The Academy Insider Your Guide to The United States Naval Academy

#030. Caroline Johnson '09 - Jet Girl - An Insider's View of being a naval aviator

March 16, 2020 GRANT VERMEER Season 1 Episode 30
The Academy Insider Your Guide to The United States Naval Academy
#030. Caroline Johnson '09 - Jet Girl - An Insider's View of being a naval aviator
Show Notes Transcript

Caroline Johnson '09
 
She began her military career at the United States Naval Academy in 2005, bristling against the strict rules but loving the friends she met along the way. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Economics in 2009, she joined the elite Naval Aviation community and began flight school in Pensacola, FL. 

In 2011, she was awarded her wings of gold and designated a Naval Flight Officer, more specifically an F/A-18 Weapons Systems Officer. Finishing at the top of her class she was awarded the Paul F. Lawrence award as the #1 strike fighter graduate and recognized as the overall Top Graduate.

Caroline flew in F/A-18 Super Hornets as a member of VFA-213 the World Famous Fighting Blacklions and she embarked on the USS George H.W. Bush, deploying for 9 months in 2014. On her historic deployment, Caroline and the Blacklions flew in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve seeing action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Her squadron employed the first weapons on ISIS in Iraq, conducted the first ever US strikes into Syria, and Caroline was the first woman to neutralize ISIS from the backseat of an F/A-18. At the Blacklions, Caroline completed her SFWT level II, III, and IV qualifications, she earned her Combat Mission Commander designation, and she also graduated with honors from the University of Oklahoma with a Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership.

During her final tour on active duty, Caroline returned to the United States Naval Academy, where she taught leadership and recruited the next generation of aviators as the Aviation Operations Officer. Currently in the Navy Reserves, Caroline co

The mission of Academy Insider is to guide, serve, and support Midshipmen, future Midshipmen, and their families.

Grant Vermeer your host is the person who started it all. He is the founder of Academy Insider and the host of The Academy Insider podcast and the USNA Property Network Podcast. He was a recruited athlete which brought him to Annapolis where he was a four year member of the varsity basketball team. He was a cyber operations major and commissioned into the Cryptologic Warfare Community. He was stationed at Fort Meade and supported the Subsurface Direct Support mission.

He separated from the Navy in 2023 and now owns The Vermeer Group, a boutique residential real estate company that specializes in serving the United States Naval Academy community PCSing to California & Texas.

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Grant Vermeer:

This is your host Grant Vermeer Naval Academy class of 2017 and I'm your Academy insider. It's my goal to be your guide through the Naval Academy experience by sharing my stories and providing you insight information into the life of a midshipman. Academy insider is in no way officially affiliated with the United States Naval Academy. All of the content on Academy insider is my own and does not reflect the views of the United States Naval Academy, the United States Navy nor the department of defense. Hey everyone and welcome to the Academy insider podcast. Today I'm joined by Caroline Johnson who is a class of 2009 graduate from the Naval Academy, a former[inaudible] super Hornet NFO and now author of the brand new book jet girl jet was a phenomenal story detailing her time starting from the Naval Academy. A funny story from ina to start it all off, all the way through to her flight pipeline training, like the Naval aviation training and then her time flying combat missions on an operational deployment over Iraq and Syria. Phenomenal stories, a ton of insight, a lot of laughs, but also a lot of honesty, a lot of raw emotion and truth about some of the struggles, trials and tribulations that she faced that truly make this book a phenomenal read. If you want to learn more about Caroline and her book, make sure to stick around and listen to this episode. Caroline's fantastic and it really is a fun listen, I hope you guys enjoy it and let's get to it. Hey everyone and welcome to Academy Saturday. And Carolyn, thank you so much for coming on to be a part of the podcast. We really, really do

Caroline:

appreciate it. Yeah, thank you so much for having me, grant. This is awesome and I'm so proud of what you're doing here.

Grant Vermeer:

Thank you. And if you don't mind just talking to the Academy inside our audience, a little bit about yourself. So one how you ended up at the Naval Academy and then to a little background about your midshipman self, your major, your company, and just a little bit about you as a Mitch midshipman.

Caroline:

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Caroline Johnson. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, actually next to the air force Academy. Um, and I ended up at the Naval Academy, probably because of my brother. He was a 2007 grad. Um, and so he kind of paved the way for me to join in the Academy. We come from a non- military family and my father's a businessman. My mom was a small business owner and we grew up next year force Academy. And so, uh, I didn't know a ton about the Navy, about the Naval Academy, but once I saw the campus and saw the students and really the core values, I fell in love with the place. But it didn't mean I was a great midshipman. Um, I had a very fun time as a midshipman for the most part. I don't remember most of the bad stuff, but um, I struggled a lot with the rules, but all things considered, we can talk about that a little bit later in the, in the podcast. I never got fried for it. Um, but I was an economics major. I was in 18th company and I'm a 2000 graduate. And so 2005 to 2009 with all the trials and tribulations in between.

Grant Vermeer:

Absolutely. And you ended up commissioning as a Naval 80 aviator and Naval flight officer. Was that something, so you said you didn't know much about the Navy. Was that something that you were interested at the start or was that something that you kind of discovered while you were at the Academy that may be Naval aviation was the career path for you?

Caroline:

Correct. So I actually wanted to be a doctor growing up as a kid, um, and all the way through high school as well. And then I kinda realized medicine wasn't going in a great direction at that point and my grandfather was like, I think you should choose a different path. And so that's when I kind of started looking at the Naval Academy, um, but still didn't quite understand what a life of service was and what that kind of looked like and really entailed. So going to the Naval Academy, I like to say I went in eyes wide shut and I was just there to soak it all up. I remember a recruiter calling me and she was a surface warfare officer, so a SWOT. And at that time I was very passionate about traveling and about seeing the world and so she told me about all the poor college she went to and the 22 countries. She saw it. I was like, Oh, that sounds great. Sure I'll be a swell. Um, and then I got to the Academy, it was like, Oh my gosh. Um, this was more of my people. It was a little bit too slow moving. I was not a Marine. I realized that they really liked rules and that wasn't me either. Um, and then aviation, I just fell in love with like the instructors, the personality, the missions. There was nothing cooler than that to me. That's why I went that way.

Grant Vermeer:

And were there any specific summer trainings that kind of really made you think like, Oh yes, this is something that I can definitely do. Like was it your time approach me? Did you an aviation cruise or powered flight or anything like that or did you kind of just go in and were like, Hey, I liked the people, I liked the aviation community and that's what I want to do.

Caroline:

So it's actually very funny. Um, I think this will kind of come out in this entire podcast is I've always marched to the beat of my own drum and was always off step with everyone else. And so I had very unique summer trainings when I was at the Academy. Now they offer a whole lot more and it's a little bit more structured. And when I was there it was kind of nontraditional. Um, so the only really normal thing I did was the plebe summer cruise. So I went out, I did that. There was a helicopter flight. I don't even think I got on that. It was, it was so random. I was with the public affairs team and the, and the dentist was like my, the, I don't know, my running mates. And so as we're going to at the Academy knows that's very nontraditional, but we didn't, we didn't have powered flight back in the day. PROTRAMID, it get canceled because they ran out of money. So I had never sat in a Navy plane before selecting Naval aviation actually. So wow,

Grant Vermeer:

that's crazy. That's a serious life decision to make to, you know, go and be a Naval aviator for eight years. Haven't ever been in a plane, but Hey, eh worked out. Uh, exactly. And you just, you kind of joke that following rules maybe wasn't your strong suit, nor did you particularly like, and it may lead some trouble, but how was your Naval Academy experience at large? Did you enjoy it? Looking back on it now? Do you felt, feel like you got a lot out of it? Uh, just kinda how were your four years in Annapolis?

Caroline:

I mean, it was totally transformative from walking in on ID to alumni hall and just being smacked in the face with sweat regulation and a haircut, um, to walking out the Gates and, and getting my last salute or my first salute. Um, it was incredible. Not anything I thought I was ever going to do. And I actually just met up with friends back in Colorado after 15 years from high school. They were like, how did you even end up at the Naval Academy? What happened? Um, but it took me from being this young, very naive, uh, girl and it transformed me into a woman who is really ready to face the world. And so understanding the morals and the call to service and all these higher level things that as an 18 year old, I didn't quite get the Naval Academy really instilled me with that. And I always worked hard. I was always good at academics. I was, you know, that stuff all came relatively easy to me. Um, but it was some of the other stuff that the Naval Academy really instilled in me. And, and I've even talked through my fleet career, I think even as an Ensign in 2009 I was still pretty naive though, prepared to take on kind of life.

Grant Vermeer:

Yeah, absolutely. And on previous episodes of Academy insider, we've talked about semester exchange programs and stuff like that. Sorry, just kind of twist this conversation a little bit, but I do want to talk about your semester exchange, uh, at the German Naval Academy as well. Um, so you got to do that. Can you just tell us a little bit about how that experience was and you talk about all those things about understanding and developing appreciation for the sense of duty. When you went to the German Naval Academy, what were things that you experienced there that one made you appreciate the Naval Academy a little bit more, but to also, you're like, Hmm. The things that they do at the German Naval Academy are actually pretty cool or helpful or just kind of anything in that realm.

Caroline:

Yeah, so the German Naval Academy, it was a wonderful experience. Uh, myself and Martin Coulter were the first Americans to ever study over there. Uh, so we got sent by the Naval Academy actually by mr Tim Disher who's currently still there. Um, he selected us to send us over and I had already actually studied abroad in Germany, in high school. So I was fluent in German, very familiar with the culture. And so it really was those experiences in the military system, uh, that was eye opening to me. So for example, they do one, one year of plebe training and it's all their military training shoved into one year and then they spend about three years, three and a half years at a military university. It's essentially a civilian school with one day a week ROTC program, but they're all going into the military. So it's Navy, army and air force altogether. And they end up with a European masters degree. So that structure was very different and it obviously comes from their history, um, you know, from, from the Nazis in the military. So they're actually very non-military and their rank and hierarchy is not as strict as ours is. And so that really taught me about the human aspect of what the military is and how it is really all about people and the relationships that you forge with people and how those can change your opinion of not just one, one person, but one country and one military and, and how you can work together best with people and try to understand their past. And how it will influence how they behave. And so that was really what Germany taught me. Um, you know, I, I also learned how to enjoy fear and I traveled a lot, but, um, really it's, it's people and that's the best part about the Navy and my Naval Academy experience. So,

Grant Vermeer:

yeah, absolutely. But it sounds like potentially the most important factor of that, especially for a career within Naval aide Naval aviation was learning to enjoy beer. So that, that's a good one. That's exciting. And so after, after you commission, uh, you commission as a Naval flight officer and you head down to Pensacola, correct?

Caroline:

Correct. Yup.

Grant Vermeer:

Do you mind, yeah, if you just mind telling, uh, the Academy inside our audience a little bit. I want to use this episode as well. Talk a little bit about the Naval aviation pipeline, specifically Naval fight officers. So if you don't mind just talking a little bit about your training, uh, pipeline as a Naval flight officer.

Caroline:

Yeah. And so even before we get to that, I think something that was very interesting in coming back as an instructor was understanding this selection process and kind of the numbers that go into that. Um, so for everyone knows that you have very high physical qualifications to get into Naval aviation. So not only measurements of, Hey, how long your arm is, how long your femur length is, that kind of stuff is actually very important and can be qualifying or disqualifying. You'll have to look at the exact regulations, but there's free measurements if there's a will, there's always a way. So there's waivers for any physical issues that you have. Surprisingly of a class of almost 1000 students, only about 60% of the Naval Academy midshipmen are physically qualified to go into aviation. Then you have to take an a S TB, which is an aviation skills test battery. To do that you have to score well and that includes a myriad of tests that you can study and practice for. Um, from there you go to a selection board and they select either pilot or NFO. For me, I actually wanted to be a pilot and I got selected as an NFO, which I think we'll talk about in a little bit. But when I was selected into Naval aviation, there were I think 374 of my classmates that went down to Pensacola that year. And so it was an exciting time. It's always exciting to go down to Pensacola, which is the cradle of Naval aviation with 374 group classmates and pick out your condo on the beach and just, I mean it's an amazing time. Then you start training, training kicks off with API, which is aviation pre-flight indoctrination. It's a six week course, made up of four weeks of academic instruction and testing mixed in with water survival training and all the physical aspects of it. Your final two weeks are all the survival training. So the ejection seat trainer, the helicopter dunker, um, that's where you really get good at swimming and almost drowning. It's kind of like is explosive ordinance disposal creating, um, always a fun time. But you make it through that and then you go into primary flight training. So pilots will go into their own primary flight training and NFS do our own, and that's now probably one in five too. It's a whole syllabus of courses and depending on how long you go through the process, there's, it's like a highway and there's different off-ramps to where you can select into P threes or helicopters or Aesics is different platforms of aircraft. But jets you go all the way through, you stay on the highway as long as you can. So it took me about two and a half years to make it all the way through flight training to earn my wings of gold. Um, and that included backups in the training syllabus that included waiting around in Pensacola, which is not a bad place to quote unquote Wade around. Um, but it was a really fun time in my life. Once you earn your wings of gold, you've selected which aircraft you're going to fly, which for me was FAA teens. And so then I went up to NAS Oceana, which is Virginia Beach. There's two major places that you can go if you fly jets, which is Virginia Beach or Lemoore California. I chose Virginia Beach and was able to go through one more year of intensive training and a training squadron. And then I went on, um, to join my fleet squadron. So it actually wasn't until, I think almost three and a half years after completing the Naval Academy that I joined my fleet squadron.

Grant Vermeer:

That's crazy. And as someone, as self-described as kind of be, you know, you go on your own program, you're kind of on your own little schedule there. You never really knew that you wanted to fly planes until you picked Naval aviation. And then you get to a point where you have to pick which aircraft you're going to fly in. And in your book jet girl, which I will now want to give you the opportunity to talk a little bit. You talk about a training flight with a pilot call sign J-Lo who really acted as a mentor of yours. And if you don't mind, would you just share that story a little bit and how she influenced you and how a lot of your instructors influenced you to realize that maybe jets was the path that you wanted to go?

Caroline:

Yeah. And it even goes back to the Naval Academy. My freshman year, plebe year in my leadership class, it was uh, an aviator, an NFO, a call sign track who's actually still in Annapolis. Do you need to buy any real estate? Call him. He's awesome. So it's so funny. He was an instructor and then stayed in Annapolis, but his mentorship and his just personality and talking to me and just kind of showing me the quality people that are in aviation. That's what convinced me to go that way. And then you step forwards the fleet and you have these interactions with all the different instructors. And my approach, given that relationship background from Germany was try to take something away from every instructor. Even if it's somebody you really don't like, pick up, Hey, that's a behavior I don't want to do and this is why. How it makes me feel. Anyway, J-Lo was the opposite. I wanted to do everything J lo dead because she was so cool. I got number one, she was the first female I had ever flown with the first female pilot, which was super cool as a woman going through. Um, but she just demonstrated to me what a professional aviator was and how you could still be yourself and also be an aviator. So we were going out on a training mission and we were flying over to Tallahassee to go get lunch. And so we, we took off and as a Naval flight officer in training, you do all these rudimentary tasks and training missions. And so I was going to town and I was working my calculations and doing all this very nerdy stuff, honestly. Um, and finally she was like, Hey, can you just tone it down a little bit? And I was like, ah, am I not doing something right? And she was like, no, no, no, you're great. But I have a two year old toddler at home and I'm a reserve. So I'm up here flying today to actually get away from my child. So I'm just trying to enjoy the day outside. Uh, let's fly in. Anyway, we had lunch in Tallahassee, had this wonderful day, learn what it was like to be a jet aviator, learn what was important and really then learn about kind of the life and how it was possible to still have your own life and to still be your own person, but also be very successful in aviation. And that's what J lo kind of demonstrated to me through her behaviors and just kind of bringing me along the way, which was great. That's great though as you share that story as well as stories from your operational deployment, your time at the Naval Academy, at your time at Pensacola, and the entirety of the flight pipeline. Can you just give the Academy side or audience a little bit of a rundown about your book and then what motivated you to write the book and share all these stories? Yeah, absolutely. Um, so the book kind of starts from when I started at the Naval Academy from day one, when I think I moon by entire class cause my pants fell down on I day, which was not a great experience. So I was off to a good start. Um, follows me through the Naval Academy and kind of the ups and downs and, and how I formed into this woman. And then through flight training and my operational tour all the way back to when I returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor. Um, so it is an exciting story of just kind of a lot of people don't understand the world that we live in. And so I was very fortunate to have a civilian coauthor and so to bring our lives to life in a way that even a civilian who had no idea what the Naval Academy was, can understand and really process and, and see it, taste it, smell it, and live it side by side. And you see those ups and downs, not of just being a woman but also, you know, a young man, a young woman. It spans across. I had unique struggle sometimes, whether it was hair problems or any of that kind of stuff. Um, but it, but it tracks that and it tracks kind of this workup emotionally of how you get through these combat operational deployments. Going to sea for nine months, being shot at by the enemy, losing friends. Um, and, and it's a fun story that that help will help not only you see what life can be and helps parents understand. My mom was actually a very key component of book helping me recall the stories and she was there for me every step of the way. And so it kind of, it's a great book for parents, for students who are up and coming, men and women. It teaches men how to be a good ally for their peers because when you do support women, you're going to build a stronger team and it hopefully is a roadmap for women going through so they can see the mistakes I made and see how to overcome them better than I did. And then hopefully it, it talks about some of the challenges that I faced so that we can make it better for the next generation that

Grant Vermeer:

yeah, the eye. Those are incredibly important and I'm glad you brought those up and we are going to touch on all of those topics a ton here later on in the podcast. But something I do want to talk about first is obviously I want to talk about all the high speed cool stuff. So obviously this book does talk about being in a jet and flying combat missions over Iraq and Syria. How was that feeling? Is there something as cool or cooler than go and mock two in a jet and an operational deployment? Or is it, is it as cool as everyone listening to this podcast imagines it to be?

Caroline:

Yeah, so luckily, luckily I never flew mock to have 18 so-called quite that fast. But it's a, it's a good, I'm sure my coauthor tried to put that in there and I pulled it out. Um, but it's, you are flying at Mach speeds and it is the coolest job in the entire world that I had no idea existed. And so whether you're in the front seat as a pilot or in the backseat as an NFO, the things you're able to see and the experiences that you're able to have are just second to none. And so for us it was life changing to see ISIS and the utter disregard they had for human life. While flying overhead and then to be able to employ your weapons and do my job to save innocent civilians on the ground. There's just no higher calling than that. Um, and so when you're able to do that day in and day out, it becomes really tough to take a desk job later on. I never understood that the Naval Academy led to the jobs in the entire world. So what you're doing to support the submariners and do cryptologic warfare out there or for even the people who are driving warships going against Iran every single day. It's insane. The fact that at 22, 23 I was a little bit older, I was 26 when I was flying over country. That doesn't happen anywhere in the world. They don't even let 25 year olds talk on the phone in some businesses, you know, and we're controlling missiles and bombs and flying$80 million fighter jets. So yes, it is cooler.

Grant Vermeer:

Slowly you share in the book talking about supporting seal teams on the ground and flying to a low altitude and going as fast as you can. And just having that show of force, uh, did that, did that power and force. As you talk about it now, looking back on it, it's so special when you put it into perspective, especially with how young you are and all these things, it makes it so special. But when you're in the moment, do you realize how cool that is and how powerful you are in that moment as you're supporting your teams on the ground? Hmm.

Caroline:

Never, you're there, you're strictly business. You have been so well trained and so professional. I think that's the coolest thing about Navy seals and fighter pilots and anyone who's in the military is you are a professional through and through and that comes out in anything that you do. And so magnitude of what you're doing in combat is lost on you so much of the time. Even now, I sometimes wonder, I'm like, wow, did I really get to do that? What was that really real? And I look back on the videos, I'm like, man, that was the most amazing thing. And you just don't realize it when you're out there. And that's why I thank you. You hear all these older veterans talk about their experiences because you know then it's not lost on them anymore. They kind of have this realization once you go through life and you see that, you know there's 70 year olds, 80 year olds out there that when you're 25 they've still never accomplished or been able to do the things that you have. And so know that the short term sacrifice and the things that you're going to do to get to that point, they are worth it in the end and one day you will look back on it.

Grant Vermeer:

Yes. And with that, we are currently recording this podcast during the week, right after service assignment at the Naval Academy. So we have a bunch of brand new people who have just found out that they're going into the Naval aviation community and you talk about how important this is and how cool it is and you'll never really get these opportunities to really understand how important and fun this is until you're there. But as you're doing this, what would you tell us about the military community? But especially the aviation community as an industry for young men and young women to build a career as a start in life. Like what can you tell us about the lessons that you learned as an aviator and why you would recommend that potentially a young man

Caroline:

or young woman growing up and trying to figure out what they want to do in life? Yeah, so number one, I would say by listening to this podcast, you're doing well because even at the time your head, uh, to go to the Naval Academy or to be there and number two, it doesn't matter which service selection you've attained. And so anything that you do out of the Naval Academy, even if you, you know, you get the golden handshake and you have to go be a civilian because you have medical issues to where you can't commission, you have made a good decision and the skills and the basic things that you've learned at Navy will set you up for a career that is going to lead you to success because you have these core values that other people lack. And that I saw day in and day out, not only during my time in the Navy, but after, you know, I left the Academy, I went and worked at a large hedge fund with 14 billion assets under management. Right. So I've seen that, I've seen the tech industry. I went and worked at a tech company for a while and I learned that the things we ingrain ourselves with, that the Academy, they're just, they don't happen elsewhere. And so that being said, specifically I'd Naval aviation and selection number one, if you didn't get what you want, it's okay. Longterm it will be okay as long as you approach it with a good attitude and you make the best of the situation that you're in. Whether, you know, I went down to flight school as an NFO and my whole goal was to transition over to be a pilot. The cards didn't line up. They were not taking any pilot transitions. And so I had to stay as an NFO and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. There were so many perks to being in NFO and I absolutely fell in love with it. So my number one like advice is take it and run. Just embrace it. Be all in, give it 120% and even if you only stay five years, that's five years more than anyone else who has chosen not to serve. And so the skills that you learn within the Navy and within the wavy nation, they are longterm, lifelong skills that will set you up for success in the private sector. If you want to go into banking, if you want to be a management consultant, any of those things line up. And it's all about hard work and sacrifice. Staying the course and overcoming adversity and learning how to work with people, what you're going to do in any service selection. So I don't know if that really captured it. I'm, you know, there's so many options that you can go, you know, aviation, you can go flying the commercial airlines, but the number of friends that I've had go to Harvard business school, MIT gone to get their PhDs. They're working for Noah. I have a friend at NASA, you know, it's just unbelievable career paths. I have two friends that are running for, one is for uh, Congress and one's for a state Congress. It's just unbelievable, my classmates. And even for me, so you talked about the golden handshake. I have a friend who unfortunately had a seizure

Grant Vermeer:

about a week and a half before graduation and found out he has like a minor form of epilepsy, right? And so he can't commission, but he's already out there. So what's amazing about service academies in general and the Naval Academy is the network, right? And the amount of people that are there to support you and help you out. So again, whether your career is in aviation, in cryptology as a surface warfare officer, whatever it is within this, you always have that Naval Academy and that service Academy family and community. And it's a great place to start. What you're doing. PC is completely taken care of now. He's loving to live in a good life and loves what he does. So it definitely is special and I appreciate you sharing that, that insight and advice with us. Really appreciate it. Yeah. The one thing I will, I will attack on a kind of what you said is, is the transparency aspect of it. You know, whether your class of no class, whether you know you got medically disqualified or whether you washed out of the aviation pipeline, all of those in the Navy are perceived failures. They're not at all, not by any means. That's life. Life happens to everyone. When you do move onto those next steps, just be transparent about it. That is what I would say on I'm taking, you know, your background. Just say, Hey look, this is what happened and own it and take that ownership moving forward and you'll find success in anything that you do. And that's what really, you know, especially more senior Academy alumni. That's what they really value in looking down. They don't care if you had a nontraditional path to where you've got to. Thank you for sharing that and I do want to now shift a little bit back towards your book. You've shared a couple of really fun stories with us, talked about some of the great things, but as you mentioned there were some ups and downs and you share those struggles and stories with complete and transparent honesty throughout the book, which I really appreciate it. And I really found to be eyeopening from some of the bullying to harassment to even sexism within the training pipeline and even into your squadron and even at the Naval Academy. Um, you talk about stories about checking into your first squadron and how the kind of the treatment you received for them from your hail and farewell, uh, to some of the just social aspects like a bar crawl, different things. If you don't mind just sharing some of those stories, um, and talking about it because it was extremely difficult and you can tell that through your book. And so I just want, if you don't mind for you to share with the audience some of the struggles that you faced and then how you managed to, as you described in your book, just keep your eyes in the boat and just keep moving forward and pushing through that. And being a trailblazer, uh, in this community of, of being a jet aviation. Yeah. So I think the number one thing about that is a lot of what I experienced both at the Naval Academy and in the fleet. I'm so proud because when I was back as an instructor, it was not as prevalent as it was. And the that I talked

Caroline:

about in the book and some of the stuff that's very raw, um, is not going on. The majority of students who talk to me say, I've never heard of behavior like this before. And, and so that's why we're talking about it is so that we can acknowledge that it went on in the past and we can make it better moving forward. And so fingers crossed we're going to turn the page and, and keep progressing and keep making things great for the next generations because that's the whole point of, of being a leader is paving the path and making it better for your fall on generations. So some of the things that I faced in my fleet squadron when I first got checked in, so I showed up at my hail and bale and I was dressed happily, very similar time today it's, it's cold out so it's snowing Colorado right now. But I had, you know, a nice cardigan sweater on and a top and jeans and boots and I walked in and I, I met a nice guy and I ended up being my command or my executive officer and he introduced him by his himself by his first name. So I said, Hey, I'm Caroline sir, nice to meet you. You brought me directly into the wives in the kitchen and introduced me to his wife and left me there with his wife. And I said, Oh, wonderful. Gave her my gifts. Hey, I made you talk the jib strawberries and brought you some flowers for the house and what can I help you do in the kitchen? I've been raised to plan parties, host parties, and I know that a host is always needs help. So I offered her that and she said, Oh no, I'm good. Let me introduce you to the rest of the wives. I said, okay, great, thanks. And so brings me over, introduces me to wife and leaves me there. And this wife says, Oh, we're so excited to have you join the squadron, you and your husband. And I go, Oh wow, I'm actually not married. Um, Oh, it's no problem if it's a boyfriend. We always love a new couple that's joining. And I go, Oh well I don't have one of those either. Um, I'm actually the new girl who joined the squadron and this woman, no kidding, held up her hand in my face and turned around and walked away and walked over to the other wives, pointed at me and said, that's the new girl in the squadron. And they all turned and looked at me and I was like, this is not good. I give him a little Debbie taught way. If I was like, so nice to meet you, I'm going to go join the squadron in the living room. The guys were all standing around the beer trough and so my beer drinking days in Germany paid off. So I walked over, popped a beer with my little bar trick and tried to talk to them and they all ignored me because their wives were watching them. And so after getting the cultural blurry from them at the kids really liked me. The kids were like, Hey man. Um, and so I hung out with them but just kind of getting shunned a lot, not being included in a lot of the squadron functions, not being kind of given me menial jobs. So as a woman I checked in and they had saved the public affairs job and the coffee mess officer, which is providing all the coffee for the squadron, making sure all the swag is taken care of. They had held that job for me for six months and so was all waiting for me. When I got there. Uh, I continually got the more administrative jobs. I actually got the public affairs job again when I was most senior in the squadron and that's a job normally reserved for the most junior person. And so it was just small stuff like that. Not getting the prestigious positions, not getting the optimal flights, being told that I was a cleaning woman, that you know, a guy wasn't going to clean that up cause that's a woman's job and that's what his wife does at home. Um, you know, your mom and your wife don't work here. I do. And I'm a member of your squadron and I'm a peer. So just small stuff like that. Being thoughtful, uh, is really important and making sure that I always taught my classes. The ingroup and the outgroup, you want to expand the size of your in group. If you've got a team and a unit, when they're more cohesive and they have a good culture and a good climate and everyone feels like a member of the team, they're going to feel a huge obligation to that team and they're going to perform higher, work harder and always be present. So, um, there's a lot of different factors that go into it. The book, like you said, is, is very raw from social times. Sorry if I broke up, uh, from social experiences to actual activities in the squadron. Um, during working hours. It was, it was challenging. And

Grant Vermeer:

what kind of you, you said it's, it's raw and sometimes it's hard to say and I'm sure it was hard to put down on words as well. What kind of gave you the strength to go ahead and share those difficult times. And on that same token, what would you offer to any young woman who wants to pursue a path in one of these communities in which she will be the minority of the population? So I just had a, uh, a friend of mine, Andrea Howard, who is a class 15 graduate and a submariner, a trailblazer and own right. There are not many women onboard submarines right now. So we, and we talked about this similar aspect and what it was like to be one of the few women on board, a submarine of hundreds of men. And it's kind of the same thing for you as being one of the few women within a squadron. How did you find the strength to put those words onto paper and then how would you encourage young women to continue to be trailblazers in their own right and fight through some of the things that may still be present? Uh, and I still think our president, and that's why I'm really glad that we're talking about this and addressing it and I'm really interested to hear what she had to say.

Caroline:

Yeah. Number one, you're so progressive thinking about these things and talking to different people because for so long we did not acknowledge that it existed for my entire time flying. I thought it was a problem within myself that was isolated to me. And so I wanted to hide it. And so interesting fact Hoffa. And I worked on this book for four, four and a half years. And in the beginning I was still in my squadron and he would ask me about these things and he would know when I had a bad day because I was just down and, and I wear my emotions on my sleeve and he'd be like, well, what? But like nothing, nothing. It's not a big deal. And I would start, then he finally won my trust and I would talk to him about the things that went on in my daily life. He goes, you realize this is not normal. Like this is not the way the teammates treat each other. And so I didn't realize that. And so what gave me the courage was coming back to the Naval Academy and number one seeing how far we've come and number two understanding that it still goes on and it still goes on behind closed doors and we need to be aware of it and we need to be talking about it so that people can say, Hey, this isn't right in the military we, we have this profession of arms and we need to hold ourselves to higher standard. And so if we talk about it, if I can share the things that I encountered, maybe people going into these communities. So now we've got combat arms open and the Marine Corps, you know, Navy seals are open explosive ordinance disposal. We're trying to get more women in because talent today looks different than talented 15 years ago. And at least you can be aware that these things do go on. And how can I get the mentors and sponsors who will reach across the table and support me as I go through these things. And so what's been so fascinating after writing the book and coming out with it and getting out of the Navy, is that I've had all these incredible mentors kind of come back to me that were fighter pilots or you know, that were in my squadron years ago and that our Navy seals and NFL football players and all these, these men who have come down and said, Hey, let me help you. Let me help make this an easier path for you. And I lacked that in the fleet. I didn't have any of those mentors or sponsors and, and so I'm writing this, you know, I, I wrote this and came out with it and talking about it so that people can be better from, from all different levels, from the top leadership to the frozen middle is what I always call him. The OFA is no sixes who are kind of stuck in the middle there. You know what I'm talking about, to the JEOs and to the midshipmen who, who really want to make things without a doubt, if, thank you for sharing that. And, and so you mentioned on a couple occasions you made your way back to the Naval Academy and you are a leadership instructor at the Academy and that's something that you highlight a lot in your book as well. The key themes of mentorship and leadership throughout this whole time. What are some key leadership takeaways that you can share from your story in jet girl? What are things that you try and leave the audience or the reader with in the realms of mentorship and leadership in your book? So I think mentorship, number one, you need to mentor all types. When I was at the Naval Academy, I mentored probably more men than I did women. And probably due to the fact that it's 70% men and you know, less than 30% women. Um, but it's important to mentor and sponsor people who don't look like you because they will teach you more as a leader than you would ever learn from somebody who is very similar to yourself. And so that didn't happen to me. So I was very emphatic about changing that. The second thing is empathy. I think everyone is fighting their own battles and those look different. And if you don't take the time and really invest yourself in other people and sit and listen to them and listen intently, you won't understand what they're going through. And each one of us is so different. I think it was really interesting when I was at the Academy teaching leadership, I brought in this personality assessment that was fascinating. It measured like 220 different traits of your personality and motivators in it. It was so fascinating to me to see my classes and to see the different behavioral traits that they had and the different motivators and to really force me as a leader to meet them where they were at. Because that's a leader's job. It's not for your followers to rise and, and be what you need them to be. It's for you to provide that support and to really meet them on their level because regardless of what traits they have, if even if they're not like yours, they can still be very successful. And, and that's what it takes as a leader. So I think number one is mentoring those who don't look like you. Number two is empathy. And the final thing is communication. Because if you don't communicate those things and you don't provide feedback on a timely manner, you're never going to get better and be able to kind of progress in life. So I know those are three very high concepts. I spent semesters, my poor students time on these things. Um, but it was such an amazing, like if you've ever doubted, everyone knows in the Naval aviation, the Academy tour is not traditional for aviators. And it really kind of killed my career by coming back to the Academy. But that was my number one choice. And I actually had to get very high support within the Navy to be able to come back because they didn't want to let me come back and it was the best tour of my entire life. And you have to do as an officer and going through the Academy, you have to do what's right for you. Don't like. That's where kind of marching to the beat of my own drum. Like I knew who I was and I was always able to choose the path that that was best for me. And sometimes the Navy told me what to do. Being an NFO, not a pilot, but that's okay. You do have to stay true to yourself and whether you're going to do five years. You were teaching midshipman just a little bit ago, but now you're doing a lot of speaking and teaching now in the private sector as well in regards to some of those topics of leadership and unit cohesion and working through that. So what are some of the things that you're doing now in regards to that? What are some of the topics that you speak about and what are the things that you like to teach these private sector companies about? Correct. So it was fascinating getting out of the Navy. I was able to, I was afforded a lot of opportunities from going out to Stanford graduate school of business and doing a program out there to Dartmouth tech school of business to piloting and noodles boilers to work at a hedge fund working at a tech tech company. I kind of saw the whole gig but and very quickly. And what I realized is the things that they struggle with, there's, you know, we are so technologically advanced and we are moving forward at such a rapid rate in that industry. Tech has transformed finance and tech and finance are fighting for the smartest people. Management consulting is in there. All these brilliant professions are struggling with how do we get talent, how do we retain talent and how do we keep talent? Mack performing at their maximum level. And so it's very similar issues to what we face in the Navy and to what we talk about. No kidding. In second class leadership at the Academy. And so these topics are so just relevant and by speaking to them through our experiences and the things that we've done, number one, they're so amazed by the story. They had no idea that people like you and me are in the military. They see from the outside just this rigid like for storm troopers and we're this rigid military unit. Well we're people. And once you show them, Hey, where you came from, I never thought the military was possible for me. They're just shocked that, that we exist, number one. And so educating is huge. And then kind of empowering them to take control of their life through a couple easy steps. What we do in the military, we break it down into very simple steps that are easy to process and easy to create into repeatable cycle. And so that's kind of what I bring to them. Um, and it, it ranges the gamut a lot of times, half the time I don't know where I'm going to go in these talks and we ended up going in a direction because it's all tailored to the people. Like we say, as leaders, as a speaker, you have to tailor to your audience. You have to have key core values that you're going to go in with, but you have to meet them where they're at and be able to custom tailor. So I've done a lot of that and I do it full time now, which has been a wonderful experience. Never did I think I'd be a professional or motivational. Yeah. Trying to teach David Shipman. I'm sure anything's got to be easier than that though, as best. Okay. The most Savage audience ever had in mind, whether they're either sleep, they'll, they will go to sleep. If you're not interesting, they will sleep on you.[inaudible] which I did. Um, but they just like, you can, you don't, I kid you not. They're the hardest audience. I came in from the fighter community and that's one thing about aviation that most people don't know is we are such good speakers because we work nonstop. That's our whole job is to brief an audience and to build a team up, to go into combat and to, to do these missions and put their lives on. The line, so you become very attuned at briefing and speaking to people. But the problem is you speak to one specific type who's groomed to think as fast, speak as fast and and be on the same of motivation because they're all leap performers. And so when you go back to the Academy, everyone's very elite, but they're just by second class year, they don't care. They're going to tell you if you're not meeting the standard and they, Oh my gosh, so much humility. They taught me the empathy and the humility and the authenticity. All they want is to connect with real people and I think that's the most amazing part about gen X is they demand when you're going to be in front of them face to face like we're doing right now, they demand you to show up and be who you really are because they can see through your smoke screen in an instant and that's like that is what would the private sector people are so fake. Sometimes I'm out in the real world that are just genuineness and authenticity is

Grant Vermeer:

I can't confirm. I absolutely remember being in second class leadership and all those courses. It's the first time, especially during the academic day where there are opinions that are thrown out, like you get to talk and discuss and there's not much talking to discuss and going on in cap two and chemistry, you know we're not like a normal school where you go to all your different lecture halls and have all these discussion tables and everything's like that. We don't, we didn't really get that opportunity. That one opportunity is leadership class so I'm sure you put in a lot of interesting situations with a bunch of midshipman who had been waiting to spill their thoughts on all of the topics, so absolutely. All right, well thank you for all of that information. Is there anything else that you would like to leave the Academy inside our audience with in regards to jet girl or anything that you have before we jump into our lightning round of questions?

Caroline:

Definitely check it out and order it for your parents or your grandparents if they want to look inside. It's definitely age appropriate for all the midshipman and I would say high school seniors just know it's honest and talk to them about that. But yeah, it's hopefully a great rate. Hopefully we'll be coming out with the kids.

Grant Vermeer:

Definitely. And for everyone who's listening, I can't more highly recommend this book. I know I mentioned it in the intro, I read it on the train up to New York and I couldn't put it down. It's phenomenal. It has a ton of one great stories like you just generally when you read it, you love to hear stories about fighter pilots flying in combat missions. Like there's that cool aspect to it, but there's a re, like you were saying earlier, there's a ton of authenticity and realness to it where we address some of the things that are currently going on in our fleet. It's eyeopening and it's really a fun read that I think you'll get a ton out of and a ton of leadership takeaways as well. So thank you so much for that and I highly recommend you check out that book. But now it is time to move on to the lightning round of questions, which I ask to all former midshipman or Naval Academy staff. Um, are you ready? All right. Yes. So it's a beautiful campus, but what is your favorite on the yard? Get out. I'm going to say Kate one because that's where you can get out. I like it. All right. Second meal or second thing is, I don't know if you follow a lot of the social media accounts in regards to the Naval Academy, but there was Thanksgiving meal this past Monday where there's a ton of funny stuff going on. People chugging eggnog and stuff like that. Thanksgiving me a, we love it. Yeah. Disgusting. But Mitch shit do weird things. Um, what was, what was your favorite meal in King hall? Nice. I mean, hands down. Fluff chick Sans jam for a while was really good. That was some good salad cheese in there. Did you just go with the straight Buffalo sauce? There are a lot of people who kind of went Buffalo sauce and some sweet baby Ray's or were you always just straight Buffalo sauce? Alright, I like it. Yeah, for sure. Uh, third question, and this is a little bit more in depth than the other ones, but who or what, uh, was the biggest influence on your leadership style that you have today that you can trace back to your time at the Naval Academy?

Caroline:

Honestly, my plebe leadership teacher, Shrek, uh, just his authenticity and showing up a quick vignette I was walking through, I was late to class, this is plebe year. Everything was ill fitting plebe year until I got it tailored down. But my hat, my hat, my cover was too big and it slipped down over my eyes going through the mid store parking lot and my hands were full with, I don't know what, but I'm like running to class cause I'm late and I see this like pair of black shoes and khaki pants and I just go straight past it. And this woman started yelling at me, she's like, Hey, stop. And I'm like, and so I like lean all the way back and look up and it's a Lieutenant and his wife and the wife had actually stopped me and chewed me out for not saluting her husband, um, because my hands were full and I didn't say, good morning sir. And ma'am and, and I was, I was, and so sorry. I was like, I'm so sorry. I just don't know. I'm waiting to class. I'm lost. I'm first week, like plebe year and I got to class, I was like in tears and I was like, I'm so sorry I'm late. I think it was my second or third time being late. And he was just like, it's okay. Took me aside and was like, what happened to you? And I explained to him what had just happened and he's like, you're kidding me. Who was it? I was like, I don't know. I'm so awful. And so he figured out who the Lieutenant was and he went and, and kind of had it out with this guy. And the fact that he looked out for me that like changed my life and was so influential of understanding like he didn't care, you know, he cared why I was late and and asked and, but really wanted to get to know the full story. And that was kind of, Hey, everyone's fighting a battle. And him standing up for me,

Grant Vermeer:

it was totally my fault. That's great. That's hilarious. And I love that. And as we talk about just kind of being real and investing in having that empathy, there's a lot of weird stuff that happens at the Naval Academy, right? That can cause you to be late. And it's so easy just to be like, Oh, just Mark them absent. You know, they'll get fried, they'll have to March a tour or something. But to take the time and just ask that question and then follow up with it because that is kind of ridiculous. That's a good story. But I couldn't, I couldn't imagine like getting yelled at. Oh yeah. Just mass chaos. Nothing ever goes right. Nothing goes in your favor. Um, all right. So you're now an author. You've written your own book, but the question is, what is your favorite book?

Caroline:

Ooh, that's a great question. Um, so, uh, I have a lot of favorite ones. The most recent one, I was at a book signing actually, and this woman came up to me and it's my current favorite because the author, this woman comes up to me and she goes, don't you dare give your book away. Like I think I had given a book to someone and it was for good reason. Like we connected very deeply or something. She's a book booklet. Okay, thank you. It's just like, especially not in this crowd, they can all afford it. I'm like, okay, yes ma'am. She goes, can we take a picture on your Instagram? And I'll put it on my Instagram. Okay, that'd be great. So she takes a picture, I sign a book and she pays for it. And then I went to my coauthor. I'm like, man, that lady was so nice. And he's like, Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. That's the author of the devil wears Prada, Wendy. So that's currently, I mean, great book. There's so many others that are just incredible books and that one's very serious. How'd you forget to tell me? That's a good story.

Grant Vermeer:

I know. I'm like, all right. And the final question, and you provided a ton of great advice so far, but the final question is what advice would you give someone who is a candidate, someone who is a high school student that may be interested in the Naval Academy about what they should consider when trying to decide whether or not the Naval Academy would be a good fit for them as a college decision?

Caroline:

That's a loaded question. Um, number one, Oh, I've done lots of numbers on this podcast. Know who you are. For some people it's a fit. For some people it's not. And for me, I never thought it would be a fit and neither did anyone. I think in my circles did they ever think it would be a fit for me. Um, I surprised them all by attending the Academy and not quitting, not looking back. It was the most incredible experience. The challenges were, I can't even count them. I, I can't even remember all them. And the things that I faced that you're never going to face in a normal college, but I can tell you that hands down was the best experience of my life and built me into the person I am today and gave me the grit and gave me the life experiences that have made me a person of depth and character who is actually also a little bit interesting. We've had these life experiences that no one will ever have and that you're able to share with people and connect with different people on. And so if you're thinking about it and you're strong enough to get through the application process and you get in, go for it. You can turn down and get back in any other school in the country, but if you turn down in the Naval Academy, you can never get back into the Naval Academy. Maybe you can, maybe there's situations where people have, but I don't think so. Or you turn down the Congressman or the Senator and then the nomination. It's, it's tough, but give it a try. You know, if you're really that curious, I'm trying to figure out if it's going to be a fit or not. You can read all these different things. Number one, realize that it's an individual experience. Every single person who's walked through the Gates of the Naval Academy has had a vastly different for years by the Bay than anyone else. There are core tenants that weave their way through everyone's blanket of an experience, but you are in charge of your own destiny and you are in charge of the things that happened to you at the Academy. Whether you know, you can say, well, I got fried, I'm jilted because there's no, that was your own thing and you did it to yourself and it's going to make you the person that you are and it's going to be a better person than when you start their day one. Um, so I just, I can't say enough good stuff about it. I was the last person again that anyone would ever expect and it was the best thing that's ever happened. I'm going doing another Naval Academy fond past X week. And they're like, thank you for sharing that. I could not agree more. And so if people really enjoyed what you were saying today, which I think they should, uh, where would you point people to learn more about you? Uh, you're speaking or just kind of where you are, I guess if people want to learn more about you and your work, where, where would you direct them out over to Instagram, jet girl USA and I objet girl, usa.com in the process of getting all those up to speed, I've been on this crazy book tour nonstop. And so a little bit has lacked buck lagged behind. I have a social media manager, she's helping me try and get my life together. She holds me accountable. She's like, all right, get it together. But I answered DMS and you're more than welcome to reach out to me, be patient a little bit. But as I get out of this backlog, I'll get on it and be back in it. So yeah, sharing the journey and checkup for everyone who's listening, we will put links to everything that she has mentioned and a link to purchase the book in the show notes, so make sure to check those out. But Carolina, thank you so much for taking time to come on

Grant Vermeer:

and share your stories and spend this hour with the Academy inside our audience. We really, really appreciate it.

Caroline:

Likewise, thank you for having me and that keeps strong out there. I just love this. I'm so, I just think it's so cool. These things didn't exist when through and we're making it better for the next generation. They know, they know what to expect going in.

Grant Vermeer:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, again, thank you so much and Academy insider audience. I hope you guys have a great day. Thanks. Thank you all so much for listening to the podcast. Please leave me a review on iTunes and be sure to subscribe to the Academy insider podcast. If you want to learn more about the Naval Academy, the different communities, and hear from these awesome authors and speakers who used to be Naval Academy midshipmen, please go and check out all the content that you can find. All right, a bunch of articles, do a bunch of different videos and things like that on my webpage, www.academy insider.com or you can go to my Facebook page, Academy insider. Again, all the links discussed in the show today are listed in the show notes, so if you're looking to find more about Caroline or jet girl, make sure to check out the show notes and we'll have all the links provided. Again, I'm grant Vermeer, your Academy insider, and thank you so much for letting me be your guide to the United States Naval Academy.