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Students spend summer with Navy

Nicole Michels | Monday, August 27, 2012

While most students left Notre Dame thinking of lazy summer days last May, the students in the Navy ROTC battalion were preparing to learn more about what life will be like as an officer in the U.S. Navy after graduation.

Depending on class year and option, the midshipmen had different summer plans.

Rising sophomores embarked on a month-long excursion called cortramid to a naval base where they spent a week working in each community within the Navy: aviation, submarine, surface and Marine. These midshipmen are split between an east cortramid on the base in Norfolk, Va., and a west cortramid at the San Diego base.

Sophomore Kelsey Hutchinson said she spent her month in San Diego, participating in exercises meant to provide a clearer picture of the responsibilities of a Naval officer.

“While you’re at Notre Dame you don’t get that much of a taste of the particulars of life in the Navy … this gives everyone a taste of what future careers might be after graduation,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said she most enjoyed her Marine week rotation because the activities were incredibly realistic, beginning with exercises in a skeleton town using paintball bullets.

“They took us out to this place where they had built a skeleton town, gave us M-16s that had paintballs instead of bullets, and taught us how to clear a building, work as a fire team in a squad and other exercises like that,” Hutchinson said. “Then, on Friday we hiked out to this building and inside the building they had literally built Afghanistan… they even had Afghan people [inside the town] working as actors.”

Hutchinson said the exercise gave soldiers and midshipmen the chance to participate in a firefight against Afghani forces before they face actual fighting in Afghanistan.

“They sent our squad in with a mission and showed us the outline of the building before we went into the building,” Hutchinson said. “We had to talk to the townspeople, get information and then someone started shooting.”

Hutchinson said she would like to switch into the marine option, but overall she was grateful for the chance to learn more about the different communities in the Navy.

“We hadn’t even signed our contracts yet, but they went through so much to give us this training and it really was a lot of fun,” Hutchinson said. “I’m really, really grateful for all these opportunities.”

After sophomore year, Navy option midshipmen attend an enlisted cruise, while Marine option midshipmen study mountain warfare.

Junior Michael Falvey studied mountain warfare in Bridgeport, Calif.,with the other marine options, where he said he learned the general principles of mountain warfare and military survival.

“There’s a good amount of hiking because you’re up in the mountains … your daily schedule normally consists of a couple of evolutions [significant events of the day], with one big evolution each day,” Falvey said. “The evolutions range from rappelling and climbing rock faces to taking classes on survival like building a hut or purifying water.”

Falvey said he most enjoyed learning how to tie knots and snare game.

“I personally liked the skinning and cleaning small game after catching them with snares,” Falvey said. “I also enjoyed tying knots… it’s not something you’re taught, previously it was only glossed over, but once you know how to make a good knot it is an incredibly useful skill.”

Mountain warfare aims to accomplish entirely different objectives for the Marine options than the summer cruises for the rest of the midshipmen, Falvey said.

“Mountain warfare wasn’t that difficult, but its goal was to accomplish something totally different than what the Navy cruises seek to accomplish,” Falvey said. “Navy cruises are orientations to what active duty life is like in the naval fleet, while mountain warfare is more about teaching skills that can be utilized once in the Marine Corps.”

Junior Kendall Johnson, a Navy option midshipman, said she spent her enlisted cruise on board the U.S.S. Roosevelt, a destroyer based in Mayport, Fla.

“I was on my summer cruise for a month: I was in port for two weeks of that time, and then we went underway for ten days … after that we came into port in Key West, where I stayed for three days before coming straight back to school,” Johnson said.

After she arrived on the ship, Johnson said she was assigned to a running mate, an enlisted sailor that she shadowed.

“Most of the times the running mates were pretty relaxed with us and allowed us to explore the rest of the ship so that we could spend time in each department, not just the department of our running mates,” she said.

She said this freedom to explore the ship was one of her favorite parts of the trip.

“I was in the weapons department, and my guy was a CWIS technician, which means he took care of the huge guns on the front and back of the destroyer that look like R2-D2,” Johnson said. “We did a lot of maintenance, but when we actually got to shoot them it was fun.”

Johnson said the most valuable learning experience was realizing just how hard the enlisted sailors work.

“Spending time with the enlisted people was so eye-opening; it was incredible to see the amount of work that they put in and the sacrifices that they make,” Johnson said. “They make it through it all without having a bad attitude … you can’t understand what they do unless you actually get in there, get your hands dirty and do it with them.”

After junior year, Navy options spend time on an officer cruise, where midshipmen shadow an officer and learn his or her daily duties. Marine options attend Officer Candidate School, where candidates are screened to see if they possess the ability to be an officer in the Marine Corps.

Senior Quinn Kilpatrick, a Navy option, said he was based in Pearl Harbor for his officer cruise, which he spent shadowing the officer in charge of the combat systems and electronics on the U.S.S. Chafee.

“The guy that I shadowed was a really good guy, he was just about to leave the ship so he was turning over duties to his replacement and got to spend a little extra time taking me around the ship,” Kilpatrick said. “Being with him was definitely the highlight, he was very good at getting me engaged in various activities around the ship.”

These activities spanned a wide range, Kilpatrick said.

“I got to drive the ship when they were refueling it, toured the helicopter hangar and got involved with the teams that board the pirate ships for drills,” Kilpatrick said.

Kilpatrick said one of the most interesting parts of his time on the USS Chafee was being in Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC, an event planned by the US Navy that brings together forty foreign allies of the U.S. Navy to participate in “naval war games” every two years.

“It’s about making sure we are still able to work together if the situation arose where that would be necessary,” Kilpatrick said. “It was surprising, I didn’t know we’d get a chance to participate … meeting foreign navies, touring other ships and participating in exercises was pretty cool.”

Kilpatrick said even though he would like to go into explosive ordinance disposal or aviation, he enjoyed experiencing a different part of the Navy.

“It was good training for learning how to work with enlisted people and experiencing the life of an officer,” Kilpatrick said.

Contact Nicole Michels at