Some say the military doesn’t offer much choice for freshmen, or “plebes” at its service academies.
That won’t necessarily be true for James Hanson, member of the just-graduated Stoughton High School Class of 2020 who’s about to leave for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
There, he and his fellow plebes will get to make a choice whenever they reach a corner as they “chop” their way around the hallways in the traditionally mandated run-step of the freshman.
“At every turn, you have to square a 90 degree turn and say either, ‘Go Navy’ or ‘Beat Army’ every time,” he said.
But Hanson, who has his eye on being a “ground Marine” working either in the infantry or artillery arm of the Corps, is looking forward to all of it, and “having some fun” with a career he’s looked forward to for most of his life.
“I didn’t want to have a desk job or 9 to 5 and come home,” he told the Hub last week. “I’ve always wanted a job where your whole life is your job, and you can travel the world and stuff, so that really interested me.”
Hanson was accepted last month to the academy — one of around 1,200 incoming freshmen selected from more than 15,000 applicants. He received a required Congressional nomination from Rep. Mark Pocan, completed a physical fitness test and medical exam, and wrote several essays to be accepted.
Growing up with a pair of uncles who attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Hanson said by his junior year of high school he knew he wanted to be an officer in one of the military branches. He just wasn’t sure which.
“I’ve always respected people who serve, I think it’s an awesome thing to do,” he said. “I love America, so I figure, give back. The Marines stood out to me the most (and) through the Naval academy, they commission Marine officers, so I looked there.”
The application process was a long one, starting in July 2019, and including a physical, SAT scores and a “bunch of recommendations and essays,” Hanson said. Now that he’s getting closer to his July 1 date to head east, he said he’s getting more and more excited.
“I got accepted in May and I feel like it’s been eight months waiting,” he said.
Once he gets there, he’ll have plenty to keep him busy for four years at the academy, he said, excitedly listing off his freshman year courses, which include general calculus, chemistry, English, seamanship and navigation, cybersecurity and oceanography.
“Then you can take languages and depending what you want to major in, you can take different leadership courses,” he said.
And of course, there will be a bit of hazing to keep the freshmen in their place — after all, these are men and women preparing to lead troops into battle. Hanson said he got a bit of a taste of what life will be like during a visit to Annapolis last October.
“The plebes got it pretty tough,” he said. “Every single morning they had to remember the meals plan and how many days until graduation, news articles and stuff like that off the top of your head. And if you don’t, you’re in trouble.”
Hanson’s plan is to graduate after four years, after which would follow eight years of service, he said, including three in the Reserves. He said he’s concentrating on joining the Marines, an elite branch that works hand in hand with the Navy on amphibious assaults.
“Marine flight or Marine ground, like infantry or artillery, sounds pretty cool,” he said. “Marines is what I’m looking forward to; just go with it every day.
“I’ve had enough quarantine, time to have fun.”
In the meantime, Hanson has often stopped by the Stoughton Area Veterans Memorial Park, just a few miles from his home. It’s a place of solitude he stops by every so often to reflect on the past, and now, on the future.
When this reporter called to talk to him, that’s where he was, walking around and reading the names.
“I was on a four-mile run and was a few miles in and I saw there was nobody there so I just stopped to look and take a break,” he told the Hub after the interview. “(Later), there was someone there who served in Vietnam so we talked for awhile, and I told him I was going to Annapolis.
“He said, ‘It’s good to know there is a new generation coming to help step up.’”