When were you drafted or when did you enlist?
I enlisted in the World’s Finest Navy on August 5th, 2001, I joined a peacetime military, but shortly after joining the Navy, while I was in Basic Training in Great Lakes, IL the events of September 11th, 2001 unfolded causing the remainder of my military service to be during a time of war.
Why did you choose your branch of service?
I grew up in the small town of Carver, Massachusetts and moved to Orlando, FL my senior year in high school – I enlisted in the US Navy not long after graduating high school. Growing up, my grandparents used to take my younger brother and I to visit the oldest war ship in the US Navy, the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor, as well as ships from WWII at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts. As a kid, I was in awe of these ships and of the stories of the folks who served aboard them, this, combined with the stories of my grandfather who served in Europe during WWII, always gave me the sense I would serve in the military. I think one of my biggest influences for choosing the Navy was being inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy, also from Massachusetts, when he said “I can imagine a no more rewarding career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: 'I served in the United States Navy.'”
What do you remember about that day?
When I made the decision to enlist, I remember feeling equal parts excitement and uncertainty as I embarked on a new journey.
Can you describe a happy moment from your time in the service?
My happiest memories are of those I served alongside and to this day, when I reflect back on my military service, I get the biggest smile on my face when thinking about the people I had the honor to serve alongside. You experience a lot of life quickly and often at a young age in the service, but you do so alongside some of the finest women and men our country has to offer.
Did your military experience inform the way you think about war or the military in general?
I think veterans have a unique understanding of the true cost of war and in that way, have the opportunity to offer society stronger convictions for peace.
As far as my thinking of those in the military, prior to serving I think I was under the impression that because the military was a hierarchical organization that gives and receives orders, that meant those serving in uniform lack creativity. After serving myself, I know the opposite to be true – during my time in uniform I served alongside a higher concentration of creative problem solvers than in nearly any other industry that I have experienced to date in my career.
Who was your best friend in the military during your time at war? Do you still keep in touch with them today?
My two best buddies from my time in the Navy were Mike Keppler and Chad Ison. Of the three of us, I got out first followed by Mike and just a few months later by Chad when he returned home from his deployment to Afghanistan. Along with my brother, also a Navy veteran, me, Mike and Chad all rented a house together for our first couple of years out of the military while we worked various jobs and attended classes the local community college. I owe a lot of my success in my post-military transition to the three of them and their friendship. My brother became a firefighter, Mike went to the University of Central Florida and has a great career in IT, and Chad and I went on to Florida State University and after graduation, Chad Commissioned back into the Navy and is still serving on active duty. We all stay in touch – were in each other’s weddings, and I’m even the godfather to Mike’s second son. As Mike, Chad and I have become husbands and now fathers, we have been there for each other – I am grateful for the bond we all share.
What were the first few months out of the service like?
When I first got out, things were very much in flux as I moved right back in with my parents for the first couple of months while looking for a place of my own. I got a job fairly quickly at Northrup Grumman and was lucky to work for and alongside a handful of veterans. One of whom was a retired Navy Chief and Submariner named Brian Bevins. Brian took me under his wing and made sure I got enrolled in the local community college – all of this happened in the first 6-months of my separation from the Navy.
Do you have advice for those transitioning out of the military?
Networking felt like a dirty word to me when I first got out of the military – at the time, my perception was that networking was non-merit based. So, my best advice to those transitioning out of the military is to embrace the idea of networking through the acknowledgement that the act of networking isn’t so much about what you can get from others, but rather what you can help others achieve through who you know.
If you hadn’t gone into the service, what do you imagine your career life would have been? Did you explore a different career after service?
I explored a lot of things post-military form defense contracting, to entrepreneurship, to the front office of a Major League Baseball team, to being a full-time student, to volunteer work, to a higher education research institute – nothing that I “tried on” after leaving the Navy really ever “stuck” longer than 3 ½ years and each of those roles had little to do with what I did in the Navy. But through what I learned via my experiences in the Navy, I found success in each of those rolls after my service in the Navy ended. I am glad I got to try multiple things as I transitioned from the decision I made to enlist in the Navy when I was 18years old. Everything in my past careers and education post-Navy has lead me to my dream job at a veteran nonprofit serving veterans in higher education.