I left Iowa to join the U.S. Navy in 1987 as a simple 18-year-old farm boy. My recruiter convinced me that, with my grades and test scores, I was special. He regaled me with stories about how the Navy would train me to do amazing things in nuclear power, and if I did well, they would even send me to college. I bought it hook, line and sinker, and asked, “Where do I sign?”
I signed a six-year enlistment to serve as a nuclear electronics technician. A few months later, I arrived at boot camp believing that I must be part of a very small and elite group of humans. That first morning during roll call, with a drill instructor yelling instructions and creating general chaos in the barracks at 0500, we were required to shout our names and enlistment ratings. Of the 100 sailors in my company, over half of them also shouted out that they were in the nuclear field. It was in that moment that I had an epiphany: “Hey, I am not so special after all.”
While it is true that my recruiter may have oversold the program, he did not lie to me. Everything he told me did come true. The Navy gave me outstanding training that I use to this day. I excelled in the program, and was selected for an enlisted commissioning program. The Navy allowed me to attend Auburn University and gave me three years to get my Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering — no small feat, as Tracy and I were a young couple and had our first two children, Nick and Chad, during those three years. I completed my degree in three years and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Once I completed training, I was assigned as a junior officer on the USS Phoenix, a fast attack submarine out of Norfolk, Virginia.
After four years at sea, I was ready for shore duty and had high expectations of what my assignment would be. You see, I believed that, based on all the awards I had received and a string of outstanding performance reviews, that I “deserved” the best shore duty possible. In every career path, there are jobs more likely to get you promoted, and they are highly competitive. I believed that I had done what was required to get one of those jobs, and initially, I did. I was selected to be a flag lieutenant for a two-star admiral. However, here the story takes an interesting turn. I was deployed, and due to “needs of the Navy,” our submarine got detained on station and could not return home as scheduled. I learned quickly that admirals don’t wait on lieutenants, and my job was given to someone else. When I got back to homeport, all the so-called good jobs were gone, and I was given orders to Norwich University in Vermont and directed to report to U.S. Marine Corps Col. Rob Beaudoin.
I was disappointed and believed that this was a disastrous turn of events — a real career-ender for a nuclear power guy. I moved my family to Vermont, added a daughter (Madeline), and submitted my resignation letter with a plan of finishing my two years and leaving the Navy. In my mind, they clearly didn’t value my hard work and contributions over the last four years. I fell into the trap of believing that I deserved something better, and that it wasn’t fair that I had not received it. I lived in this state of mind for two years and allowed bitterness and disgruntlement to grow on the inside, but worked harder than ever and presented the most positive attitude on the outside.
As my resignation date approached, Col. Beaudoin called me into his office and asked me a simple question: “Why is a bright, young officer like you with such a bright future in the Navy getting out?” I told him my sad tale of being undervalued and unappreciated and how the Navy had done me wrong. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I knew better than to expect sympathy from a hardcore Marine Corps infantry colonel. His response changed my life. He said, “Let me get this right. You left the farm a simple kid from Iowa, and the Navy gave you valuable nuclear training and a college degree, and with your submarine pay and nuclear bonus, you make more than this 30-year career Marine Corps colonel, and somehow you think the Navy has disrespected you? The way I see it, they gave you the greatest gift anyone can receive, a chance to be the best version of yourself. Why are you so worried about what everyone else is getting? Why not just be thankful for what you have received? You should be thanking the Navy.”
I left his office and pulled my resignation letter and never allowed myself to fall into that trap again. Given that I had submitted a resignation letter, my next set of orders were none too good either; weapons officer on the USS Scranton. The job I really wanted was engineering officer, since it has the highest rate of promotion. However, I followed Col. Beaudoin’s advice, gave that job everything I had and genuinely smiled every day. It resulted in a split tour; the second half of my tour I was given the privilege of serving as the engineer officer aboard Scranton. That led to a tour at Naval Reactors and ultimately led me to the office I am in today.
You have heard the phrase to make lemonade out of lemons, and I truly believe the secret is to overcome any obstacles, real or perceived, and to keep a positive attitude. Approach every day as an opportunity and a blessing, and good things will come. Spending that same day focused on how unfair life is — fixated on what you deserve but don’t have — is the fastest way to become a victim of your own mind. I had allowed myself to forget Matthew 6:25, which I learned in Sunday School: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
I arrived in Vermont believing that the best Marines were submarines, but I was lucky enough to find a Marine Corps colonel whose mentorship and leadership changed my life. I left Vermont with a whole new perspective on things and a healthy respect for Marine Corps leadership. I owe Col. Beaudoin a debt of gratitude and hope that sharing this story honors him and helps all who read it to benefit from his wisdom.