Meltzer ‘13 reflects on Navy experience

Julia Robbins, Staff Writer

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Matthew Meltzer ‘13 chose to attend the United States Naval Academy in part because of his time playing varsity football at Horace Mann. Football required teamwork, physical fitness, and mental strength, three qualities he knew he would find in the military.

Time Meltzer spent working for the school Maintenance Department before senior year also encouraged him to attend the academy.“That was a very hands-on job, it was a lot of manual labor,” he said. “I think that taught me the importance of hard work and responsibility….and it pushed me further in the direction of wanting to join the military.”

Naval Academy students are midshipmen on active duty in the U.S. Navy.

Graduates of the Naval Academy either enter the Navy as an ensign, the lowest ranked commissioned officer in the Navy, or enter the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant, the lowest ranked commissioned officer in the Marine Corps, and all graduates must serve at least five years in active duty.

Horace Mann was more competitive than the Naval Academy because at the Naval Academy, everyone had a common goal of service to the Navy, Meltzer said.

By senior year at the academy, Meltzer was his company’s commander and the Regimental XO (Executive Officer) in charge of running Plebe Summer. Plebe Summer takes place before a midshipman’s first year at the academy. During the summer, midshipmen are physically and mentally pushed to their limits to build up strength for their time at the academy and later in the military.

As Regimental XO, Meltzer recognized how important Plebe Summer was in developing his own character four years earlier. “One of the most important things I learned from Plebe Summer was the concept of stoicism; recognizing the idea that there are certain things that you can control and there are certain things that you cannot control,” Metlzer said.

Before deployment, all graduates are sent off to more specialized training to prepare for their specific job in the Navy or Marine Corps. Meltzer trained in San Diego to prepare for his current work on the destroyer, USS Chafee.

After training, Meltzer flew to Singapore to join Chafee, which was deployed in the South China Sea (SCS). China has been illegally building artificial islands in an attempt to claim ownership over the SCS, and the presence of Chafee was used to deny China’s claims over the SCS.

At sea, Meltzer helped give orders to the ship’s helmsman, the person who steers the ship, and aided in practicing missile launches and defense. In an act Meltzer described as “surprisingly very calm,” he was also tasked with communicating with members of the Chinese army. “You’re looking at this other ship, and you’re realizing their life is probably actually very similar to yours at that moment; they’re in their navy, they probably went through their version of the Naval Academy,” Meltzer said. “With the exception of the fact that you come from different places, you’re very similar.”

Because graduates of the academy immediately rank higher than all enlisted sailors Meltzer was in charge of 15 sailors, some of whom had wives and children, by the age of 22. That experience was “eye-opening and humbling,” Meltzer said.

Chafee is now in maintenance at Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. “I’m lucky, I’m stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Meltzer said.

Meltzer is now studying for the Law School Admissions Test with hopes to become part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Judge Advocate General’s (JAGs) are the lawyers for the military and handle anything from environmental law to maritime law.

While he chose to join the Navy, there are other ways for people to serve through volunteering in their own communities, Meltzer said. However, everyone has the obligation to do something for their country, he said.