Sept. 14, 2010
SEATTLE - The coolest part was his role in firing a few missiles. This was how Robert Squires spent this summer, training with the Naval Reserves as a midshipman in San Diego on the U.S.S. Mobile Bay. And while Squires didn't push the button on the cruiser, he had an integral role in a military training exercise off the coast of California. He has the video on his iPhone to prove it.
During the school year at Washington, Squires rows for the Huskies. But his dream is to one day take flight as a naval pilot.
"I want to fly," said Squires, who also owns a private pilot's license. "I think I belong in the air."
Rowing for Washington and a military career have long been intertwined. What makes rowers successful - discipline, physical fitness and commitment to a greater team structure - is a skill set that translates well to the military. There are Huskies who have served in all four branches, and most recently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Squires and Reiner Hershaw are two current Huskies whose ultimate goal is not to row in the Olympics, but to serve their nation.
Squires is a dyed-in-the-wool Navy man, the son of a Naval Academy graduate. Hershaw wants to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Mariners as an officer. He even sports the requisite haircut, the Marine special - a freshly buzzed high-and-tight fade that elicited a few jarhead ribs from Squires when the two met up for a recent meeting at Conibear Shellhouse.
Both have their own altruistic reasons for wanting to serve their country. Squires felt it's his "duty" to give back to a country that has provided so many opportunities for him, such as the chance to compete at a high level academically and attend a top-notch university. What attracted Hershaw to the Marine Corps were the courage and the standards that define the amphibious armed forces. He respected the high set of standards, the brazen slogans (the few, the proud) and the sleek dress blues in the promotional ads.
This is what pulled him into a recruiting office in the U-District, where he put pen to paper and was shipped off to Quantico, Va., to attend Officers Candidate School.
"I thought, `What else am I going to do this summer? Play around and get myself in trouble?" Hershaw said.
In Virginia, Hershaw spent long days having his leadership skills evaluated. The grades break down to judge potential officers in three different categories: physical, intelligence and leadership. Not surprisingly, the Marines stress leadership (50 percent) more than anything else. As Hershaw puts it, when you lead young men into combat where bullets are whistling by helmets, you have to be able to motivate. It fits in with the OCS motto, Ductus Exemplo: leadership by example.
What helped in this respect was the team culture at Washington, a collegial atmosphere that can be ruthlessly competitive on the water and in training. Those who can handle the day-in and day-out grind, for example, are generally the rowers who compete at the highest level.
For Squires, the indoctrination into the Navy came all through childhood. He moved around in typical military brat fashion, spending time in California, Rhode Island and Florida, where his family eventually settled in Jacksonville. Squires ended up at Washington when he decided no other school could match academics and quality of rowing. In turn, Squires also enjoys a traditional college lifestyle. He hikes, fishes and hunts on the weekends in one of the best states for outdoor activities.
"A lot of programs around the country have the will to win," Squires said. "But I don't know if they have the tools to win. Here you pretty much have the whole package."
His experience in San Diego provided a first-hand look at naval life. Squires worked with enlisted men, and shadowed a running mate around the warship. In the meantime, he's completing his application packet to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., a process that could last until Oct. 2011.
Both Squires and Hershaw are also attempting to carve out their own place in the rowing program. Squires returned to Seattle this summer and worked with men's coach Michael Callahan at the UW pairs' camp, a rowing program that focuses on work in a two-man boat. The rising junior feels the hard work in the pair boat should pay off this fall, when Callahan makes the bulk of his boat selections based on a student-athlete's success in that discipline.
"I don't think I would be nearly as confident as I am now about my ability to just go out there and be fast in the water," Squires said. "Pairs camp was huge for me, I got to row with a lot of guys I normally don't get to row with."
Hershaw is also looking to advance his standing on the team. He recently stroked the Open 4+ at the IRAs to a Bronze Medal, one of four boats to medal at the season-ending National Championships. And while Hershaw didn't attend pairs' camp, he stayed fit at OCS doing basic training type exercises (hiking, pushups and pull ups). Each embraces the "bottom pressure" mantra that Callahan reminds to his rowers - upset the status quo with extraordinary effort.
Callahan had nothing but support to offer Squires and Hershaw when the two approached him about their desire to spend the summer training with the military. The son of a long-time Navy submarine captain, Callahan knows full well the prestige that comes with serving your nation. But he didn't just rubber stamp his recommendation to their applications either. He asked probing questions about their ambitions in the military.
"Mike cares, that's pretty cool, he is interested in every single one of his guys," Hershaw said. "He know the names of your parents, where you're from, where they're from, what you want to do, etc. The fact that he knows that type of stuff for a team as big of ours, that really says something about the kind of coaching we have here and how they care about us."