Saturday, May 9, 2015

Letter to My Former Self: ENS Nathalie E. Pauwels (USNA '14)

In the "Letter to My Former Self" series, USNA graduates lay out the advice they would give themselves as midshipmen based on their experiences as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. This week's letter was written by ENS Nathalie Pauwels, a 2014 graduate and naval intelligence officer.

Photo courtesy of ENS Nathalie Pauwels

I never thought I would be writing a letter to my former self but I feel like this is a good way to share things I wished they told us before leaving.

When I reported to the academy in the summer of 2010, I arrived with so many aspirations and ideas about what my career could be like when I graduated. Five years later I realize that nothing could have prepared me for what I would go through at USNA.

Following a series of blood clots in my chest and subsequent surgeries, and discovering my ineligibility to serve as an unrestricted line officer, I'm writing to say that all is not lost for those who have been and may be deemed "not physically qualified." Instead, I graduated Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course in Virginia Beach earlier this year and am now stationed in Coronado serving as a helo squadron's Intel-O.

But, looking back at my experience at the academy, I can honestly say that it is one of the most amazing places to be and to come from. Seriously. I'm not just saying it. My roommate now, who was a football player, admits to it sometimes, too. I loved it: the mandatory fun, TAPS. All of the things we complain about every day while we're there become moments you laugh about and embrace with fellow graduates.

Despite coming from a myriad different backgrounds before the academy, the experiences you accrue during your time "by the bay" are what bring us together and what you will undoubtedly miss most when you get to the fleet. Take advantage of every opportunity available to you. Apply to study overseas for a semester, or even for just the summer. NAVY can mean "never again volunteer yourself" but, let's be real, why not volunteer for the endless opportunities the Navy pays for you to enjoy?

You could literally participate in anything you want at the academy. For example, do you like to lift? Want to lift with other people? That's how the powerlifting team was born. Every program now at the academy was thought up by other midshipmen with interests and brought into existence because the desire was there. If you want something, go for it. Never quit. That drive alone will change your perspective of the academy and take you far in the fleet and in life.

Now onto some realizations I have made since becoming an officer. Although my experience has been unorthodox as a restricted line officer, I firmly believe some of these will hold true across the board:

1. Exercise: Your jobs will be stressful so do yourself a favor and devote at least 30 minutes a day to you. Find a hobby that gets you moving outside (or inside) and stick to it.

2. Cooking: In the same vein as exercise, you now have full control over what you put into your body. Take a tip or 100 from Pinterest, Reddit, whatever, and learn to cook for yourself. Your wallet will thank you.

3. Budget: The amount you get paid as an ensign may seem like a lot, but consider the amount of money you'll be required to pay for rent, car payments, loan payments and other bills. Remember, you get paid every two weeks and are expected to stay on top of your financial responsibilities so be smart with your money. Talk to the financial advisers at USAA or Navy Federal for tips on how to budget appropriately. Start a Thrift Savings Plan. Learn to live within your means.

4. Declutter: We can expect to move around every few years. Setting up a move from duty station to duty station is a nightmare so limit the amount of stuff you'll need to move around. I'm not saying live like a Spartan but keep it simple by sticking to the essentials. And for the move, go to Fleet and Family Services and ask for their help, it is amazing how quickly they get through the process.

5. Find balance: The first few months out of the academy will be crazy so find a way to establish a routine as soon as possible. Returning to some level of normalcy will make the transition easier and ease you into your new duties.

Enjoy the time you have left at the academy and look forward to the time you'll spend in the fleet! We look forward to serving with you.

Very respectfully,
Nathalie E. Pauwels

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