By MIDN 3/C Rachel Boelsche
Young NROTC Midshipmen headed off for their first summer training expecting to attend a cruise called CORTRAMID, or Career Orientation and Training for Midshipmen. However, the lucky four hundred “Mids” who headed to San Diego for CORTRAMID West 2013 had the unique privilege of becoming the only class to attend a summer cruise called CONTRAMID instead. Many activities marked this month-long training as a truly one-of-a-kind experience, and one that certainly provided many opportunities to become excited about future naval service as the Midshipmen had their first interactions with the “real Fleet.”
Each week of the four week training focused on a different community within the Department of the Navy that each Midshipmen might join upon commissioning. For my company, the first week was centered on the submarine community. Our training started with a chance to sail with the silent service by going underway on a submarine overnight. Not long after we piled into the small submersible ship, the sound of a siren sailed from the speakers slid into our ears as a voice announced “DIVE, DIVE.” With those words we officially joined the very small number of people who have traveled underwater in a submarine. During our twenty-four hours on board we were welcomed by a hospitable crew and given a glimpse of the submariner way of life, enjoying such experiences as clutching furniture to maintain stability during “angles and dangles” drills, squinting in an attempt to look all the way down a torpedo tube, and staying up late in the galley to watch movies with the crew. After our time underway, we spent several days visiting Naval Base Point Loma to learn more about how to become a submarine officer and what to expect in that career path. There we were able to observe and interact with various training facilities, such as the damage control wet trainer where we raced against rising water to stop leaks in a mock submarine. The week ended with a speech from an Admiral and a barbecue with various other members of the submarine community.
Once we finished our travels under the sea it was time for us to head down the road to the USMC base Camp Pendleton, where we spent a week with the Marine Corps community. For five days our homes were open-bay barracks with lines of bunks. We woke before the sun and threw on our uniforms before rushing out the doors to hurry into formation. Throughout the week, each squad of Midshipmen had two enlisted Marines assigned to help it through the many events and answer questions about life in the Corps. These mentors provided valuable advice and a very important opportunity for future officers to hear the enlisted perspective. Our days in Pendleton were full of activities as the staff worked to show the many different aspects of the Marine Corps. We earned several bruises from powering through an obstacle training course. We practiced fighting skills by plunging pugil sticks against one another, as well as learning basic moves from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. We had the opportunity to head to a range and fire several weapons systems, such as an M-4 rifle, a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a Humvee, and a .50 caliber sniper rifle. The next day we split up by squad and entered the Infantry Immersion Trainer, a training facility that simulates what executing a mission in a Middle Eastern town might be like and gave all the Midshipmen a little glimpse of what Marines can experience overseas. After our “trip” into the Middle East, we returned back to our barracks for the last night of Marine Week. The next day we took a motivating morning run and then loaded onto buses to head back to San Diego.
The third week we learned about the aviation community. We began by receiving the most comfortable, pajama like uniform of all our time at CORTRAMID: a flight suit. The flight suit issued to each Midshipman became the ticket to a week full of exciting events. For instance, we were able to enjoy a breathtaking ride in a T-34 training aircraft, where we took turns, dives, and loops through the rushing California air. Later in the week we received another flight, this time taking a low and slow two-hour flight in a MH-60S helicopter. We also took a trip into the city to tour the retired aircraft carrier the USS Midway where knowledgeable guides showed us the many different places aboard such a huge ship and taught us on how carriers operate. We were able to travel across the bridge over to Naval Air Station North Island to spend time with active aviation squadrons and learn a bit about the life of an aviation officer. The last day of the week was not dedicated to the aviation community, but rather to the special warfare community. We met several Navy SEALs and joined them on one of their training obstacle courses, where we did quite a bit of running, climbing, and sounding off loudly with motivating shouts of “HOOYAH.” After finishing Aviation Week, it was time to return our flight suits and move on to the last week of training.
We ended our time in San Diego by spending a week with the surface warfare community. They took us aboard the Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Independence, to show off some of the newest assignments the surface navy has to offer. We witnessed several LCAC landing crafts storm onto the beach after hovering through the water, sending a rushing cloud of dirt and sand upon us as we watched. We spent a day with members of the Riverine community, learning a bit of what the brown water navy does and some of the different assignments a SWO can experience in a surface career. The highlight of the week was certainly the day we spent underway on a destroyer; the crew of the USS Spruance planned a fun and memorable day for the Midshipmen. We split into groups, each with a junior officer assigned to take it around the ship and answer questions. For the second time at CORTRAMID we had the excitement of firing bursts of rounds from a .50 caliber machine gun, this time seeing our shots making a splash in the sea. Later the loud buzzing of one hundred rounds firing per second filled our ears as the crew demonstrated the awesome firepower of the ship’s Close-In Weapons System. We even had the chance to witness some of our fellow Midshipmen take a ride in RHIBs as they raced the small boats across the water. Overall it was a very enjoyable day, and an excellent way to finish our time with the Navy’s surface warriors.
We could not deny that our first ever Active Duty assignment had many aspects which gave it something of the feel of a “paid vacation.” Staying in a hotel on Naval Base San Diego, we were only a short trolley ride away from the fun offered by San Diego’s downtown. The gorgeous Southern California weather of the early summer seemingly pleaded us to enjoy our time in the area, offering no impediment to our activities with not one day of bad weather. Additionally, our training schedule provided a wonderful amount of liberty during evenings and weekends, and many midshipmen used such opportunities to grab dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter, watch the Padres play ball in Petco Park, or enjoy the sand and sun of Southern California beaches. The MWR staff of CORTRAMID also organized several discounted ways to enjoy the area, with events like a trip to the San Diego Zoo, a day at Sea World, and enjoying new movies at the theater on base. In short, when we were off the clock and out of uniform we Midshipmen found many ways to stay classy during our time in San Diego.
This first Midshipmen summer cruise proved to be a time of many valuable experiences and wonderful memories. Not only did we learn a bit about the fighting force which we will be entering, but we met some of the incredible people who keep the proud naval tradition alive and were able to form numerous close friendships. On our final day of training before we all set out for our various homes across the nation, the staff officers brought out the commemorative t-shirts we had ordered. As I held my newly attained attire in my hand, I noticed the fingers of my friends around me pointing to a particular spot on the shirt as word spread of a slight imperfection; what should have read “CORTRAMID WEST 2013” had mistakenly been printed as “CONTRAMID” instead. With laughs we proudly wore our identifying jerseys around base, knowing that no other Midshipmen could boast of such a shirt. The one letter typo solidified in our minds what we already knew: that this was truly a one-of-a-kind experience which we were lucky to enjoy.