DECATUR, Ala. (NNS) -- It all started at a ceremony in Okinawa, Japan, in 2008. At the time, William "Jon" Dean was an E-3 with a degree in business administration and little clue how to become an officer.
But a fire was lit when Dean watched a Chief Petty Officer who utilized the Limited Duty Officer (LDO) program gain a commission. He started his research and made a plan.
Eight years and several deployments later on Sept. 30, 2016, Dean found himself in the company of friends, family and shipmates in Decatur, Ala., ready to receive a new cover, new shoulder boards, and new collar devices. The fire never went out and the once young E-3 who put on Chief's anchor just a year ago replicated a ceremony he watched eight years prior to become the newest member of the Civil Engineer Corps.
Ensign Dean, who has served as the lead Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations Scout with Navy Recruiting District Nashville, said the moment of his commissioning was a result of dedication to a singular purpose, but done so at his pace.
"The motto I had from the beginning was that you're not always going to be the first person out of the gate. You are going to see other Sailors who are hard-charging and then burn out halfway through a deployment. I tried to be consistent and work hard and do what I was supposed to do. It paid off," Dean said.
His path, like that of the Chief who gained gain his commission in Japan, was through the LDO program. These men and women serve as technical leaders who are selected from the enlisted ranks based on merit, technical knowledge and sound leadership. They are chosen from among the ranks of E-6 to E-9 with eight to 16 years of service. They are not required to have a college degree and yet they can fill leadership and management positions to the level of Captain.
Along his journey, he was surprised by the unique satisfaction that he found in his enlisted career as a utilitiesman. In fact, before he joined the ranks of the Naval Construction Forces (NCF), more commonly called Seebees, he didn't have much desire for the line of work.
"I never had any aspirations of going into construction but that changed after I joined the Navy," he said. "Whether it was laying concrete block, drawing out blueprints or building an underground sewer branch, I never thought I would do things like that but now that is what I know I will miss. It won't quite be the same as when we were listening to music and joking with each and talking about what we were going to do when we got back from deployment."
As he looks back, he doesn't speak about awards or honors, but endurance in distant places as the things that he will carry with him. He starts smiling as he recalls getting dropped off by a Chinook helicopter in a remote outpost in Afghanistan. He details how their mission was to turn a mud-walled fort into an operational basecamp for an incoming U.S. Army Ranger platoon. His face lights up as he talks about their food drop-offs of potatoes and meat, which they cooked on ground over charcoal briquettes.
"I loved just being out there, knowing that we were supporting the war in the sense of building this outpost up for the rangers to do their mission. That is a memory I will always have," he said.
Now, his mission is different but he says his experience grants him the ability to be better as an officer and more capable as a leader.
"I think it will be rewarding and challenging. There will be long hours going forward. But the other thing I look forward to is mentoring the future officers that are coming in out of the Naval Academy or other commissioning avenues. I will try to impart the knowledge about being enlisted to them as they move throughout their career. I look forward to being the person who earns the trust of the commanding officer as a valued opinion in the wardroom because I have that enlisted experience," he said.
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