“Tradition of Service: Paul Rojas”
“I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana and soon after moved with my mom to Ft. Rucker, Alabama, where she would later meet my father while they were both serving in the Army. We lived there for a while, but once my parents were discharged we moved to Georgia with my brand new baby sister, and that’s where I did most of my growing up. When I was younger, I spent most of my time outside playing sports or roaming the woods and riding bikes. I did pretty well in high school- grade-wise, Co-Captained a state championship-winning baseball team, and it’s also where I met my wife. I played two years of baseball in college, took a year off after breaking my wrist, and then joined the Navy.”
Describe to me the moment you decided to join the military. Who or what led you to that decision?
“I don’t really remember an exact moment, but there were a few things that went into my decision. My family has a rich tradition of service, so there was always a call to service in the back of my mind. Sometime in 2011, it seemed like the right thing to do, and looking back it was the best decision I’d ever made.”
What was your job in the Navy? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“I was rated as an Aviation Structural Mechanic, better known as “airframers” on the aviation side of the Navy. Airframers are responsible for the overall structural integrity of the aircraft and the flight control surfaces – rudders, ailerons, horizontal stabs, etc. Certification is a two-step process. First I attended an “A-School” where I was introduced to the fundamentals of hydraulics and metal working. After graduation, I completed follow-on aircraft specific training at “C-School,” and was eventually assigned to the greatest F-18 Legacy/Super Hornet Squadron on this green & mostly blue Earth. The VFA -131 Wildcats.”
“In Naval Aviation, newly enlisted members get their start in the 310 Maintenance division, which is most commonly known as the Line-Shack. These melting pot divisions are manned by the Navy’s youngest sailors, who when deployed aboard an aircraft carrier, operate in one of the world’s most dangerous working environments. These junior sailors are responsible for the safe and efficient launch and recovery of aircraft, as well as the conduction of numerous all-inclusive inspections for the squadron’s fleet. We are the first to inspect the jet each day, the last to inspect it before a flight, the first to the look it over upon landing, and the team to call the flyers ready for the next day. The goal for every newcomer in the 310 Division, is to become a Plane Captain. This is achieved through the attainment of various qualifications and the development of high situational awareness and overall knowledge of the aircraft. It also requires a good understanding of the relationship between the squadron’s maintenance and flight operations. For the last two years of my service, I had the privilege of leading a team of gritty and professional – oftentimes hilarious – men and women that served in the Line-Shack. It was the most rewarding experience of my life.”
Who are some of the sailors you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“Damn near every single one of them. Naval squadrons are very tight-knit communities, and our shops work collaboratively with each other. I had a lot of relationship building with many different people – most of whom impacted my service in quite a few ways. There were a couple of people that I became very close friends with and still talk to nearly every day. That being said, the folks I worked with in the Line Division were who I considered my immediate family. From our division’s leadership to the newest member of our team – all of them impacted me on a daily basis, and when I miss the military, I miss their camaraderie.”
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person that comes to mind?
“I am a stout advocate for distributive and transformational leadership. So, I like to focus on the leadership of the everyday individual. We are all leaders in one way or another. Each of us has the ability to influence others in the way that we care for ourselves, our families, and our communities. I feel that adopting this mindset can be very empowering, and it’s something that I like to promote.”
Describe to me your most profound experience while wearing a uniform.
“Experiencing my own growth as an individual, and being a witness and catalyst to the positive change in the individuals that I worked with every day.”
What taste, touch, or smell symbolizes the Navy to you?
“Taste: Gut truck breakfast sandwiches on the flight line at all times of the day. Touch: lacing up my flight deck boots before each shift. Smell: The musk that hits you when walking onto an aircraft carrier, or the smell of jet fuel while walking into the hangar at NAS Oceana.’
How have you continued to serve after the Navy?
“I am a member of the Virginia Air National Guard and drill one weekend each month. Beyond that, I get involved within the local community in areas that interest me. Putting ourselves out there to the community will sometimes surprise us with some really cool opportunities.”
What should the average civilian know about the military?
“I would just encourage people not to take their families, their jobs, our country, or planet for granted. Also, my experience in the Navy was filled with diversity. Diversity is beautiful, and it works, and it also protects you.”
What is your current position as a civilian and how did your Navy experience prepare you for that?
“Right now, I’m a full-time student at Cornell. My experience in the Navy brought me here through hard work, a good attitude, and a little bit of good fortune. It showed me things that I didn’t know I had, and helped me develop both professionally and personally so that I could fulfill life’s many titles- husband, brother, son, patriot, friend, student – to the best of my ability.”