A five-day seminar last summer is what led Riverside twins firmly in the direction of accepting bids at the United States Naval Academy, a challenge that now begins with a grueling seven-week training course this summer.
Jane and Susan Wissmann will be the first twins from the Greenwich area to attend in the academy’s 166-year history.
After beginning their college search during their junior year at Greenwich High School, the twins said they were immediately drawn to a military education, as well as the disciplined and regimented life of midshipmen.
“We both fell in love with the academy and the lifestyle it had to offer,” Susan said. “It was so different from anything we’d done before.”
The twins, who studied primarily math and science at GHS, had Navy as their first-choice school after being accepted with a nomination from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Although no immediate relatives were in the military, the twins point to their grandfather, who served as a naval officer in the Gulf of Tonkin between the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as a cousin who recently became an officer in the Marine Corps, as familial influences.
The pair’s journey began the summer after their junior year, when they attended the academy’s five-day summer seminar, which gives prospective applicants a small sample of life as a midshipman.
Jim Carrier, the twins’ Blue and Gold officer, or the Navy representative meant to assist candidates through the application process, said they made their mark at the seminar.
“The academy is watching the candidates just as much as the candidates are watching the academy,” said Carrier, who noted that roughly 50 percent of students leaving the seminar apply to the academy. “The twins were incredibly viable candidates for admissions from the day they applied to the summer seminar.”
Mary Wissmann said her daughters returned from the seminar “pretty gung ho” about attending Navy.She was repeatedly surprised by their willingness to continue with the rigorous application process, which requires a Congressional nomination in addition to a standard college application.
“There were so many deadlines where I thought the answer would be `no,’ ” Wissmann said. “But we were always excited when they got over each hurdle, and when they got in I was like, `Wow, they really want to do this.’ “
Although she was surprised by her daughters’ enthusiasm, Wissmann said her main focus was to ensure that they were not making such a hefty decision without serious consideration. However, she said she is convinced they have thought about their choices and that it is now her job to support them.
“We didn’t want them to jump into anything,” Wissmann said. “But now, we just need to be behind them and support them.”
At a time of year when many of their peers are sleeping in or working in an office, the twins are now taking part in Navy’s infamous “plebe summer,” a seven-week training course for incoming midshipmen that Carrier calls “boot camp for officer trainees.” They left Greenwich to take part in the course last week.
The summer will include early morning training sessions, marching drills and weapons instruction, all of which will help prepare the twins for day-to-day life as Navy students. According to the USNA Public Relations Office, each plebe will complete more than 3,000 push-ups and sit-ups, and run more than 100 total miles, during the summer. Their day will begin at 5:30 a.m. and end exactly at 10 p.m.
Susan said, in order to avoid being discouraged, the twins will enter under the assumption that they are unprepared for what they will face. However, Jane insisted she and her sister have no plans of quitting.
“I told my parents that if I call home saying I want to quit, they had better hang up or tell me to suck it up,” Jane said.
The pair also insisted that they are not overly worried about breaking into an environment that has for decades been almost entirely the province of men, pointing to their coursework in math and engineering, which they say are also predominantly male.
Despite the obstacles they will face at Navy, both Susan and Jane said they are dedicated to finishing all four years at the academy, although they acknowledge that they will often feel overwhelmed.
“Everyone has that day where they break down and want to leave,” Jane said. “But I don’t want to leave.”
Christopher Meyer is a special correspondent for Greenwich Time.