [Lance Corporal] Jeffery Walker would look like any other freshman trying to survive the wrenching induction into the U.S. Naval Academy.
The wiry 20-year-old from Conover, N.C., calmly complied, following the yellow line taped to the floor of Alumni Hall on Tuesday. It marked the path to his new uniforms, to doctors' needles, to instructions on a proper salute and, ultimately, to becoming an officer.
Walker knows that no matter how exacting the next four years may be, no one will be shooting at him. Nor will he watch his fellow Marines spill blood on the streets of Fallujah.
"It won't be Iraq," he said.
Walker is part of a small but growing demographic of incoming cadets and midshipmen at the nation's service academies: combat veterans. He has the scar and the Purple Heart to prove it.
The Naval Academy has long accepted midshipmen from the enlisted ranks [has it ever not?]; it took 76 this year. But combat veterans have rarely been seen at the Annapolis institution since the Vietnam era. Walker is one of two sworn in yesterday, both Marines, both of whom fought in Iraq. [Well, we haven't had that many combat vets since then.] Academy officials expect more.
The number of veterans has grown sharply at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where 30 combat veterans were inducted this week, including a Purple Heart recipient, said West Point spokesman Frank DeMaro. Last year, there were 22. The year before that, eight.
"Their respect within the brigade will be high, especially when the other midshipmen see their combat ribbons on their chest," [Vice Adm. Rodney P.] Rempt[, the academy superintendent,] said. "What we do is encourage them to share their stories and their experiences and to help their classmates. But they still have to achieve all the same goals."
And this is kinda lazy:
And like all first-year midshipmen, he was instructed on the five basic responses all plebes need to know:
"Yes, sir." "No, sir." "Aye, aye." "No excuse." "I'll find out."
There should be a sir (or ma'am) after each of those.