I got a thoughtful letter from a young architect a few months back, a fellow pondering a career change:
I’m sure you have received messages like this before so I will attempt to be brief, and probably fail miserably. I came across your blog a bit randomly as I searched for more information on becoming a naval aviator. I am a recent graduate from the University of Notre Dame and am currently working in Newport Beach as an architect. It has always been a passion of mine having growing up with a father in the Navy and traveling the world. There has always been a certain duality in my passions for aviation and architecture/design. The price you pay for playing with legos and going to airshows regularly as a kid. I decided against ROTC once I had enrolled partly because of my dad’s retirement from the Navy as well as the academic demands of an Architecture Major (in my time there, out of 400 or so arch majors there was one NROTC Middie). A decision I regret every now and again but I think i still benefited from focusing on architecture. Now I find myself at a crossroad where I do enjoy the work that I do, I live in a great place and life is good. But there is something inherent in me that drives me to pursue service in the Navy, I want to do it and want to serve. I know well enough what it is like to live in a Navy family, the demands and sacrifices having been born into it. I am fit, young (23), and willing to dedicate my life to this because I believe that if I were to serve there is nothing saying that I can’t return back to a profession that I enjoy practicing in architecture. The benefit of my institution, and there is always grad school. I am just looking to get everything that I can out of life and the things I want to achieve: adventure, knowledge, honor and respect. I am in the process of trying to decide whether to do OCS in the next 18 months and I was hoping to get a better idea of what you went through leading up to your commissioning and how you came to the conclusion that you wanted to become a pilot. Also if you have any suggestions as to where I can gain more information, insight, or text, or if I should just visit a recruiter. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Look forward to hearing from you.
An earnest question deserves an honest reply:
The two best pieces of advice I ever got were to “know yourself” and “follow your heart.” The follow up bit was that they came in sequential order – you have to understand your motivations before you take a big step.
I grew up in a naval family, third generation, and the sea has always called to me. I loved the connectedness of it, always being part of a team, sometimes getting to be the coach/captain. Being part of something important, something bigger than myself. Feeling proud of what I did. Seeing things and doing things that other people read about. If those things are missing in your life then I cannot recommend anything more heartily than the Navy and naval aviation.
If, on the other hand, you are merely feeling restless about your life – it’s not unusual at your age, by any means – then I’d give it a ponder. Sure, you can go and talk to an officer recruiter – you can find one through http://www.navy.com – but understand that it’s his job to attract and sign qualified candidates. He’s a salesman, and he’ll sell. That’s not a bad thing, you’ve just got to go into it with your eyes wide open. If he offers you a path to an aviation billet, make him show you where that’s spelled out in the contract. That sort of thing. But as I wrote recently in a different context, walk towards something, not away.
I loved flying fighters off aircraft carriers, but when I look back on it, the odds of actually getting to do that were daunting. Only one in three students got jets, and only three of 22 newly winged aviators got fighters in my class. These days your odds of getting into a fighter cockpit are better once you get jets though, since we’re necking down aircraft types on the carrier deck. And to tell you the truth you bloom where you’re planted and have fun with those you’re around. I don’t know how successful I would have been as a surface warfare officer or submariner though. But one of the good things about Navy (as opposed to Air Force) is that you can join and – even if you don’t get a flying spot – have a great career in another warfighting branch like surface or subs.
If you decide to join – and if we decide to take you – OCS will swiftly prepare you to be a junior officer, but you will have to keep learning at every step of the way once commissioned, like everyone else. Your training will seem to take forever, and sometimes there are fits and starts. When you get to the fleet the learning really begins, and you’ll have the chance to be a part of something very important – to your country in the macro sense, and to the people you are asked to lead in the micro. I still get letters and emails from young folks whose names I barely recalled 20 years later, who told me how important I had been in their lives. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.
If you decide it isn’t for you, you’ll owe a number of years after you get your wings – make sure the recruiter tells you, it changes – and when that’s done you’ll come out into the world with the kind of life experiences you could write a blog about. And maybe some day, someone will do you the honor of writing you a note, asking your opinion on something so crucial as their own life’s path.
Best of luck. Let me know what you decide, how it turns out.
Heard back from him this month:
It’s just over five months since I last wrote you. I’m sure that in the grand scheme of things this falls into the category of minutiae for you considering what you have going on in your life, but I had emailed you in late October as I was considering becoming an Officer in the Navy, more specifically a Naval Aviator. In the past several months I have done a great deal of reflecting on the decision and what it means to me as a career option. I have done as much research as possible on the matter considering it is a decision that has the possibility to affect the next ten to twenty years of my life. I have read up on message boards such as airwarriors.com and USNavyOCS.com as much as possible, received a great deal of information from my officer recruiter, not to mention checking up on your blog almost daily, well done by the way, what you have written gives such a vivid description of the experiences of a pilot and the career of an Officer. As much as these other resources are helpful you have actually given insight into the life beyond IFS, API, Flight School, FRS, etc. The various websites I have searched for information and the increasingly large stack of books on the matter has helped me greater understand the life and career. It has made me question my decision: do I have the character to be part of this? do I have the moral conviction and dedication? how will I contribute to the Navy? will I thrive and be an asset to the Navy?
Going through this process has strengthened my resolve and has made me more confident that I can be an asset to the Navy. On Tuesday I passed the PRT and submitted my application package for the mid-April aviation Selection Board with SNA and SNFO designators. I am very confident with the application package I submitted and am looking foward to hearing back. I wanted to thank you for your insight and your words of advice, it motivated me to take a look at why this matters to me and what it really means to seek a commission beyond the desire to want to “fly jets off carriers”. Now I wait and hope that the opportunity presents itself. I will let you know once I’ve been informed.
I think I speak for all of us around these parts when I wish him good luck. I know I speak for myself when I wish I could trade places with him.