Cameron Eldridge with Chesapeake Bay in the background. (Natasha Eldridge)
On June 28, Cameron Eldridge reported to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Sir, yes, sir.
Ma’am, yes, ma’am.
He sure did.
“It was pretty abrupt,” the 19-year-old recent graduate of
Johnstown’s Roosevelt High said in a phone interview Saturday. “You walk in and the first words they tell you
are, ‘From this point forward, the first and last words out of your mouth will be sir or ma’am.’
“That first day was a long day, getting issued everything you need. After that, you get your hair cut” —
yes, a haircut as in goodbye hair, hello cue ball — “and then you go up on deck and put your stuff away and learn
how to salute. That night, you’re taking the oath and swearing in.”
In the ensuing weeks,
during what amounts to indoctrination, Eldridge settled in, making his mark by representing the two-platoon, 40-person “K”
(or “Kilo”) Company in a “Plebe Rates” competition involving material the new academy men and women
are required to memorize as part of their introduction. It covers everything from military ranks, regulations and protocol,
and qualifications of a naval officer to the most famous passage in Theodore Roosevelt’s famous 1910 “The Man
in the Arena” speech in Paris.
Conducted in a verbal, spelling-bee-type format, the competition
was intense, and Eldridge won it, essentially at least for that day placing him at the top of the 1,200-person plebe class.
Vice Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter, the academy’s superintendent, presented him with a “challenge”
coin, the only one awarded to a plebe this summer.
“I got to shake the superintendent’s
hand,” Eldridge said.
For a member of the new plebe class that hasn’t even started classes yet, that’s
a big deal.
Cameron’s parents, mother Natasha, a reading teacher in Johnstown, and father Jenness,
who commutes to an engineering company job in Longmont, were visiting him over the weekend, when the plebe finally had some
weekend free time and was allowed to use his own phone. During the family reunion, Natasha handed Cameron her phone for the
prearranged interview with me.
Cameron Eldridge about to receive the “Challenge Coin” from Vice Admiral Walter
E. “Ted” Carter, superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. (Natasha Eldridge)
miss the mountains of Colorado, but this has been a great experience,” he said.
Born in Berthoud, Cameron
moved with his family to Johnstown when he was in elementary school. By the time he was a freshman at Roosevelt, he was beginning
to explore military academy options, first zeroing in on the Air Force Academy because of its Colorado location.
really about my sophomore year, I did more research and learned more about the Naval Academy and decided that was the route
I wanted to go,” he said.
At Roosevelt, Cameron was an accomplished cross-country and track competitor
and also participated in science fair competitions. He and partners Tyler Woodbrey and Patrick James were second overall in
the Longs Peak Science and Engineering Fair, with their physics project, “Inductive Power Transfer.” They finished
behind only Rocky Mountain High’s Alyssa Keirn and her engineering project, “Solar Powered Decontaminator Design
and Testing.” That’s significant because Keirn went on finish second in the engineering category at the International
Science and Engineering Fair at Pittsburgh.
After applying for the academy, Eldridge went through the interviewing
process and became one of U.S. Rep. Ken Buck’s 2018 academy appointments. That was officially announced after Eldridge already had headed for Annapolis.
Cameron Eldridge carries the “Kilo Company” flag in a march. (Natasha Eldridge)
“Everything we’ve been doing so far is just summer training, similar to boot camp,” Eldridge
said. “Every morning, we start out at 5:30, go out and work on the field. After that, we get 15 or 20 minutes for all
four of us roommates to shower and get ready for the day and make our ‘racks.’ After that, it’s a variety
of things. We’ve (taken) classes on damage control, seamanship and navigation, and basic naval history. We’ve
done tours of the yard, learning about the place where we’re going to be spending the next four years. Sometimes we
get gray space where it’s up to our detailer’s discretion what we do, and we can either go climb ropes to get
better on the obstacle courses or end up on our faces doing pushups.
“It’s been about what
I thought. I’m glad I did my research. It’s pretty intense. But they don’t lie to you. You know what you’re
The other classes report back to the academy late this week and academic classes start
“It’s going to be good to be able to be my own person again, to walk myself to my own
classes instead of being marched there,” Eldridge said. “Most of us are excited.”
has a bunch of lightweight freshman classes scheduled in his first semester.
“Chemistry, calculus, history,”
he said. “And there are some Navy-specific classes — Learning to Lead, Naval History, Seamanship and Navigation.
Every semester you have a PE class. This semester, I’ll start out with wrestling and boxing later on, and in the spring
I’ll have swimming.”
In the Naval Academy Yard on Saturday, Cameron Eldridge is flanked by his parents, Jenness
Eldridge, left, and Natasha Eldridge. (Natasha Eldridge)
And now he at least gets to grow
his hair back out.
“They shaved our heads again three more times,” he said. “I’ve
had four haircuts. Luckily, last week was the last one.”
Two of Eldridge’s roommates are from
Texas and the third is from Ohio. I asked him if there were any advantages or disadvantages to coming from a small town.
“I think I benefited from getting to know everyone in my high school class,” he said. “It’s
kind of a similar dynamic within my platoon. All 40 of those people, I could tell you their first names and their last names
and their hometowns. Being able to bond into small groups I think is the advantage I had.”
protocol, Eldridge both opened and closed our chat with the small-print provision that anything he said represented his views
and not those of the Navy or the Naval Academy.
After we hung up, it hit me that he hadn’t once used a phrase
considered important in Annapolis, and with tongue in cheek, I pointed that out via text to his mother.
few minutes later, Natasha’s text to me read: “Cameron just said, ‘Go Navy, Beat Army!’ ”
I salute him.