New Cadets Take Their Place At Norwich

08/30/12 12:50PM By Steve Zind
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Norwich University/Jordan Silverman

Not many colleges have their own seamstress, or an on-campus barber shop. 

In fact, in Vermont, those features are probably unique to Norwich University.  They're busy places as the new school year gets underway on the military college's Northfield campus.

To be a rook is to be a bottom-of-the-pecking-order life form. 

Before they can become full-fledged cadets at Norwich, they have to endure a life of few privileges and many rules.   

Every slip up triggers a verbal barrage.  Forget to address your staff sergeant properly?  Be prepared for a dose of his tender mercies.

"Staff Sergeant, my roommate is at soccer practice."

"Staff Sergeant?  I don't have a name anymore?"

Soon after they arrive on campus, rooks make two campus stops central to their transformation. One is the uniform store.

"Ok you can pick up your things there and get your card, you can go upstairs and they'll fit you to your tunic and your trousers."

If you want to look for a silver lining to rook life, consider this:  Rooks don't have to worry about what to wear.  It's all been chosen for them. 

This year's fall fashion line includes 3 pairs of pants, 3 white shirts, a tunic, a jacket, raincoat, leather gloves and an assortment of hats. 

"Try one pair on.  We're going to put it up and then come out."

Every rook is fitted for his or her uniform, and then the school seamstress oversees the adjustments.    

Norwich University/Jordan Silverman
A rook is fitted at the university's uniform store
Norwich senior Dustin Shimkus is the cadet regimental commander.  Shimkus says his rook days are a blur to him now, but he can remember this moment.

"That's when it felt real.  Because when you come here you see the cadets in their uniforms and dressed up and that's the image you have of them.  So when you actually put on a uniform, that's when it hits you it's a real experience and you've actually turned into a cadet.  It's a feeling of accomplishment, even though you haven't accomplished much."

The (older?) cadets do have some input into what constitutes the standard uniform.  Emily Baugus, a lieutenant colonel in the corps, chairs the student uniform committee. 

Baugus says the changes the committee comes up with from year to year have to be approved by the school's administration, but cadets do have a voice in the look and practicality of what they must wear.

"We're the ones who wear the uniform.  We're the one working out in it. We're the ones crawling through the mud in it."

One more stop on campus completes the transition from civilian to rook.    

Madonna Commo has been giving cadets the Marine buzz cut called the high and tight for 28 years.

"It's actually a nice looking haircut. I think a lot of places just take one length and they do it all the way around.  We actually do a fade and the whole 9 years wit the high and tight, so it's a nice looking haircut, I think."

Commo says women rooks have more choice than the men.  If they have their hair short, they have to keep it that way.  Long hair is ok, as long as it's worn up.

"We trim their ends because it really wears their hair out putting it up in a bun the way they do." 

Commo says giving the same haircut about 3,000 times a month doesn't get old because every head is different. 

And physical characteristics are about all that distinguish one rook from another once their visits to the uniform store and the barbershop are complete.

"Next!  Guys, let's go!"

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