The Might of the Chain
POSTED ON: Thursday, October 24, 2019 11:01 AM by MC3 Pearce
On a late-spring morning in May of 2000, thousands of faculty, staff, family, and friends gathered at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where they would witness the beginning of a new U.S. Naval Academy tradition.
Nine hundred and thirty-five midshipmen in crisp dress uniforms waited anxiously in their seats, perfectly aligned before the graduation stage. On each side of the stage, members of the Class of 1950 gathered in groups of two, ready to greet the soon-to-be Navy and Marine Corps officers.
As each name was called, the Class of 1950 members presented graduates with engraved Ensign or 2nd Lt. collar grade insignias, bearing the inscription “’50-’00”, representing the 50-year link in the chain. This presentation of engraved golden bars instituted a long-standing tradition and became a building block of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association program called Another Link in the Chain (ALITC), which was later formally established in 2002.
ALITC aims to form bonds between midshipmen and alumni from the class which graduated 50 years prior. The program’s name was inspired by a verse from an early 20th century poem by Royal Navy Capt. Ronald Hopwood, the “Laws of the Navy” -- “On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain. Who knows when thou mayest be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain!”
Interactions between links start before Induction Day when send-off lunches are held, where plebe candidates get the chance to interact with their 50-year counterparts for the first time. This introduces the plebe candidates to the ALITC program and provides a better understanding of what life will be like at the Naval Academy. Alumni also engage with the parents of midshipmen through more than 80 parent clubs throughout the country. Attending parent club events, such as tailgates and picnics, helps alumni inform parents about the Naval Academy and their midshipman’s four-year journey.
“I was at the football game the other day, and I ran into the class of ‘63 president, who told me about attending the wedding of a 2013 graduate,” said Holly Powers, USNAAA’s associate director of class programs. “It was very touching to see the connection these two people made through the ALITC program.”
ALITC has evolved to include 21 events each year. During the annual Bonds of Gold event, the 50-year link donates their class rings to be melted down and forged into the rings of the current midshipmen. This symbolizes a physical bond between classes.
“Being so invested in us, when they have their own lives and families, I truly appreciate it and so does the class of 2020,” said Midshipman 1st Class Michael Smith, the Class of 2020 class president. “To think that one day we’ll be another link in the chain for the class of 2070 is surreal to me. We would want to be everything the Class of 1970 has been for us and more.”
Smith said he enjoyed hearing the alumni talk about their lives and where they traveled with the rings that would be passed on to his class.
“Overall it’s been amazing to have their support,” said Smith. “We can’t wait to thank them by showing them the leaders they have helped create. We’re really excited to see them on Nov. 21 for our Service Assignment Dinner. It’s going to be one of the most exciting days of our lives and having the opportunity to share that with them is truly amazing.”
Additional ALITC events include the Honor Coin Ceremony, Induction Day, Plebe Parent Weekend, Plebe Summer Reaffirmation Ceremony, Sea Trials, Herndon Climb, Youngster Luau, Commitment Dinner, Ring Dance, Battalion Receptions, Crest Presentation, Formal Parades, Service Community Assignment Night, Color Parade, Marine Corps Heritage Awards, Graduation Brief, Graduation and Commencement, Delayed Graduation, and more.
During the Honor Coin Ceremony, midshipmen take the honor oath and are presented with an honor coin, which is specially made by the 50-year link class and serves as a physical reminder of their commitment to the honor concept. During Sea Trials, alumni join the midshipmen before the sun rises to provide encouragement as the midshipmen participate in a 14-hour event testing their mental and physical endurance.
“What I have learned most from the Class of 2020 is that these young people, while much smarter than the average member of the Class of 1970, share the same motivation and dedication to the naval service that we do,” said Gary Knight, a Class of 1970 ALITC coordinator.
According to Powers, ALITC highlights part of USNA’s mission as an institution: to continue to honor the history and traditions of the Naval Academy.
“Our mids have a deep appreciation for history and tradition,” said Powers. “They also have a deep sense of respect for elders and for the accomplishments of people that came before them. ALITC helps to reinforce and deepen that connection.”
According to retired Capt. Joe Stewart, a Class of 1973 ALITC coordinator, the connection between the midshipmen and their 50-year link is a way for the alumni to emphasize the ideals that make service a unique calling, and to show the midshipmen the enduring commitment classmates make to each other over the decades.
Included in each copy of Reef Points, the official midshipman handbook issued to all plebes, is a brief history of the 50-year link and a list of major events that will transpire during their time at the Naval Academy.
The following excerpt, written by Stewart, is from Reef Points 2019-2020: “On Induction Day on June 30th, 1969, we first stood together and swore to support and defend the Constitution. We recognize no statute of limitations to this commitment. We were introduced to the ideal of ‘Non Sibi, Sed Patriae,’ (‘not for self, but for country’) and ‘73s motto is ‘Non Sibi.’ It is a way of life that brings out the finest attributes of leadership and citizenship to this day. We expect you to embrace this way of life.”
“As a mid and as an alum, whether wearing the uniform or rejoining civilian life, you’ll make a difference for the better if you maintain the ideals of the honor concept, support and defend the Constitution, and embrace “Non Sibi” as a way of life,” said Stewart. “These are lifelong commitments.”