How three young alums are living out Non ut sibi in their daily lives in the military.
Three recent graduates credit Taft with instilling in them a sense of service to others that has inspired them to serve their country. A Naval meteorology and oceanography officer, a communications and cyber warfare officer, and a Marine Corps test pilot have taken the school's motto to heart.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Keefe Rafferty '10
After completing his deployment as a surface warfare officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Keefe Rafferty joined the Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command this year—METOC is a branch command of U.S. Navy Information Warfare. He's stationed at the Stennis Space Center with its fleet survey team. Rafferty says the team travels the world's oceans to bottom map nearshore regions for publishing charts and safe navigation of military platforms and vessels.
Rafferty was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal from his commanding officer on the Theodore Roosevelt when he transferred from the aircraft carrier. It's a difficult medal to earn during a first tour as an officer (two years after his graduation and commissioning). "I was humbled and honored to receive it," he says. "I can absolutely attribute the award to the crew I worked with onboard, but I also can attribute this to Taft, where my call to service all began."
As Rafferty was growing up as a faculty child at Taft—his mom is Jennifer Zaccara, former associate dean of faculty and English teacher, who served from 2001 to 2013)—the school's motto, Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret, Not to be served but to serve, made a huge impression on him. He credits that motto with helping spark his desire to join the military.
"When I entered middle school, I quickly began to notice how I was different than a lot of my peers. Not in a bad way or a better way, but more of a disciplined way," he says. "I focused on life from a strategic and innovative mindset, focusing on mental and strength development and teamwork. I thought at the time that the military team, or family, would be the best fit for me for my initial career."
His love of history and the ocean led to his decision to enter the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as for its education. "Annapolis gave me that opportunity," he says. "I've always been a scholar at heart.
"I chose the Navy because I love the ocean," he says. "I pretty much was always in the water whenever I could be. I also did not know what particular branch of the Navy I wanted to serve in, whether it be surface, submarines, aviation, special warfare, or the Marine Corps, so, I thought entering the Navy through the U.S. Naval Academy gave me that best option to prepare and have time to see what I wanted to pursue."
Taft's motto—and the school's help when his brother, Bryce '07, had a near fatal diving accident just days before Rafferty's senior year at Taft began—reinforced his desire to serve others.
"It's a call to humility," he says. "A desire to place others before myself in everything that I do. Hard to do when I am a pretty competitive person, notably on the athletic pitch, but I approach life as a servant leader and follower as opposed to a strict manager or egocentric leader concerned with one's own career and personal gain. Money is not one of my life pursuits. In my faith, life is about serving—serving God, serving my country, serving in any avenue where I can put my talents that God gave me to good use for the greater good. Taft instilled my calling to serve in such tremendous ways. When I look at schools, I always ask or see what their motto is, and I have yet to find one as powerful as Taft's."
Rafferty's previous posting had him leading more than 60 sailors. "I was a surface warfare officer (SWO) on the aircraft carrier in the engineering department, where I led over 60 sailors in the management of all electrical systems on the ship outside of the nuclear reactor plant. I'm not an electrician by trade, but SWOs are placed into many different departments on the ship to lead and manage respectively, to include engineering, combat systems, operations, deck, navigation, and weapons," he says.
"While out to sea, I also stood officer of the deck, where I was the leading officer and direct representative of the ship's captain on the bridge. I ensured safety of navigation, ship and crew, mission completion, and seamanship innovation and training, maintaining situational awareness at all times of all radars. For five hours each day or night, 5,000 souls were in my hands. A lot of responsibility for someone right out of college, but also very fulfilling. It never gets old placing the ship into the necessary headwind and crosswind wind limits to launch and land our fixed and rotary wing aircraft."
Sailing at night, Rafferty says, was the most difficult. "I was definitely thinking about the past sailors, back when it was all sails. They didn't have GPS or all the instruments," he says. "We have technology today, so it's really hard for present-day officers to think about that. We did learn how to navigate by the stars if the GPS goes down. It's definitely a little more labor intensive!"
And even though he's only 26, Rafferty feels personal satisfaction in watching those under his leadership rise to the occasion.
"I have the opportunity to affect other people's lives every day," he says. "Carpe diem! I can help and get to see my sailors accomplish their goals and dreams, whether that be promoting to the next rank, getting college-level degrees, obtaining qualifications, or raising a family. I get to have the opportunity to lead fine men and women each day.
My job encompasses being a directive officer holding sailors accountable one second, and the next second I may be giving them recognition for their accomplishments and training them how to be a team of teams. The Navy is about teamwork. In our field of work, when we do not operate as a team, sailors' lives may unfortunately be in jeopardy. Succeeding as a team at the end is an amazing feeling. We grind it out and complete the missions. It's a great feeling."
Ensign Rhydian Glass '12
Coming from a military background, Rhydian Glass always felt patriotic. Her grandfather and several other family members served in the military.
Glass is currently an ensign and a communications and cyber warfare officer stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard the USS Leyte Gulf.
"I'm from a very patriotic town, and ever since I was young, I've always highly regarded the military," she says.
A star softball player at Taft, Glass went to Yale after graduation. The thought of joining the military was pushed back as she concentrated on her studies.
"I never knew becoming an officer was an option for me until my junior year of college—before then, I thought ROTC or the military academies were the only routes," she says. "When I learned that Officer Candidate School was an option for college graduates, I became very interested in the opportunity. It's always been a goal of mine to apply all that I learned from my studies at Yale toward my career, and I saw the Navy as a challenging yet solid place to start."
Glass earned a bachelor's degree from Yale in environmental studies concentrating on national security and policy. She focused primarily on nonproliferation, electromagnetic pulses, and nuclear warfare issues. "A lot of what I studied actually pertained to the Navy and global naval issues," she says.
"I just turned 24 years old, and I am in charge of a division of nearly 20 sailors. Every day I lead them, from making sure work is properly and efficiently executed to providing support and guidance on a personal and career level," she says. "The travel is also every exciting. I've gotten a chance to see some incredible places around the world, from the Middle East to the Arctic Circle."
Glass says she joined her current ship as it was halfway through its deployment last summer.
"I flew out of Bahrain, spent some time in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea," she says. "We encountered plenty of sandstorms out there. Within my first week on board, we sailed through a monsoon. The Suez Canal is quite an interesting experience, traveling on a warship with land 50 meters to each side. I've been through the Mediterranean and saw Spain, went up north to Scotland—saw lots of sharks up there—and can proudly say I 'Bluenosed,' having crossed and spent time over the Arctic Circle. The water up there is cold. The fjords of Norway are absolutely surreal, and the views from the top of a warship's mast are incomparable."
Being in the military has changed her, Glass says. "I'm more confident and direct. I'm becoming a much stronger and efficient leader, and am learning how not to put up with silly nonsense. I can quickly adjust and adapt to any situation and circumstance, and I'm definitely more courageous."
Those considering a career in the military should think hard about their choice, Glass says. You should "know what you're getting into. Do the research, talk to people, consider the long-term pros and cons. And understand you can't just take vacation time or slack off. Every day is mission critical, and no matter who you are, you play an important role. Commitment is serious."
Glass says that civilians might not understand certain things about those who serve. "How much we sacrifice on a daily basis and the overall commitment. Planning vacations or even weekend trips is very difficult," she says. "When I'm out at sea, I'm limited on how often I can talk to family and friends. The hours are early and late. As convenient as uniforms are, I find that I miss that individualism that I can express through my own personal style."
Maintaining long-distance relationships is also tough, she says, and so is keeping a sense of one's nonmilitary self.
"I think it's important to separate your civilian self from your military self. I don't want to bring work home, especially the frustrations," she says. "I leave work on the ship. Home and off-ship are my escape and fresh air. Little things like dressing up nice when I can, exercising, and making sure I stay connected to my friends and family are critical for mental, emotional, and overall physical health and stability."
Looking to the future, Glass says she's excited for the possibilities. "I'm very fortunate with the position I currently hold, as it could potentially lead to some great opportunities in the long run, as long as I continue to work hard, do my job right, and put forth every effort to be the best leader and division officer I can be. Every day I strive to improve myself and my sailors, set standards, and strive to meet both short- and long-term goals."
It's a difficult job, but Glass is proud of her service. "My love and pride for our country motivate me, particularly contributing to and serving something greater than myself," she says. "It's a challenge, but I know in the long run it's worth it and every day I'm making a difference in the overall safety of Americans."
Major John "Jay" Alspach '03
Major John Alspach is a U.S. Marine F-35A operational test fighter pilot on exchange with the U.S. Air Force, flying over the deserts of Nevada, testing out fighter planes.
"I recently transitioned to my new job following a three-year tour as an FA-18 Hornet instructor pilot at Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, the Marine Corps' advanced weapons school," he says. "I have deployed three times, to Afghanistan, Syria, and the Pacific theater of operations. One of those deployments was off the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. I have been stationed everywhere from Pensacola, Florida, to Las Vegas, Nevada. However, I have spent the majority of my time living in Coronado, California, and flying out of Miramar, California, with aircraft carrier-based FA-18 squadrons."
Alspach also served as an aggressor pilot in the F-5. "As an instructor pilot, I was in charge of the development, standardization, and instruction of various systems and tactics in the FA-18," he says. "As an aggressor pilot, I flew against American forces in an adversary role, training them how to fight and win against threat nations."
As a boy, Alspach says he watched movies about military planes and knew he wanted nothing more than to fly fighter jets off aircraft carriers.
"I wanted to have a profession that was unique, exciting, and purposeful," he says. "It was alluring to think of a career that involved adventure, adrenaline, purpose, and challenge. I chose the Marine Corps because I wanted to have options, from flying jets to jumping out of airplanes, to leading men and women, to furthering my education.
"After seeing all the services during my time at the Naval Academy, the Marines proved themselves to be more disciplined, confident, and aggressive than the other services. I fit in well with that group and wanted to be part of that team, especially if I were going to combat."
The best part of his job, Alspach says, has been the opportunity to lead servicemen and aircraft into combat.
"Combat operations require an immense amount of maturity, clear thinking, and decisive decision-making due to the responsibility entrusted to me and fellow pilots," he says. "There is no more fulfilling experience than executing safe, productive, and effective flight operations over dangerous territories. In a sense, the feeling of accomplishment post-deployed flight operations is the most euphoric sensation one can imagine. After my last combat flight, I was relieved, proud, worried, sad, giddy—everything. Leading men and machines into combat is an awesome and unreal experience, an experience that is forever etched into my memory."
The down side? Being away from his family. "My last position mandated that I was gone flying, instructing, and researching for roughly six months out of the year," he says. "When I was in a fleet FA-18 squadron, (one that is operationally ready and deployable), I was gone for 29 out of the 44 months I was with the squadron. Leaving my wife and 2.5-year-old little girl is something that has only gotten more difficult."
Yet Alspach has seen more things than he ever expected. "Being in the military has shown me a side of life that I never would have experienced if I had gone a more traditional route," he says. "I have seen the absolute highs and lows of society and humanity, and this experience has matured me rapidly. I would say, overall, I have become a very detail-oriented, skeptical, and wise person as a result. Serving has really opened my eyes to a lot of things."
There's a lot that people don't realize or acknowledge about those who serve, Alspach says.
"The military was not the most popular professional career option coming out of Taft," he says, "but if a person looks past the stereotypes of the military, one will realize that the military is full of opportunity, incredible people, and unbelievable experiences. Coming from a place such as Taft, where students are told, 'Not to be served, but to serve,' a young military officer is given an immense amount of responsibility and can make significant impacts on everything from young enlisted personnel to national strategic policy.
"I flew my first combat mission at age 26, leading FA-18 Hornets into Afghanistan to support coalition forces on the ground," Alspach says. Being responsible for men, machines, weapons, and policy at that age is a priceless experience. As cliched as it sounds, you really can make an impact on something other than yourself as a military officer. You just have to choose what that impact is."
While we have highlighted here only three young alumni now serving in the military, we fully acknowledge and express gratitude for the service of many other Taft graduates through the decades, both those currently enlisted and those who have nobly served in the past. We thank them all for their commitment to serve, a profound manifestation of Non ut sibi. THANK YOU