FLORENCE, S.C. – When it comes to his military career, Brian Souchet’s journey has many similarities to a college football walk-on, he said.
Souchet, commander of South Florence’s Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, had not one but two instances of starting almost from the bottom and working his way up to seize on an opportunity.
After all, not many people can say they’ve flown jet aircraft from the deck of a carrier during wartime.
“I wanted to do something more than a 9-to-5 job,” Souchet said. “I joined the Navy and got into aviation. That’s something that’d been burning in the back of my mind for quite some time, so that’s a dream I got to live – to actually fly jet aircraft off an aircraft carrier. Very few people get to do that.”
And very few people probably had to take the same path Souchet did. He joined the ROTC program at Boston University during his freshman year, but it was not a full-time commitment.
“I really didn’t have the grades and the SATs to get the full four-year scholarship,” Souchet said. “So I enrolled my freshman year on a noncommittal basis, and out of that performance, the instructors were allowed to grant a three-year scholarship to a student, and I was blessed to get it.”
He graduated and was commissioned in 1987 with an eye on aviation, but first he had another roadblock to get through. Without 20/20 vision, Souchet had to become a naval flight officer specializing in navigation and advanced systems operation aboard various aircraft.
“The Navy actually did a program where they would allow flight officers to transition to pilot based on performance in the fleet,” he said. “So, for the second time in my career, I was kind of a walk-on.”
He was soon deployed to Japan on the U.S.S. Midway. It was supposed to be a farewell tour for the aircraft carrier that ended around Christmas. The Gulf War ended those plans, as Souchet was sent to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, and he was one of the first-day strike pilots in Kuwait.
“You only see it at night strikes,” he said. “When you go on a night strike, it’s very colorful, because you see all of the tracers and the missiles and stuff you were kind of oblivious to. It was an interesting time, because you were doing what you trained to do. All you do is plan, fly, eat and sleep. All the extraneous stuff goes out the window.”
Souchet doesn’t even remember how many missions he flew in total in his EA-6B Prowler. His job was to cover the attack aircraft coming in with radar jamming and suppression of enemy air defenses.
It was the same mission he had years later in Kosovo.
After eventually transitioning into a flight school instructor, Souchet retired from the Navy in 2007 – but not before putting in an application to be an NJROTC instructor.
That didn’t materialize until approximately five years later when he accepted a position in Florida before landing at South Florence High, where he’s entering his fifth year with the school district.
“It falls in the military branch under citizenship development, and that’s what we’re all about,” he said. “… They learn how to lead. This is first and foremost a leadership development program. If they stay with the program, as they move up they are expected to stand in front of a platoon, to lead other people and put others first. They learn that their job is to accomplish your mission and take care of your people.”
It’s not boot camp by any means, Souchet said, but more of an environment where students learn discipline, impulse control, manners and other skill sets for the adult world.
Navy curriculum, physical training and community service are all part of the package as well, along with various other programs offered in what is a six-day, 10-hour job a lot of times, Souchet said.
“I look back on my career and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given,” he said. “The world’s most powerful navy, and it’s the truth. The stuff that our Navy does is amazing. And just to have been a part of that, even for a brief period, is pretty amazing.”