From Khaki to Blueshirt
One officer's journey back to the his roots
June was a bittersweet two-year anniversary for me. After spending 11 years as a commissioned naval officer, I found out I was no longer going to be Lt. Noble.
My career has definitely taken a long and winding road. I first enlisted Sept. 1, 1994 as an undesignated seaman and struck for photographer's mate (PH) while assigned to USS Denver (LPD 9). As a PH2 aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), I was selected for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program and received a Navy ROTC scholarship in 1999. I earned a commission at the University of Southern California, and left for flight school in 2004 as a newly minted ensign and student naval aviator with five years of active duty enlisted time.
During Advanced Flight School (for the P-3 pipeline), the Navy was making drastic cutbacks in aviation and offered hundreds of us the opportunity to go home with no obligation, transfer to another community, or stay in the aviation pipeline and take the chance against arbitrary cuts. I knew right away that I wanted to go into the intelligence community, and a year later, graduated from the Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course as a lieutenant junior grade.
I served as the intelligence division officer aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), intelligence watch officer at U.S. 3rd Fleet, and the intelligence department head at Coastal Riverine Squadron Two.
One of the worst days of my 17-year career was the day I saw the 2013 O-4 promotion list, and my name was not on it. It was almost as bad in 2014, when my detailer called me to tell me that I had been passed over again. He then mentioned a program that would allow me to revert to my previous rank plus one (E-6) in order to reach 20 years and retire.
I had never even considered failure to select for Lt. Cmdr. a possibility. I thought I did it right; challenging operational commands, deployed as an individual augmentee, hard work, and the desire to serve. Looking back, I know I could have done things differently as a junior officer to be more competitive, but those changes go against my character.
It took a long time to decide on this choice, and I looked into every possible alternative. I had a couple of civilian job offers making about the same as I had been earning. But I was not ready to say "fair winds" to my naval career. I still like what I do and think I have something left to give to the Sailors I get to work with.
I had several months as a lieutenant. to come to terms with my change in circumstances, and staying navy was the only option that made sense for my family.
Even a year after reverting, I sometimes still fight against a feeling of failure. But then again, I am lucky: I was able to stay in. I know a lot of people that were passed over and let go - at least I had an option. Now, just like every other 1st class, I am motivated to make chief and put on khaki (once again). That will make for an even more interesting tale; going from blueshirt to khaki ... twice.
I find that the hardest habit to break is not answering the phone, "Lt. Noble." I have to consciously think about my rate every time a phone rings and each time I sign an email.
However hard it has been for me, it has been just as hard for my wife, who has supported me through so much over our 13 years together. There is a reason family members are thanked when a service member retires, they have all been asked to sacrifice for what we do out here. I am grateful to have been able to rely on her during a rough few years.
One silver lining: I now feel like I have the time to pursue my master's degree. I could never balance my job requirements as an officer, so that school would not take away from the limited time I had with my family.
Interacting with any superior is a lot easier now than the first time I was enlisted. I have come to understand that we are all just people doing a job and in terms of respect, you mostly get back what you give to others, mostly.