My introduction to college life was far from what you could call typical. While most of my friends back home were enjoying the last few weeks of summer, I was being marched around a still mostly uninhabited campus, getting yelled at for the most seemingly pointless actions, waking up to the sound of yelling and pounding, and trying to stay locked on all day.
While most college freshmen were meeting their new peers and playing all kinds of “getting-to-know-you” games, I had already gained new best friends in the course of a couple weeks. While college students everywhere were decorating their new dorm room and stocking up on Ramen, I was dusting in places I never would have thought about and perfecting my hospital corners. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start at the beginning.
I was jolted out of a deep sleep by people yelling at us to get up and out on the bulkhead. I flew out of my rack and onto the deck where my shoes were. Having had a genius moment the night before, I had slept in my PT gear (sweatshirt and sweatpants), so all I had to do in the morning was put on my shoes. I ran out of my room and onto the bulkhead, where I stood in the proper position of attention, staring straight ahead. It was here, with my heels and head pressed against the bulkhead and feet at a 45° angle, that I tried to remember why I was there.
At Maine Maritime Academy, students enrolled in the unlimited license programs must be members of the Regiment; and to be in the Regiment, you must go through a week of indoctrination and training known as RPT (Regimental Preparatory Training). During this time you are referred to as a midshipman under guidance, or more affectionately, a MUG. Our midshipman training officers (MTOs) are upperclassmen who are chosen to be responsible for transforming us from average lazy teenagers into honorable midshipmen. No small task.
Our days during RPT consisted of early morning not-so-gentle wake up calls, followed by physical training, then breakfast. For the rest of the day our MTOs would drill us, teach us ship and regiment knowledge, and conduct character and team-building exercises. We were to remain “locked on” at all times — no laughing, smiling or talking unless authorized — something I found to be extremely difficult at times. Our MTOs would sense this, and sometimes try and get you to laugh, just so you had to work that much harder to stay locked on.
Usually meals are my favorite time of the day; but during RPT, they were only slightly better than the rest of the day. As we waited in line to fill our plates, we were told to study our Maine Brace, or our book full of knowledge we were to learn. Whenever we studied our Maine Brace, we were to hold it directly in front of our face with our arms parallel to the deck. We quickly learned that for all meals, we had to use our peripheral vision for everything, as we had to remain looking straight ahead at all times. “Oil spills” and “lost cargo” calls were frequent during the early stages of eating without looking.
The days of RPT seemed to go on forever, but the week itself flew by. We concluded our training with the customary “Ship Jump.” Every freshman, including non-regimental ones, jumps off the stern of our training ship State of Maine to kick off the school year. Even with RPT and Ship Jump done, our time as MUGs was not over. After RPT comes a period of six weeks called MUG Month. This was also the start of the academic year. MUG Month is really just a longer, easier version of RPT.
It is easy to pick out a MUG during those six weeks. For one, we had to wear our MUG blues, a uniform consisting of a blue work shirt and pants and the traditional sailor hat known as a Dixie cup, while the rest of the Regiment wore their khakis. MUGs are also required to travel in “MUG buses,” which are groups of two to eight MUGs walking in formation and in step. If you are not in a MUG bus, you are required to run. This becomes rather unfortunate if you have class down at the waterfront and then have to go anywhere else.
As MUGs, we were constantly working on the appearance of our rooms and ourselves. From the time we got up in the morning — usually between 0430 and 0530 — until the time we went to sleep, our uniforms and rooms had to be in inspection-ready condition. This meant belt buckles and shoes shining, and shirt and pants clean and ironed with sharp creases. With the demands of keeping the room squared away and dusted, with racks tightly made, MUG life often felt like a full-time job on its own. Before long, however, the six weeks were over, and we were officially inducted into the Regiment as 4/C midshipmen.
Even though much of RPT and MUG Month was not exactly what any of us would refer to as fun, there were instances when we had good times. On the last night of MUG Month, some companies went out on a “spirit mission.” We donned dark clothing and snuck around the whole town of Castine, Maine, putting up company flags to display our pride. Not only was it a morale builder for the company, especially those who participated, it also brought us closer together as we realized what we all had accomplished by this point in our lives.
What most of us MUGs, now recently 4/C midshipmen, have come to realize since the conclusion of MUG Month is that through all the seemingly silly rules and customs that we were forced to follow, we became so much better for it. There was a purpose behind everything that our MTOs made us do, from MUG buses to room inspections.
In less than six weeks I have made more lasting bonds than I could have ever hoped for. Ever hear the phrase misery breeds camaraderie? Well it’s absolutely true. Sure life was miserable at times, but it was for all of us and we learned to come together and make the best of it. Everyone here understands what their buddy next to them is going through, and that creates an instant bond. We help each other out and can always count on that being a two-way street.
I may have to wake up at 0530 and wear a uniform at all times, but I have the best MUG-mates in the world. I am already a more confident, self-sufficient and accountable individual — all due to the training I received in the Regiment. It may be a MUG life, but it’s a good life.
Ally Fuehrer is a first-year student at Maine Maritime studying Marine Transportation Operations. Her desire to work in the industry comes from her love of the sea and of her grandfather, a graduate of Massachusetts Maritime and longtime marine engineer and fisherman.