Seeking the Next Generation of Naval Officers

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By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Carla Burdt, NRD San Diego Public Affairs

Navy Counselor 1st Class Matthew Ethridge, an officer recruiter assigned to Navy Recruiting District San Diego, is passionate about the Navy and recruiting. With a disarming smile and calm demeanor, he instantly puts applicants at ease and leaves a lasting impression.

"We get to know people and build relationships," said Ethridge. "You get to know someone really well over a year. The first officer I ever put in the Navy ten years ago still sends me a Christmas card every year."

It's this commitment to his applicants that led Dr. Brian Hart, an astrophysicist, to be selected for the Cyber Warfare Engineering (CWE) Program. He was one of only two applicants selected, across the country.

"I've been recruiting a long time, and to have him selected wasn't for me, it was for him," said Ethridge. "He started a long time ago and just kept going. I think the bond that he and I grew together was neat. It was a different transformation than I had seen in a long time."

When Hart came into Ethridge's office, he was 300 pounds and unable to meet the Navy's physical requirements. Ethridge told him that the first thing he needed to do was to get to Navy standards. Hart hired a personal trainer, started working out and changed his diet.

Ethridge and Hart had a standing appointment every Thursday at 10 a.m.

"I told him that he needed to come see me every single Thursday," said Ethridge. "I told him, If this is what you want, I need you to prove it to me,' and he did."

Even after Hart lost the weight and was within Navy standards, he still met with Ethridge weekly.

"I saw him come into my office weekly shedding the weight," said Ethridge. "The coolest part was knowing that he was so passionate about becoming a Naval officer. He really wanted to serve - that was the pride of belonging that I found in him."

"I think that he wanted somebody to believe in him," said Ethridge, "And in this station, we were that support network. He found a family here that motivated him, believed in him and supported him."

Ethridge said that Hart affectionately calls him Saint Walker, a reference to the DC comics character committed to improving the universe through the power of hope.

"He calls me that to this day because I believed in him," said Ethridge. "Once he showed me that he was dedicated to this I told him that I would do whatever I could to help him. We stuck by his side and never gave up on him."

Even though Hart left for Officer Development School (ODS) in April, he still maintains contact with Ethridge.

"He sends me pictures of everywhere he goes," said Ethridge. "He came home and the first thing he did was come here in dress whites. He carried his dress whites all the way back from ODS just to wear them to see us. Everywhere he went in town he was in dress whites. He is so proud that he will do anything and everything to show that he is in the military."

That pride of service is something that Ethridge understands well. With more than 17 years of service, Ethridge still wears the uniform and proudly serves.

Ethridge joined the Navy in August 2001, shortly after graduating from high school. His friends were leaving for college, but he didn't want to follow down that path, and he knew that options in his hometown of Ridgeway, Colorado, were limited to labor intensive jobs.

"I didn't want to be a rancher, welder or work construction or any of the jobs I did in high school," said Ethridge. "I told the recruiter that I was joining for college, but I think my number one reason was world travel."

Ethridge met with recruiters from other services, but felt the Navy was the best fit for him, so the day after his 18th birthday he took a six-hour bus ride to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Denver. He took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), did a medical physical and chose a rate.

"I had a ship date of September 25, 2001," said Ethridge. "That month September 11th happened, and that's when it really turned on for me. I stuck to my plan and was in boot camp a week later."

While Ethridge felt confident with his decision even though his mother wasn't sure about it.

"My mom was like Are you serious right now?'," said Ethridge. "She understood that I had to go stand for something, and if I made the choice that I was going to go fight, that's what I was going to do."

Following basic training, Ethridge attended undesignated airman apprenticeship "A" school then reported to USS Constellation (CV 64). While working with the aircraft handlers, he learned of the Aviation Ordnanceman (AO) rating.

"The camaraderie among the AOs was what drew me to the AO community," said Ethridge.

Still undesignated, he took the rating exam for AO and missed advancement by three-tenths of a point.

"While I was mess cranking, I worked for an admiral and had received a Letter of Commendation," said Ethridge. "That award point made me an E-4."

Ethridge never went to AO "A" school, but he feels that the on the job training he received while deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism was just as valuable.

"We weren't just assembling and disassembling bombs, we were assembling and dropping," said Ethridge. "My first ship dropped two million pounds of ordnance, and that's how I learned."

After Constellation decommissioned, Ethridge went to a helicopter squadron where he advanced to second class petty officer.

Following a tour at the helicopter squadron, he reported to recruiting duty at NRD Phoenix. While in Phoenix, he was meritoriously advanced to first class petty officer.

"I knew the advancement was there if I worked hard," said Ethridge. "They told me what I needed to do to get promoted, and I was the number one guy in the district and got promoted. I knew I could do that - set a challenge, put a goal out there and achieve it."

He came to NRD San Diego as an AO, but he soon converted to Navy Counselor and transferred to the Navy Reserve, after 10 years of active duty. He returned to recruiting as a Canvasser Recruiter (CANREC).

"My chain of command said, You are a really good enlisted recruiter. How would you like to try something else?'," said Ethridge. "I started doing officer recruiting, and I didn't know anything about officer programs."

Over the next few years, Ethridge built his knowledge of officer recruiting. "Learning it was the biggest challenge," said Ethridge. "I didn't go to school to learn officer programs. That was a huge challenge for an enlisted person to learn all those things. That was a very rewarding part of it."

Ethridge said that he feels that working as an officer recruiter has inspired him to continually improve himself.

"Being enlisted and coming to this job specifically, I had to raise my bar," said Ethridge. "I am not going to bring anyone else down. I need to get to their level."

While on recruiting duty Ethridge finished his bachelor's degree in marketing and sales from the University of Phoenix, maintaining a 3.8 grade point average.

"I surrounded myself with people who have education and people who are better than me because I wanted to make myself better," said Ethridge. "I always wanted to continue education because I always thought it was fun."

One year after earning his bachelor degree, Ethridge was accepted to a master's program at Gonzaga University. He has three courses to finish until he earns his Master's degree in leadership, which is something that he is passionate about.

"I have a solid foundation of leadership and what we have to do to get the job done," said Ethridge. "I can always be better. For many years, I struggled with where my leadership style belonged in the military. It wasn't until I started this course in communication and leadership that I figured it out it's servant leadership."

Communication and leadership in the military is the focus of Ethridge's thesis.

"I would like to interview different people and get their take on it," said Ethridge. "Officers go through OCS [Officer Candidate School] and are right away expected to lead, but where and how do they truly learn leadership? It's very important if we are calling ourselves leaders to actually know how to do it. We aren't doing people justice if we aren't training them to be the leaders we expect them to be."

After taking advantage of the educational opportunities the Navy's given him and the life it's allowed him to develop, Ethridge is driven to present these opportunities to as many people as can.

"The Navy has allowed me to go to school without the anxiety and pressure of paying back student loans, and I knew that if I could help people and could give back to them what I got out of it, I would do it," said Ethridge. "That has been my belief since the day I started and until now let's just give them the opportunity that the Navy has given me."

Ethridge still believes in the philosophy that motivated him to go to recruiting duty.

"You have to believe in what you are selling," said Ethridge. "

He feels that the success of his office is his priority and the continued success his greatest accomplishment.

"Our station has put in more general officer kits than any other district in Region West," said Ethridge, "I know what we do here is huge. We have submitted 77 percent of the goal of this district for officer recruiting."

Ethridge said that his greatest motivator is the people both his colleagues and the officer applicants who are commissioning into the Navy.

"If I weren't a people person and weren't extroverted, this would be a hard job, but at the end of the day it's the people I work with that make it all worth it," said Ethridge. "They make me want to come to work. They are always here and always working hard."

Another rewarding part of the job is seeing the transition from civilian to officer.

"It's a big deal for them to come back and see the change," said Ethridge. "I think the change from long-haired surfer to an officer is amazing."

"In the ever-changing world, it is incredible to see young people that are still willing to serve. That's the best part of recruiting and the most important to me to know that there are still people out there ready to serve. It keeps me faithful, and it reminds me that there's still good. There's still young people willing to go get their hands dirty, work hard, and protect."

Through experience, education and the people around him, Ethridge's life molded him into the successful recruiter he is today. He said he believes his commitment to recruiting and his applicants ensures there will always be quality Sailors stepping up to fill his shoes.

Established January 1975, NRD San Diego encompasses 210,000 square miles covering Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Headquartered at Naval Base Point Loma, NRD San Diego has more than 50 recruiting stations in the tristate region and employs more than 300 recruiters, support personnel and civilians.

The Navy's recruiting force totals over 6,100 personnel in more than 1,000 recruiting stations around the globe. Their combined goal is to attract the highest quality candidates to assure the ongoing success of America's Navy.

NRC consists of a command headquarters, two Navy Recruiting Regions, 20 Navy Recruiting Districts and six Navy Talent Acquisition Groups that serve more than 1,000 recruiting stations across the country.

For more news from Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, go to http://www.cnrc.navy.mil. Follow Navy Recruiting on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NavyRecruiting), Twitter (@USNRecruiter) and Instagram (@USNRecruiter).


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