Annapolis in Person

I’ve been working for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) as a contract instructor since September 2019. It’s on an as-needed basis for one or more of their three one-week training sessions a year. I am part of a team that provides updated proficiency training for employees of VFW.

The dome of the Academy Chapel is copper again for a short while.

The first year I taught at their National training facility in Annapolis, Maryland, it was in person. In 2020, they said they wanted me to teach again, but it would be via Zoom. My first thought was Omigosh NO! I can’t teach on a computer. I have never done that before. It would be like being on TV and I’m not prepared for that. And how would I do it? And how would I teach myself how to do it when I’m isolating at home?

Then, naturally, I realized that every single teacher across the entire globe was confronted with similar challenges. They don’t get a choice and I do. I could be a scaredy-cat and say no, or I could step up and be the brave woman I know I am. So I embraced my inner warrior and said yes.

I taught via Zoom in 2020 and early 2021. Then VFW asked me if I could cover in September for an instructor who was unable to come. This time, it would be in person once more, in Annapolis. I said yes.

Funny how it was a hard decision to switch to computer, but then it was a hard decision to switch back.

I’m still not comfortable being in groups, and I know the layout of the facility. I knew we would be crammed together into basement conference rooms each day. It’s a National organization, so the odds were good that I would be with unvaccinated and unmasked people. It’s a little easier for me to take risks, since I am in good health and live alone. If I contract the virus, I can easily avoid infecting others if I stay home. Still, I worried.

The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis is right on the water, which makes sense. This is the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland.

I had a week after visiting Italy and Slovenia to readjust my circadian clock to Oregon time, then off I went to Annapolis, three hours difference on the clock, to disrupt my sleep again.

When I checked into the hotel, the man behind the desk notified me that at that time in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, no masks were required in public buildings. Monday morning I saw the crowded classrooms and got COVID nervous. I put my mask on right away.

In my first classroom, ten minutes before class started, I tried to chat with students and they were having a hard time hearing me with the mask on. I also felt like I couldn’t make myself clear without facial expressions. I took the chance and removed my mask and taught all week with no mask on. Whenever I wasn’t teaching, I kept my mask on. Less than half of the students wore masks, and all of the hotel staff and VFW staff wore masks.

I taught all week with no mask on.

Wednesday there were no classes in favour of a Health Panel, and in the afternoon we toured the nearby U.S. Naval Academy. I had toured it on my own before, but this time we would have a tour guide.

Captain Jim Minderlein, President of Class of 1965, an enthusiastic and capable tour guide. Midshipmen are heading home from classes behind him.

Our guide, Jim, was excited to have a whole group of veterans and people who serve veterans. He was excited to talk with anyone about military stuff, and found many opportunities to shift the conversation to how great the Navy is, how great the Naval Academy is, and how especially great his Alumni group: Class of 1965 is. It was fun to see he never wavered in his promotional efforts. He is perfect in his roles as President of the Class, and as a tour guide.

We walked beneath an F/A-18, one of the jets of the famous Blue Angels, the Navy/Marine demonstration elite flying unit.
Our first stop was into an IMAX theatre to see a promotional video on why we should join the Navy. Nearly everyone got pumped up and half of us raised our hands after the show, asking to join. We thought maybe our use of wheelchairs, ages ranging up to 70 years, and various poor vision, hearing, and other ailments might be overlooked.

It turns out that when you are a group of twenty undisciplined adults, touring a campus at the same time as two other groups of twenty undisciplined adults (there were a lot of us!), you move slowly. Our group did not have time to see all the stuff I had seen in previous visits to the Academy. However, having a tour guide did provide a little extra information.

Tamanend*, Chief of the Lenni Lenape people.

*My caption became so long that I decided to turn it into a paragraph instead. This is a bronze sculpture modeled after the figurehead of the USS Delaware. His pedestal says “DELAWARE,” and people who know about the Delaware Tribe get confused about who he is. My original assumption was that this was a Chief Delaware or something. But even more confusing is that 19th century midshipmen of the Naval Academy did not like Tamanend’s peaceful nature (he is known for seeking peace, and signed a treaty with William Penn to give up his lands and create the state of Pennsylvania), so they renamed the statue Tecumseh, after the Shawnee Chief who encouraged tribes to unite and fight against colonization. Since the midshipmen were inventing a persona for the bust, the choice of Tecumseh is curious. The indigenous man not only opposed invading Americans (supported by the American Navy), but eventually allied with the British against the US in the War of 1812.

I learned that the students here, called midshipmen, are not allowed to enter the dormitories through the main entrance, but only through the side doors. They are told they must earn the right to enter through the front door, by graduating. As guests, we were allowed to walk right up the front steps and enter Bankcroft Hall, an enormous and stunning dormitory. You can see the front entrance behind our tour guide Jim, in the photo of him in a yellow shirt, above.

Midshipmen enter their dormitory through side doors. Bancroft Hall has 1,700 rooms and houses all 4,000 students.

I had forgotten all about the new copper roof on the Naval Academy Chapel, but luckily we were there in time to see it coloured like a penny and not green yet. On my last visit here, the dome was bright green and covered in scaffolding, getting ready for repairs. The new copper has already darkened and will eventually turn the bright green patina once more.

Silhouette of the Chapel no longer marred by scaffolding.

I learned from our guide that the stained glass lining the walls of the Naval Academy Chapel are all scenes from the Bible that mention ships, or the sea. There is even a model of a ship at the back of the church.

The magnificent tomb of John Paul Jones, the Scottish man who became the Father of the U.S. Navy.
A rather lifelike bust of John Paul Jones.

My week of classes went well and it really was a treat to be back with all of them again. Since this training is required annually, I do get to see the same faces and I’m starting to learn them, even with an 18-month period of Zoom teaching. Many of them remember me, and they are encouraging and supportive. My topic this time was recent precedent-setting court cases in the Department of Veterans Affairs that will have an effect on some of the claims from the veterans they are working with. I was expecting them to want to sleep through my classes, but instead they were genuinely engaged and kept up with the complicated legal intricacies of our judicial system.

About a week after I got home, there was a mass emailing that one of the students had tested positive for COVID-19 using a rapid test. Three days later there was another email that said the student had subsequently taken a PCR test (the more accurate one), and was actually negative for COVID-19. As far as I know, no one in the whole training session had or contracted COVID while there. I can’t explain why no one got COVID, except that some people wore masks diligently – maybe they were the ones most at risk. And maybe a lot of us are vaccinated. I think there was a measure of luck involved too.

I return the week of November 15-19 to do the same thing once more for a new group of students.

We had a celebratory last meal of seafood at Mike’s.
It was good to work and play again with my fellow teachers, like Vicki.

18 thoughts on “Annapolis in Person

  1. Good that you were able to return to in-person teaching — especially since nobody in the group came down with Covid, after all.

    1. Yes, I agree. I wasn’t too concerned when the email came. I was feeling fine and thought I probably hadn’t got it, and sure enough; I hadn’t. heh heh. It is much easier to connect to a class of people in person.

  2. Memories, Crystal, of the times we used to visit when Tony was a student there in the early 90s. It looks like there are a fair number of changes. Interesting, I remember Tecumseh, but I don’t remember hearing the back-story. Thanks for the trip back in time. –Curt

    1. I’m so proud of Tony for earning a chance to do that! I assume he wasn’t a regular midshipmen, right, because he is Coast Guard? I’m glad you were able to visit the campus. It’s beautiful and filled with pride, isn’t it? And so much history – what a great collection of US naval history. I’ve been there so much lately, when I go back to Annapolis in November, I’m going to skip the Academy and see other stuff, ha ha!

      1. We really liked the town as well as the campus. Tony had an interesting career at Annapolis. He went there because it increased his chances of flying. He was doing quite well up until his senior year, when he made the mistake of inviting a young woman up to his room and got kicked out. (The captain of the football team the next year did the same thing and avoided the same penalty. What a surprise. Tony was only captain of the pistol team.) Anyway, Tony went out, spent a year on a ship, and was allowed to graduate. He diced to go Marines since it more or less guaranteed him the opportunity to fly. He joined the Coast Guard after three tours of Duty in Iraq and figured that was enough. 🙂 –Curt

      2. Oh rules go out the window if the football game might be in jeopardy. That is obnoxious. Well, whatever. I would have invited a woman (or man) into my room too – that’s pretty much how I rolled when I was in my twenties! haha. I am sorry he had to serve in Iraq as so many of our young people have done. War is a part of life I wish no one had to see or participate in.

      3. Laughing. Yeah my 20s may have been like that as well except I was married. 🙂 I’m particularly allergic to wars with minimal justification. There have to be better ways to solve our differences. –Curt

    2. Oh, and the info about Tecumseh I found later. I know what Tecumseh looks like and the bust was unfamiliar, so I looked it up and sure enough, it’s not Tecumseh. The whole back story is so interesting. The bronze statue is actually a replacement for the original wooden figurehead, which was getting too damaged to keep. However, the midshipmen (like many Navy people) were superstitious and believed that the old figurehead was God of 2.0 – meaning he helped them keep their grades up. So the wooden brain and heart of the old statue is supposedly inside the bronze statue.

      1. I should know you’d be an expert on all things Native American, Crystal. 🙂 I always found studying was more valuable than talismans, but I guess having backup doesn’t hurt.

    1. Exactly right! I was thinking about that too! At least while using Zoom I could still let them see my face. The tour was revealing and I’m glad I joined. My friend Vicki (in the pic) signed me up because that had to be done while I was still in Italy. So thoughtful ❤

  3. Wow! That was a lot to take in and comment on. Primarily I fully understand about being around those who are mask-less if you don’t know their vaccination status. It would make it hard to teach a class and then worry if you were going to become ill because so many chose to put you in harms way. I find it almost impossible to breathe if I have a mask on but do it anyway. I’m glad you didn’t catch anything there. Keep being as careful as you can without being fearful I think the fear contributes to lack of immunity. You will be heading back out the same time we will be. House should close on Nov 17 or sooner. Lots of hugs. M

    1. I completely agree with you that fear reduces the body’s ability to take care of itself. Fear, worry, sleepiness, all the things that take up energy take away from the body’s ability to do its job well. I have no scientific paper to back up my opinion on this, but it seems intuitive.

      Ok then! You’ve got a buyer for the house. I definitely need to come over and find out what’s going on. 🙂 fingers crossed that the close happens on November 17 and that everything falls into place.

      1. Just trying to finish the packing and shuffling to storage but my back went out Sunday. Getting better though. I hope it closes early so we can get through the passes without a snow storm. I’ll be here most of the time. Doing another drop off at the thrift store and getting a few errands run this weekend. I fade after a few.

  4. The US Naval Academy looks stunning! The impressive architecture, the history, the top notch facilities, one must be really proud to get admitted here. Can Non-US citizens visit this place? Because I would love to do that one day.

    1. Oh yes! The elite military academies in the US are “showcase” facilities. They want people to come tour, because it’s good advertisement. I double-checked and non US citizens need to present a valid passport. The Naval Academy is in Annapolis. The Air Force Academy is in Colorado Springs (also beautiful, I was stationed there when I was in the Air Force). West Point in New York is for the Army. Anyway, all of these encourage tourism and they are all kept beautiful at all times of year and offer tours. I think the people who are admitted are VERY proud and the competition is significant. Once they graduate it’s usually with a fast track to an important position in the military. I hope you get a chance to tour the Annapolis campus. It’s worth the time, and the city is small but lovely and historical.

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