main story image for facebook sharing

Around The Fleet

Working from Home

How one Sailor serves her country from her hometown

The author Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can't go home again, meaning home is a fixed place in time ... a memory, an ideal.

While that may be true in an abstract sense, Petty Officer 1st Class Aubrie Blair found a way to go home again, and the Navy supported it, literally. Blair now recruits out of her hometown.

For Blair, home is Grand Junction, Colo., a city of approximately 58,000 people on the Colorado Western Slope.

"It's not so big that it's annoying," she said. "It's not like Denver where there's all kinds of people, but it's not so small that you don't have a movie theater."

Set against the backdrop of a picturesque landscape of cliffs and limestone mesas, Grand Junction is a paradise for anyone who loves wide open spaces and the outdoorsman's lifestyle, but it's about as far away from any ocean as a Sailor could possibly be.

Blair grew up in Junction, (as the locals call it,) graduated from high school there and briefly went to college, but like many 19 year olds she wanted to experience more than her hometown could offer. She wanted to travel and to experience new, exciting things. That's what ultimately led her to see Junction's Navy recruiter, and in 2007 she found herself bound for Naval Station Great Lakes to become a Sailor.

After recruit training and A-school to learn her aviation machinist's mate rating, Blair was assigned to VAQ-137 "the Rooks," an EA-6B Prowler squadron at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash. She deployed with the squadron aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in 2011 supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as conducting anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

As her tour with the squadron came to a close, Blair had a choice to make - leave the Navy or find a way get shore duty as close to Junction as possible.

"It was recruiting in Denver or I was getting out," she said. "I had just done the ship thing and it was kind of rough."

With the help of her master chief, she was able to get recruiting duty not just in Denver, but at Navy Recruiting Station Grand Junction. As one of three Sailors at the station, (not to mention one of three Sailors in the whole town,) she's found that her hometown roots have been a tremendous benefit in finding future Sailors.

"I came back and almost all my teachers are the same. My orchestra teacher is the same. My principal is still the same, nothing's really changed," Blair said. "So it was easy to come back and show kids how much more there is [to life] than this little town, as opposed to just staying here and going to college and getting a job."
Navy Photo

AD1 Blair talks to a parent at a high school baseball game.

Much of the job of recruiting revolves around establishing strong relationships not only with potential future Sailors, but also with members of the local community. People such as school teachers and principals can be extremely helpful to recruiters in spreading the word about the breadth of opportunities that exist in the Navy. For Blair, she said walking into her high school and talking to her principal and teachers as a recruiter was very natural, and her principal said she's been an extremely positive influence on students.

"We need to find ways to get her into more classes and not just with JROTC," said Jody Diers, the principal at Central High School. "They wear the Navy uniform to recruit for the Navy, but even if they have an impact on the kid who can't decide, and the student chooses a different branch, it's still amazing to hear their stories and to talk to them honestly about where they're going and where they came from, and what's possible for our kids. I'll take her in any class any time."

That's not to say that recruiting is easy. Just because someone is interested in the Navy, doesn't mean they qualify to serve. Oftentimes, Blair and other recruiters find themselves working with a prospect for months to get them to join, only to find out they have a medical condition or some other circumstance that disqualifies them. It's one of the many challenges of the job, but it makes seeing those future Sailors that make it to the finish line all that more rewarding.

"If you get one person in, even if you had to do waiver upon waiver, seeing how thankful they are and how they've changed as a person makes it worth it," Blair said.

In the past two and a half years Blair has been responsible for recruiting approximately 30 people from the Junction area into the Navy. While she's humble about her performance, her leading chief petty officer wasn't shy about how much of an impact she's made at the station.

"AD1 [Blair] really set the world on fire out here," said Chief Navy Counselor Brett Horton. "She was motivated and she has family support, which helps a lot. She came here on a mission to do a good job, and she's done exactly that."

Another challenge of recruiting duty is making sure future Sailors stay motivated about their decision to join while they wait for their "ship date" to arrive. Blair said recruiters see all kinds of things happen in their future Sailors' lives, from deaths in the family to just not wanting to leave the comfort of home. However, helping them work through those situations and reminding them what led them to join in the first place is one of the most important people skills a recruiter can have.

"You have to be a life mentor," Blair said. "Separations in families, deaths in families, all these things come up and they can really affect a person's decision to leave or not. If your grandmother got cancer, you're not going to want to leave. So you have to get in their shoes, and you have to show them that even though those things are happening, the Navy's the right choice in the long run for them."
Navy Photo

With NRD Denver being a four hour drive away, Blair spends a lot of time on the phone and computer getting things lined up for future Sailors.

One of the ways recruiters do this is through their DEP (delayed entry program) meetings. Held usually once a month, these meetings are chances for recruiters to see their future Sailors face-to-face and not only find out how they're doing, but also teach them the skills they'll need to be successful when they make it to recruit training. Things like the Sailor's Creed, the various classes of Navy ships and the Navy's rank structure are all topics of training.

"I hope they see me as a mentor," said Blair.

One high school senior, Emilie Kramer, has been working with Blair for more than a year to realize her dream of becoming a Navy corpsman. Even though she said she's known since she was 13 that she wanted to join the Navy, she came very close to changing her mind because she didn't want to leave her parents behind. Kramer said she now thanks Blair for all she's done to get her to follow through with her decision.

"I just really appreciate everything that she's done," said Kramer. "It makes me feel like my dreams aren't just like everyone else's. It makes me feel like I have my own story and she's helping me create my story."

In the next couple of months, Blair will be calling her detailer and negotiating for her next set of orders that will take her away from home again to return to the fleet. While she's hoping to get another set of orders to an aviation squadron, what she's really got her sights set on is a chance to convert into the career recruiting force. She said now that's she's had a chance to change people's lives by helping them join the Navy, she can't imagine a more rewarding career path. Who knows, she said, maybe she'll get to return to Junction as a career recruiter someday.

"Recruiting isn't for everybody. Some people are going to like it and some people aren't - just like any duty, but it's rewarding just the same," Blair said. "Even if you don't like it, when you go back to the fleet ... thinking back on the people you've put in and how they've changed ... it gives you a sense of accomplishment. You changed the world a little bit ... one Sailor at a time."

Editor's Note: If you're interested in finding out how to serve on recruiting duty, talk to your command career counselor and your detailer.