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This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lt. Cmdr. John Tortorich, a pilot in the US Navy. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The Naval Academy wasn't on my radar in high school, but being a successful swimmer got me noticed by their college recruiters.
My grandfather and uncle were also Navy reservists in the 1950s. The application process was pretty arduous: There's a fitness test and medical screening, and, generally, military academies have pretty low acceptance rates. I also had to get nominated by a member of Congress from Louisiana — my home state — to even be considered.
I was a strong swimmer, so naturally I thought I'd become a Navy SEAL. During the first two years in college, that was my goal.
It all changed the first time I flew in a T-34 aircraft. It was 2010, the summer between my sophomore and junior years.
We had to do a monthlong program where you're introduced for one week to each of the Navy's four “communities”: Marine Corps, surface warfare, submarines, and aviation.
At the time, I was nervous about flying and told the pilot as much when I got into the single-engine propeller plane. He was supportive, and by the time we'd landed I was set on becoming an aviator.
It was a turning point for my career in the Navy
During senior year, I put “Navy Pilot” as my first preference for a postgraduation assignment, and, thankfully, I…