There is one experience at the core of every military career, and it is that first day — even that first hour and minute — when your civilian life crashes to an end as you run straight into the reality of basic, Day-1 military training.

It’s loud, fast and bewildering, as it has been for generations before you and everyone who has come since. It’s also, when viewed from calmer later days, hilarious to watch others suffer through.

Two military academies held that day Wednesday for their newest recruits, an annual tradition known at both the U.S. Naval Academy and Air Force Academy as “I-Day” — though perhaps predictably for the rival campuses, USNA’s “I” stands for “Induction,” while the USAFA calls it “In-processing.” The U.S. Military Academy at West Point holds “R-Day” — for “Reception” — July 1, the same day as the Coast Guard Academy’s “Day One.” The Merchant Marine Academy’s “Zero Day” is July 5.

An incoming Air Force Academy cadet on I-Day. Trevor Cokley

The admissions department of both schools released images and videos of the intake day which will look familiar to any veteran of military basic training: teenagers in civilian clothes being hounded, yelled at and pursued by yelling instructors.

They look scared. They look shook-up. They look just like everybody else who’s been in the same spot.

Initial training of students at military academies runs for close to two months, with rituals and routines that any veteran of any boot camp would recognize — shaved heads, marching, standing at attention, group fitness, learning rules and never, ever getting anything right. Unlike the campaign-hatted training NCOs who oversee enlisted training, academy students are trained mostly by upperclassmen at the school.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 27, 2024) U.S. Naval Academy midshipman candidates, or plebes, of the class of 2028 receive instruction from detailers during I-Day which marks the beginning of a demanding six-week indoctrination period called Plebe Summer that is intended to transition the candidates from civilian to military life. As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. (U.S. Navy photo by Stacy Godfrey) (This photo has been altered for security purposes by blurring out identification numbers.)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 27, 2024) U.S. Naval Academy midshipman candidates, or plebes, of the class of 2028 receive instruction from detailers during I-Day which marks the U.S. Navy photo by Stacy Godfrey Stacy Godfrey

However, students at the Air Force Academy and West Point do get a taste of more traditional boot camp. Both the Army and Air Force keep a small cadre of fully-qualified drill sergeants — known as Military Training Instructors, or MTIs, in the Air Force — to oversee the new recruits and other military-specific training. The USNA has Marine drill instructors on campus who focus on the quarter of each class that commission into the Marines, a choice made as upperclassmen.

Click here for more pictures of future officers getting yelled at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy, also known as Annapolis.

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