Navy Program Seeks Officers From the Ranks
I was attending college in Montana in 1962 when a Naval Aviation recruiting team visited my school. My goal was to become an Astronaut, and I was convinced that the best way to do this was to become a test pilot with the Navy’s Flight Program. I did rather well on their flight aptitude test (I nearly aced it), and so they wanted to recruit me into something called the NAVCAD program.
NAVCAD (Naval Aviation Cadet) consisted of qualified college students who had not yet received their undergraduate degrees. NAVCAD proposed to give these aspiring Navy pilots two years of concentrated training, and grant them a degree, a commission, and wings all together.
I was hooked, and dropped out of college – can you be smart and stupid at the same time?
As it turned out, I had an eye accommodation error that prevented me from becoming a fighter pilot, which I saw as a prerequisite for eventual astronaut training. So at the tender age of twenty, my first big dream was nixed.
A secondary interest of mine had always been submarines. I was out of college, and too embarrassed to ask my parents for help, so I cast my eye about for another way. A friendly Navy recruiter introduced me to the NESEP Program (Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program). Sailors who qualified would be assigned to one of 22 universities, all expenses paid for up to four years, after which they would be offered an unrestricted line commission in the Navy.
This sounded like a good deal to me, and all I had to do was wait a year as a Navy enlisted man. I decided I would do my waiting as a submariner, joined up, qualified for Sonar Class A school, and then went to submarine school. About the time I reached my eligibility date for NESEP, the Navy changed the program requirements, forcing me to wait another year.
I was having fun, so the wait, while distressing, was something I could handle. Finally I reached eligibility, and applied for the program, only to be shot down by my skipper, for reasons only he could understand. I waited him out, and a year later received my recommendation from his relief, and was assigned to Sonar Class B School while awaiting transfer to Prep School in Bainbridge, Md. (informally known as “knife and fork” school, with some make-up academics thrown in for good measure).
Eventually, I spent three years at the University of Washington, where I advanced to Petty Officer First Class. I earned a BS in Physical Oceanography and Atmospheric Science, and then received my commission after attending OCS in Newport. Following that I went back to submarine school as an Ensign, and then to the newly established Poseidon Weapons Officer School in Virginia Beach.
During my entire time at college, I received full pay and allowances, all books and incidental expenses paid, and full tuition and all fees. It was one hell of a good deal. I actually purchased a house during my stay in college.
So how does a bright young sailor travel from E-1 to O-7 and higher in today’s Navy?
Of several paths, perhaps the one closest to NESEP is the newly announced STA-21 Program – Seaman to Admiral-21 (no, I don’t know what the 21 means).
This program leads to a commission in nuclear (surface or submarine), aviation (pilot), aviation (naval flight officer), surface warfare (swo), special operations (specops), special warfare (specwar), nurse corps (nc), supply corps (sc), and civil engineer corps (cec). Except for cec, there is currently no time-in-service requirement. Qualifications are the obvious ones: first and most importantly, these sailors must excel in their Navy jobs. Second, they should earn as many college credits as possible through the Navy College Program. Third, they should take college courses, especially mathematics courses that will prepare them for calculus and calculus-based physics.
Outstanding potential is paramount for selection to STA-21. Experienced sailors who successfully apply to STA-21 will have a record of superb fleet performance. Even the most junior sailors, however, will be considered for selection based upon their performance and accomplishments to date, including those achievements outside of the Navy which indicate the potential for success as officers.
The STA-21 package consists of: An annual voucher for up to $10,000 for tuition and related expenses for a maximum of 36 months, preceded by up to nine months of concentrated preparatory training for those who need it. STA-21 participants will receive full pay and allowances, and will be eligible for military housing where it is available. Any accredited university with a Navy ROTC is eligible, which makes STA-21 a better deal than NESEP, unless the annual tuition and related costs exceed $10,000, or the proposed curriculum lasts more than three years.
This year’s deadline for application is July 1. Interested persons should contact Command Career Counselors or CNET (OTE6/STA-21), at DSN 922-4941 Ext. 313 or commercial (850) 452-4941 Ext 313, OR 1-800-NAV-ROTC (628-7682).
The best military officers have solid enlisted experience under their belts. STA-21 offers qualified Navy enlisted personnel a terrific opportunity to become such an officer at a time when really good officers are in woefully short supply.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor