In a week filled with structure, a little chaos can go a long way.
More than 900 Texas A&M University incoming Corps of Cadets "fish" took a break from the rigorous Freshman Orientation Week schedule Wednesday night for the Corps' annual water fight at Spence Park. Freshmen and upperclassmen cadets charged at each other with water-filled buckets, dunked summer staff members into troughs and converted the center of the park into a swamp over the course of an hour.
The water fight provided some much-needed relief for students such as Esteban Armenta, who moved to campus Aug. 19 from Austin with his fellow freshmen to kick off orientation week. Armenta said the week has been an invaluable team-building experience after being broken down as individuals through training and built back up as equals.
"It's been a lot of yelling. It's been discipline. It's been this 'stop all your normal life' stuff, but we have fun right now and let it out on the upperclassmen."
After move-in last Wednesday, days for the incoming freshmen have consisted of physical training, room set-up and buzzed military-style haircuts. Starting Monday, freshmen underwent a series of training sessions that included academics, discipline, policies and character expectations.
Juan Rojas left his home in Dallas to join the Corps and pursue a military career, and so far he has embraced the intensive schedule.
"I like the struggle," Rojas said.
Wednesday night was the first opportunity for freshmen to let loose before they get their khaki uniforms, take campus tours on Friday and get into first formation at Fish Review on Saturday.
Corps Commander Alyssa Michalke said freshmen made the most of their break by dunking her and one of the many student summer staff members as many times as they could. She said the water fight gave her a shot of nostalgia back to the training sessions she underwent as a freshman, dreaming of earning her way into a leadership role.
"It's surreal to look back at those guys thinking that could be me in three years," said Michalke, who became the Corps' first woman commander in the organization's history in February. "Knowing one of them could fill my shoes in three years and I will be writing a letter congratulating them, it's exhilarating and surreal."
Michalke said despite the short-lived unruliness Wednesday, this year's class has already successfully absorbed a large amount of information.
"This week and a half isn't comparable to the rest of the year. They're learning about how far they can push themselves," Michalke said. "To be a good leader, you have to be a good follower."
Corps Commandant Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez said up to 3,000 family members of the freshmen are expected to turn out at Simpson Drill Field on Saturday morning, capping off one of his favorite times of the year.
Ramirez said the estimated 914 freshmen in this year's class is the largest he has seen since taking the helm as commandant in 2010.
By the time they take formation for the first time, he said they will have learned an important lesson that he teaches every year to each incoming class at the onset of Freshman Orientation Week.
"The best things worth valuing are the ones you have to work for," Ramirez said. "Everything you get at Texas A&M, you earn. That's what life is all about and that is what the Corps experience will be like."