I just got back from Thanksgiving break at my house in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents, grandparents, and family friends all got together for a delicious dinner. I got to pet my German Shepherd, Eliot, and go for a few runs in my neighborhood. I always love getting to go home! This time was a little different though. I realized that over the past 2.5 years at the Academy my attitude about leave periods has changed a lot. In the first year, I couldn’t wait to go home (which hasn’t changed) but I dreaded going back to the Academy. The Academy felt like so much work (which it still is) and nowhere near as fun as being at home. The more I’ve been here though, the more this place has become my home. Cadets joke about never calling the Academy and the barracks “home” but, I think there is some danger in that. As a 4/c you are mostly just following the rules and doing your job. You are still finding your group of friends and your place in the class. But, as 4/c year comes to and close, you experience 3/c summer, become a 3/c, experience cadre summer, and then become a 2/c you end up so invested in the Academy. Everyone finds their tribe. You start to form a place here – you start to understand that you fill a unique spot and the Academy would not be the same without you!
For me, there are many reasons that I have learned to love my second “home.” Even though it could never compare to the freedom of being at home in civies with my family, there’s a lot to love here. I think the key part is that, over time, the Academy has become more mine than theirs. Shifting my personal opinion and role from an underclassman following the rules to an upperclassman invested in making the Academy into the place I think it should be – that mindset made the difference. The basketball team has been a positive experience for me since Swab Summer- what’s changed is my own investment in the team. Ownership and contribution to the team made me even more excited to be here. Choosing to be onboard and having the opportunity to learn from fantastic teammates and coaches helped me feel embraced by the different groups. Getting to be a part of the team is an honor and I have always loved coming back for that. But, feeling that I have the power to influence the team has made me a lot more excited to come back. Creating lifelong friends is a great part of the Academy, too. I made some of my strongest and closest friends as a 3/c and we remain close. They are more than enough reason to love coming back from leave. Getting into major specific classes made life more enjoyable and helped me remember the bigger picture of why I came here. Cadre summer revitalized my love for what we do and my desire to get better every day. Seeing your swabs walk around as 4/c, you just want nothing but the best for them. When my Academy experience changed from me surviving and watching out for myself to me striving to be better and caring deeply about others’ development, I started loving coming back. Even the day after Christmas. Once I chose to be invested here, the Academy became my second home. An officer visited us for a Corps-wide recently and said “Love this place and it will love you back.” In my time here, that has made all the difference. And, it offers a great life lesson – if you never buy into where you are, you will never get any payout. Master Chief Verhulst shared a quote with me recently “Better to light a match, than curse the darkness.” At the Academy and in the world, we spend too much time complaining about what is wrong instead of having the courage and energy to change what we can. Investment, in myself and in others, and ownership of my own actions, of the organizations I take part in, of my own role – that’s what made me love the Academy.