Letter to My Former Self By ENS Charlie Hetzel

Discussion in 'Naval Academy - USNA' started by d22, Apr 20, 2014.

  1. d22

    d22 Member

    Sep 4, 2013
    Likes Received:

    First, congratulations to all of you who have selected Navy or Marine Corps Aviation from the class of 2014. I hope this brief note may be of some service to you as you embark on your long but rewarding path to wings of gold. To those who are awaiting their turn to put on the sorting hat that is Naval Academy Service Assignment, I hope if nothing else you may take something away from seeing the world of Navy Air from a student’s perspective.

    My name is ENS Charlie Hetzel, Class of 2012. During my time at the Naval Academy, I was in the 23rd Company, a Chinese Political Science major, and a member of the swim team. My interest in Navy Air came later in my time at the Academy than most, but is a decision I will never regret. After graduation I did a TAD teaching the Class of 2016 Plebe Summer Sailing before moving to Pensacola to start flight school in September of 2012. After a short wait, I completed API in January, and moved to Corpus Christi, TX for Primary flight training with the Rangers of VT-28. In October 2013, upon completion of the Primary syllabus, I reported to VT-22, the Golden Eagles, for Jet Intermediate/Advanced in Kingsville, TX. In the almost two years since our Commissioning, my classmates and I, and all Student Naval Aviators, have learned a number of lessons about the community, about being a young adult set free from the shackles of Bancroft, and about life as a JO. I hope you all can learn from these lessons in the hopes that they will help you to make informed decisions for your life and career.

    1. Enjoy basket leave. It’s one of only a few times that the Navy will let you literally take your money and run. Paid, uncharged leave is not something to be wasted. Come back prepared to do your job as either a TAD or as a student in API, but don’t worry excessively about studying or trying to fork over a thousand dollars for civilian flight time. Unless you have 500+ hours or are an instructor pilot, noone will notice. (If you do have either of these, be prepared to relearn the Navy and Marine Corps way). Enjoy the time off and come back refreshed and ready to go.

    2. Location, Location, Location. Choosing a place to live in Pensacola is exciting. Its your first time living on your own with friends, and everyone is looking to find that perfect spot. When I moved down, we thought we’d hit the jackpot. A furnished six bedroom beach house on Perdido Key seemed perfect. Well, it depends. Sure, living on the beach is great, but you’ll pay considerably more, and the drive to the Schoolhouse each day is over 20 minutes. That being said, it is the beach. The three general locations to live are Perdido Key (beaches, some restaurants, Flora Bama), just outside the back gate (cheap but nice homes, short drive, halfway between downtown and Perdido), and downtown (lots of restaurants/bars, further from beach, ten minutes from the front gate). If possible have someone look at the house you want to rent before you sign a lease. Happy hunting.

    3. Do something new in A-pool. A-pool is where you will sit for anywhere from a few days to three months waiting to class up for API. Don’t waste it. It’s the second (and last) time that the Navy is basically paying you to do nothing. Try something new, like fishing, or golf. Get a boating license, or a kayak. Write a book, I don’t know, just do something other than watch every episode of How I Met Your Mother for a third time - that’s what Youngster year was for.

    4. Never be ‘that guy.’ There are two ways to do this: the career ending way, and the embarrassing way. It happens every year. The first normally involves alcohol, late hours of the night, automobiles, or endangered birds and a shotgun. Be smart and don’t do something you’ll regret. In Annapolis, Mids are the norm and the town knows what to expect. There’s a sort of unwritten understanding between the town and the school. Not so anywhere else. If you act like a fool, no one is going to care that you’re in flight school, so watch out for each other.

    The second type usually involves a student who thinks they’re the second reincarnation of Maverick taking ridiculous selfies next to a plane they don’t know how to fly, or posting a horrifyingly embarrassing video to the internet showing off their sweet new API issued flight gear. Sure it’s a cool job, but let’s wait until we actually do it to act like pros. People don’t forget. Your reputation really does start right away, and it’s never too early to earn a call sign.

    5. Choose roomates wisely. Everyone wants to live with their best friends, of course, but be careful if you think it will keep you from getting work done. At least buy a good desk and some noise cancelling headphones if you think it might get rowdy. That being said, don’t live alone! Living with roommates saves lots of money, and allows the growing pains of learning to pay bills, shopping for groceries (harder than it might seem), and taking care of a home or apartment to be shared among multiple people. It’s also way more fun and extremely helpful, especially if you can live with the same people across multiple moves.

    6. Realize that flight school does not live up to it’s reputation. For some reason, everyone at the Naval Academy talks about how much fun flight school is, and how it’s just a year of beach volleyball, parties, and some high flying on the side. False. That’s A-pool, minus the flying. For some reason, everyone forgets about the rest, or at least stops telling midshipman about it. Probably because they have their heads buried in a book, or twelve. API is tough, but nothing to be scared of. In Primary you’re consistently flying, so it gets infinitely better, but ten times harder. Be ready to be issued a plebe year amount of books and to be expected to have a large amount of information memorized very quickly. Parts of Primary involve hours that rival exam week for weeks at a time. Advanced gets even tougher, and from what I hear, the FRS takes the cake. That’s not to say it’s not an absolute blast as well, just realize that there are two sides to the puzzle. Be prepared for years of hard work and some long hours in the books, but know that it can all be extremely rewarding.

    7. Don’t let anyone influence your platform selection directly. Before you know it, it will be time for you to put down your preferences for what you want to spend your time in the Navy flying. Along the way, you’ll hear countless instructors sing the praises of their communities or possibly even badmouth others. Listen to what they have to say, but realize that there exists a strong bias. At the end of the day if you’ve put in the work to get the grades, it’s your decision. You have to look at all the options and their consequences. Be sure to look not only at the day to day missions of various communities, but also their long term career paths, locations, graduate opportunities, and ready room environments when making your decision. Be honest when an IP asks what you want to select, don’t shy away from telling them you want something other than their community, because they may be able to apply the training towards your preferred platform. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being undecided. When all is said and done, there are no bad choices in Navy and Marine Corps Aviation.

    8. Sharing is caring. No one gets through flight school alone. You learn as much from your peers going through with you as from the instructors and from your own mistakes. If you do something wrong, share the lesson with your friends so they can avoid the same traps you fell into. Talk amongst each other in the ready room. Instructors become fairly predictable. An IP who gives you a particular emergency is likely to have given that same emergency to countless other students. Ask around about instructors, find out their techniques, what type of questions they emphasize, etc. In our house in Kingsville now, almost nightly we end up sitting around our kitchen table talking about our various sims and flights and sharing our mistakes and the lessons learned, and its possibly the most valuable 30 minutes of learning and instruction I get every single day.

    9. Don’t isolate yourself from ROTC/OCS students. Going into flight school from the Naval Academy has certain advantages. You will have a pre-established group of close friends and hundreds of more acquaintances that will make adjusting to flight school much easier. Your ROTC and OCS peers will not have that luxury. At most they will know a few people from their school or OCS class, so be sure to try to involve them in your study groups and social activities. Not only will you make some great friends, but the different perspectives they bring to the table can make a huge difference both in study groups and social settings. That, and no one wants to perpetuate the ring knocker stereotypes.

    10. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Flight school is long. I didn’t realize how long when I started. For me personally it will be two years from checking into A-pool to getting winged (knock on wood), give or take a month. Take it day by day. A few bad flights didn’t ruin anyones Naval career, as long as you end up safely back on the runway with three down and locked. If you stumble, ask for help and practice as much as possible. Sim time is invaluable. Don’t forget your eventual goal, but realize the process is more important than the final result. Lastly, enjoy every day. You are about to start what can seriously be considered one of the greatest jobs in the world. You’ll meet great people, fly great aircraft, and have a blast doing it.


    ENS Charlie Hetzel

    P.S. Don’t lose money on moves! Always fill out the proper forms and go to personal property BEFORE you pack up so you can weigh your car. Also, save your home of record move. People make the mistake of using a home of record move to move a few thousand or even hundred dollars of furniture as an Ensign instead of saving that one time deal for later in life when it is much more needed.
  2. 2018midmom

    2018midmom Member

    Nov 26, 2013
    Likes Received:
    As the wife of an IP "down there" I would add ALWAYS be prepared for your briefs and flights. All the IPs know who "that guy" is and will be more than willing to "down" a student who thinks he can fly by the seat of his pants or deserves a trophy for just showing up. That being said take advantage of their wisdom. Most love to share fleet flying stories and the knowledge gained may save your life one day. Also your reserve IPs probably fly commercial too so they can be valuable for your after Navy life.
  3. Prepswimmom

    Prepswimmom Member

    Dec 26, 2013
    Likes Received:
    d22 you did exactly what my DS would have done if he got in. Chinese Poli sci major and swimming. When I started reading your post I chuckled to myself. I enjoyed it.

    Sent using the Service Academy Forums® mobile app
  4. d22

    d22 Member

    Sep 4, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Letter to My Former Self: by: Anonymous SEAL

    I hope these letters bring some thoughtful insight, and perhaps contribute to your future success as a naval officer. All the best!

    Letter to My Former Self: by Anonymous SEAL

    Posted on: April 21, 2014 08:00 EDT by Naval Academy Public Affairs

    A USNA graduate who is now a Navy SEAL (and wishes to remain anonymous), wrote the following letter as part of the ongoing series "Letter to My Former Self." While he directs his words to the young men who will be entering the SEAL community following graduation, some of his advice will also be useful for all the firsties who are about to graduate and lead Sailors in the Fleet.


    It’s hard to comprehend what I would have liked to have known as a Firstie. At this point, I know it’s a cliché, but you literally don’t know what you don’t know. This community is unique in the fact that all the candidates think about is the near future, specifically First Phase. Not that there is anything wrong with that – it’s most definitely one of the biggest hurdles in the U.S. military and no easy task – but what I want to try and convey is there is so much more to this community than what people generally consider.

    The aftermath of First Phase and more specifically after BUD/S, is what I would have liked to have understood more. All of the books, the movies, the articles, they focus on BUD/S along with the selection process and then later in a SEAL’s career. They leave out the most important step, what truly develops you into a NSW officer and a shooter.

    The fact of the matter is, this part of the journey can’t be written about. It can’t be described; it must be experienced. As much as is written and as much as you may listen, this is something that every person has a unique experience with and takes something different away from. Nevertheless, I will offer some things I wish I had known before the journey, things that I had never thought about, being the short-minded individual who was only looking at Hell Week.

    First of all, you will lead men, many of whom are of greater caliber than you. These are thinking men, therefore you must push situational awareness. Keep them informed of everything, even if you think it’s insignificant. They are intelligent and have earned the right to know what’s going on.

    Second, stay flexible. This job requires thinking shooters, ready to adapt to their environment. Adaptability is key.

    Next, trust your gut. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on the subject, his general gist being that your gut reaction, the decision your subconscious makes in a fraction of a second and your first instinct, is usually right. Go with what you feel is the right decision. Don’t over analyze.

    Finally, and most importantly, remember the hunger you feel now, that desire to do the best job in the world. There will be many dark and painful times in your journey, but remember how fired up and ready to take on the world you feel now, especially in your darkest moments of training. If you can hold onto that, regardless of how miserable any specific moment can be, you will be unstoppable, and that’s exactly what’s needed.

    I leave you with this: Think about the short term, plan for the long term. The fire hose of experience is in the near future, and you must be ready for it and at the same time be ready to take everything you can from it. You owe it to yourselves, but more importantly to your future teammates and those who have gone before you.

    Best of luck, fellas.
  5. d22

    d22 Member

    Sep 4, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Letter to My Former Self: ENS Katie Labbe

    Posted on: May 07, 2014 08:00 EDT by Naval Academy Public Affairs

    No matter how many experienced teachers and mentors tell you that graduation will be the beginning of an exciting and challenging Navy career, nothing can really stop the elation and sense of liberation a first class midshipman experiences upon graduation from the Naval Academy.

    But as a recent graduate of the Naval Academy and having just recently returned from an eight-month deployment, I am hear to tell you that while the challenges and lessons you learn at the Naval Academy do prepare you, no class or book can really fully prepare you for the challenges you will face when you finally request permission to come aboard your first ship.

    After graduation, I used my basket leave to spend time with my family and then move into my apartment. I immediately reported to the Basic Division Officer Course upon completion of my leave. During the two months I was at BDOC, I contacted my sponsor and she informed me that my ship would be leaving for deployment the Monday after I graduated. Essentially, the first day that I stepped onboard my ship as a brand new ensign, my ship would be transiting the Atlantic Ocean to the Eastern Mediterranean for an eight-month deployment.

    Needless to say, even after four years at the Naval Academy and two months at Basic Division Officer School, I still felt underprepared. In other words, I have included some small pieces of advice that I would have found informative and helpful before stepping aboard my ship that fateful day in August 2013.

    Take advantage of your resources while they are available. This piece of advice applies more specifically to those who will be deploying soon after graduation. I was not prepared for the lack of resources that I would experience on a deployed ship. My practicum teacher gave a list of books that I would find to be helpful resources on my ship, and I did not take the time to purchase them before my deployment, which I regretted not too long after leaving. Computers on the ship are slow and can be a pain to access if you do not have one in your stateroom.

    Some of your most valuable resources are the more experienced officers. Coming right from college, we are accustomed to reading and books and doing research to learn material. However, that is not the most efficient way to learn how to be a SWO. The most effective way to learn is to discuss SWO topics with the second tour division officers and department heads. The department heads will actually be the board members on your SWO and OOD boards, so the topics they find important to discuss with you are the topics they will find important in your board.

    Time for personal development is rare and should be used wisely. If you are not willing to spend the extra five minutes of spare time to have an informative discussion with one of the department heads or second tour division officers, or sacrifice what could be a much needed hour nap for some time in the gym, then there is a whole line of eager first tour division officers who are willing. Making mistakes will not hamper your success if you adopt an ambitious attitude toward your job, your qualifications, and your personal development, because people will see that you care and in turn they will care about your development as well.

    Prepare yourself and your loved ones for the challenges that wait. Again this advice more specifically applies to those who will be deployed. I found it very easy to take advantage of all the different modes of communication that I had at my fingertips in college. Having your own personal computer and a cell-phone make it very easy to maintain relationships and keep in touch with your loved ones. I was woefully mistaken when I thought that I would have time to email all of my family members on a regular basis on a deployed ship. I barely had enough time to send a short email to my significant other everyday and sometimes I did not have time. The lack of communication affects different relationships in very different ways, so you and your loved ones should be prepared to go through some tribulation when you deploy.

    Your sponsor is an excellent resource of which you should take full advantage. Your sponsor is most likely going to be a first tour division officer that has been on the ship for a few months to a year maybe, and is not going to know what you do not know and everything that you need to know. They can guess what you need to know, but your sponsor will not be a good resource unless you take the time to ask the right questions. Good examples of things that you should ask are about materials, uniform items, and supplies you need. They will then inform you that you need a multitude of socks because there are evil sock gnomes on ships, and no matter how many pairs you bring it will not be enough. You should ask about the details of reporting to the ship, and what you should do before reporting.

    Have a questioning attitude. Not understanding how to ask the important questions was what got me into trouble during the first few months of being on board. There were several instances when I would come to my captain with the intentions of getting his permission for something that my division needed to do, but he would ask me questions that I did not know how to answer. Granted he asked me these questions to help develop me as a junior officer, not to stump the brand new ensign. However, I would have saved myself much pain if I had thought more critically about what I was going to talk to my captain about, and asked more questions before I stormed into his office alone and unafraid.

    Be a team player. Every first tour division officer is on the road to getting qualified. The road to getting qualified will be much smoother and less stressful if you work with your fellow ensigns instead of against. Yes, you will be ranked against all the other ensigns, but it speaks more of your character to help out your fellow shipmates instead of leaving them behind. Not to mention that you will learn a whole lot faster with all those extra resources. I guarantee that no matter whom you are talking to or studying with there is something valuable that they know and can teach you.

    Take full advantage of your basket leave. This is the only time you will have the opportunity to take a whole month of leave and not be charged for it. Use it to spend time with your loved ones, or travel somewhere, or just to yourself. Use your time however you wish, but make it YOUR time and not the Navy’s time.

    Use your time at BDOC wisely. If you have the opportunity to attend BDOC before reporting to your ship like I did, use the extra time to actually study and learn as much of the material as possible. The material that you learn at BDOC is the same material that you will need to know for your SWO board. There is much debate on whether BDOC would better serve young ensigns after being on a ship for a few months or before having ever stepped on a ship. In my opinion, both have their advantages and disadvantages, but BDOC will only be as useful and informative as you choose to make it no matter when in your career you attend.

    Trust yourself and your ability to make decisions is the last piece of advice I would like to bestow upon my former self. As ill-prepared and inexperienced as you may feel, you were accepted into the Naval Academy and you made it through four years of school for a reason. You can think critically and you have good instincts, so trust yourself when you make decisions. I am not saying not to reflect on your choices, because you should absolutely be constantly self-assessing and thinking critically about your own decisions. I am simply pointing out that you bring something valuable to the table even without the experience and Navy knowledge, so do not undervalue yourself and your contribution.

    I hope that my experiences and lessons will help you with your transition from school to fleet. I wish you all success, and I cannot wait to have you all in the fleet!

    Very respectfully,

    ENS Katie Labbe

Share This Page