TJ Franklin – Preparing for Transition to Civilian Life
Although not retiring his military apparel just yet, Thomas (TJ) Franklin, current Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) student, is already thinking of how best to prep for the transition to civilian life.
“The Navy is all I know, and I hope to get into the sustainability field when I retire. I’ve never had to job hunt so the things the program emphasizes will better assist me in that transition,” says TJ. The program is also helping him build friendships and a professional network he hopes to lean on when he gets out.
This past fall established his 18-year mark of total active duty service since joining in 1996. TJ climbed through the ranks as an Engineman, where he worked on a variety of mechanical gear out in the Naval fleet. During his time at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, CA, further down the line, he was also advancing his education through distance learning, earning his Associate’s Degree from Central Texas College in 2001. “The goal was to improve myself and push the envelope. In doing so, I realized that I wanted to become a Naval officer,” he says, wanting to “influence people’s lives for the better and be a part of the decision making processes. I wanted to hold a sphere of influence on a higher plane.”
This newfound goal pushed him to apply to the Seaman to Admiral program, a highly competitive option for enlisted personnel to make the transition to commissioned officer, and got accepted with his first attempt. TJ subsequently became a Navy Flight Officer for the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, working with communication cryptologic systems, and deployed to both El Salvador and to Bahrain with the Tridents of VP-26 as a Navigator/Communicator, Tactical Coordinator (TACCO), and P-3C Mission Commander .
“Throughout my career in the Navy, I’ve always tried to do my best, and set myself up for the next milestone,” TJ says. “Don’t close doors before they are presented to you.”
When he began as an Assistant Professor in the Naval Science Department in 2012, teaching Intro to Naval Science and Seapower and Maritime Affairs as a Navy ROTC staff at Virginia Tech, TJ knew it was also his opportunity to pursue a Masters degree. Not only would this make him competitive for the next Navy rank, but it would also help open doors in the future.
TJ was originally drawn to the XMNR program because of its interactive and dynamic quality, promoting both group and individual projects, all in the midst of other working professionals. Another important element of the program for him is the flexible schedule. “I would totally recommend this [program] to current active duty military personnel because it doesn’t impede on commitments during normal working hours,” he says, adding that “for a working professional with a family, that’s huge!” With three children of his own, TJ treasures the ability to manage his own schedule according to the life he leads.
He was fearful that his unfamiliarity with the variety of environmental experiences many students bring to class with them would put him at a disadvantage, but found himself to be comfortable as a team player in group projects. “With my diverse background, I felt I was well-rounded and could be a utility player within that team construct,” TJ says. For example, in a monthly module focused on transboundary international negotiations, TJ felt he was a step ahead thanks to his first-hand international experience and greater understanding of the interconnectedness at the micro-level. “If you do not understand customs and courtesies, you could torpedo any potential momentum,” he adds.
Thanks to this program, TJ hopes that it will help him break into the environmental sector once he departs from the military track. Given the 2050 forecasts, and the myriad challenges society faces today, he expects that sustainability professionals will be sought out in the coming years. For now, the XMNR “has been a great fit because I’ve used leadership tools we’ve learned in class and applied them to my job. I hope to refine those skills as I continue my Naval service,” he says. “There are many nuggets of wisdom in the readings and lectures that I could draw from in the future to enrich the lives of those around me,” TJ concludes.