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Dreaming to serve and soar

Freeporter aims at career as U.S. naval aviator


Growing up, Freeporter Justin Neblett, now 24, loved seeing old photos of his grandfather flying cargo planes in the U.S. Air Force. Enthralled by his grandfather’s stories of serving his country and soaring through the sky, Neblett decided to follow in his footsteps. 

“I definitely caught the aviation bug from him,” Neblett said, “but I always saw the Navy as my path. My dream is to be a naval aviator.” 

After reporting to U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in October, Neblett is now one step closer to achieving his dream as prepares for graduation at the end of January.  

The OCS, in Newport, R.I., is an intense, 13-week program that instills the Navy’s fundamentals in its students. At the school, Neblett and his fellow recruits take courses in leadership, navigation, weapons, fitness, militarization, ethics, engineering, naval history and cyber warfare. 

Neblett described the OCS’s curriculum as “tough but rewarding.” 

He said he felt a deep connection with the Navy. Whether it was from films or TV shows, he said, it was always on his mind, so he decided to do everything he could to become an aviator.   

After graduating from Freeport High School in 2014, Neblett attended Nassau Community College to earn his associate’s degree in engineering, and then Stony Brook University for his bachelor’s. With his degree in hand, Neblett enlisted in the Navy at 22 and was admitted into the OCS last year. 

Neblett’s father, Peter Neblett, said he was surprised by his son’s decision to enlist, but he was proud of him. “The last time I spoke with him, he seemed more confident, and his tone was different,” Peter said. “He’s a doer, and once he starts something, he’s committed to finishing it.” 

Although he was eager to start OSC’s program, Neblett’s schedule was delayed by a few weeks because of the pandemic. Like any other school, the OSC had its students follow strict Covid-19 safety protocols, which included quarantining before starting the program. 

Neblett said the first three weeks focused on rigorous physical training, and his trainers constantly reminded him and his classmates to use their masks and personal protective equipment.

“Covid safety was always at the forefront,” Neblett said. “Even in here, it’s the new normal.” 

The next phase of the OCS program ran for five weeks and focused on the academics. As students completed their courses, they also learned proper military discipline and had their confidence built up. This prepared them for the next phase, which focuses on leadership.  

This two-week phase, which Neblett is in now, allows students to interact more closely with their instructors to reflect the junior-senior relationship that they will experience in the Navy. Neblett admitted that while his instructors initially intimidated him, this phase has helped him see them as mentors who have encouraged him to chase his dream. 

This phase also asks Neblett and his classmates to mentor the new students who recently began their first week at OCS. The senior students help their juniors train, study and construct their schedules, allowing them to see the other half of the junior-senior relationship. 

“Mr. Neblett and the other new accessions have been outstanding students,” said Juan Rosa, one of Neblett’s instructors. “Not only do they learn from staff but also from each other, creating great camaraderie and teamwork among themselves. They are undoubtedly the best examples of officers; they truly emulate the ‘ship, shipmate, self’ attitude. I’m proud to serve with them, and I’m proud to call them my shipmates.”

Now in his final phase at OCS, Neblett said he feels transformed and is finishing his coursework, with graduation tentatively set for Jan. 29. After, he and his classmates will become Navy ensigns.  

“It was an amazing opportunity, and I definitely feel more confident after all this training,” Neblett said. 

After graduation, Neblett is set to attend two years of flight training at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.