KIEL, Germany (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy places a premium on resourcefulness, resilience, and the ability to move forward, no matter the odds. But a key factor in overcoming obstacles is solid mentorship, whether it comes from a friend, a family member, or a fleet.
One U.S. Navy petty officer currently supporting exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019 embodies the grit necessary to overcome every obstacle on the path to professional accomplishment.
Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Mark Wilhite, currently assigned to the “Dragon Whales” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, continues to evolve as a Sailor and a leader aboard the Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20). He’s put childhood hardships and adverse circumstances in his rear-view mirror through determination and the power of mentorship.
Wilhite said poverty and a fractured family situation made for rocky start early in life.
“My childhood was tough, and we didn’t have a lot of money,” said Wilhite aboard the helicopter deck of the Mount Whitney. “My mother left my brother and I in Florida with my father when she moved to North Carolina.”
By his junior year of high school, Wilhite said he and his older brother were living with his father in Daytona Beach, when the family split apart again. “My older brother Vincent ran away from the home my father and I shared with my grandparents. And after my grandparents moved away, we were pretty much squatting in their old house.”
The conditions in Wilhite’s home life eventually grew severe enough to prompt a reunion with his mother in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The move provided him with a more stable living environment.
Wilhite taught himself to play the guitar and became a member of a church band, playing during Sunday services. He also enrolled at Fayetteville’s Jack Britt High School and began, for the first time, to seriously contemplate his future.
“I decided that my best option for earning a better life was joining the Navy,” said Wilhite.
Despite the new direction he set for himself, Wilhite struggled in school. Finding static, class-based book learning difficult to absorb, Wilhite responded better to a more fast-paced, tactile, hands-on learning environment. He preferred instead to take things apart and put them back together.
“I’m actually a giant nerd when it comes to computers and electronics,” said Wilhite, with a laugh. “I like exploring and learning how things work.”
Wilhite admits he briefly contemplated dropping out of high school before a U.S. Navy Sailor provided him with timely mentorship in the form of a much-needed dose of cold, hard reality.
“A friend who enlisted told me how hard it would be to join without my high school diploma,” said Wilhite, who quickly picked up on the premium the Navy placed on academics. Wilhite said he also got some no-nonsense motivational mentorship from his mother.
“My mother said there was absolutely no way I was going to drop out,” he said, smiling.
Wilhite persevered, earning his high school diploma, a key that would open a brand-new door. He enlisted in the Navy’s Aviation Electrical and Computer systems Technician program, and successfully completed the training, which requires an in-depth knowledge of advanced electronics and computers.
Shortly after being assigned to HSC-28, Wilhite began to thrive under the mentorship of his supervisors, due in large part to his ability to take on increasingly challenging roles and responsibilities with growing confidence and poise.
“Whether troubleshooting complex avionics discrepancies on "Ghostrider 37," assisting in enlisted aviation warfare specialist training in the mess decks, or providing plane captain training to our junior Sailors, Petty Officer Wilhite has performed brilliantly,” said HSC-28 Senior Enlisted Leader, Aviation Maintenance Senior Chief Ramon Vinas.
Vinas reflected on the professionalism Wilhite and many Sailors like him show throughout the fleet.
“I often take a step back and reflect on the scope of responsibilities our young Sailors like Petty Officer Wilhite account for in today's Navy and to say it is impressive is an understatement,” said Vinas.
Now active in support of BALTOPS 2019, the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in northern Europe, Wilhite is a key piece of the HSC-28’s support of a Naples, Italy-based detachment with units embarked aboard USS Mount Whitney.
Wilhite noted the values and opportunities the Navy has brought him as he found his way through his first deployment in support of BALTOPS 2019.
“Before leaving for this deployment, I had never left the country and now I’m out here in Germany,” he said.
According to Vinas, Wilhite has become an indispensable member of the HSC-28 team.
"Our success as a detachment could not be realized without the dedication and professionalism of our Sailors like Petty Officer Wilhite,” he said.