June 20, 2012
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE -Three Saturdays ago, rower Rob Squires was driving to a national title in course-record time as the stroke on the Huskies' varsity-four boat. Squires and UW swamped archrival California plus the rest of the field, one of Washington's five victories at the 110th Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Tuesday, Ensign Robert Squires was driving across the country to report to a guided-missile destroyer as a newly commissioned officer in the United States Navy.
The USS Michael Murphy, christened last month, is in the final stages of construction in Bath, Maine, before Squires begins defending our country from it.
And ten days before he drove off for his new career, Squires received his history degree from UW.
Now that's a productive month.
It's pretty rewarding to reach this point. And it's just a beginning.
"It's pretty rewarding to reach this point. And it's just a beginning," Squires said before leaving Tuesday on his cross-country drive to his ship and new life. "It can even be more rewarding from here."
He is one of three senior members of this spring's rock-hard, national-champion Huskies crew team that are the newest officers in our nation's military. Reiner Hershaw, the two seat on the champion open-four boat, is a new second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. So is teammate C.J. Miller.
These three Huskies represent the changing military. Squires is heading immediately onto active duty, to a warship to fulfill the needs and missions of surface-warfare officers, the traditional backbone to the Navy. But Miller and Hershaw are having their careers delayed by the change in missions and reduction in U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year. That draw down has caused a backlog in training assignments, so they won't report to their first active-duty stations until next summer and fall, respectively.
That doesn't change the appreciation or perspective the latter two have on the choices they made while at Washington, valuable and virtuous decisions that have set them up for uniquely rewarding careers while still in their early 20s.
I share their appreciation. Nineteen years ago this month I joined my first unit as a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the Army, weeks out of West Point. But I wasn't volunteering into a military that is still technically at war, and has been for more than a decade now.
"A lot of people will make a lot more money than me in other jobs. But it's about being able to serve," Hershaw said. "I've talked to a lot of guys, older guys whose chances have passed, who have really regretted not serving in the military.
"Obviously there are going to be times it is not fun, that is going to be tough.
"But it's not like you can always go back and join the military and be around such a closely bonded, driven group of people like this later in life."
I asked 2nd Lt. Squires if he gave a second thought for volunteering into possible war.
"No, because when I signed up I knew what I was doing. I knew what I got myself into," he said. "I'm fully confident in the Navy and its capabilities. This is the right thing for me. I'm confident in the men and women of the Navy, how they take care of people and complete the mission."
"THE BEST OF THE BEST"
Why are these three Huskies in the military?
There can't be three more prepared guys coming off a U.S. college campus, outside of the military academies.
Squires, Hershaw and Miller are products of one of the most physically and mentally demanding programs in American college sports. That's any sport. Anywhere.
Coach Michael Callahan led the Huskies to their first back-to-back national titles in more than 70 years this month. He's led UW to three IRA championships in the five years he's been at Washington.
And he hasn't done that by comforting his guys with blankets, cookies and warm milk when times get tough.
It wasn't uncommon at Conibear Shellhouse around dawn this winter and early spring to have some of the finest-conditioned athletes around throwing up from utter exhaustion during morning workouts - then sucking it up and driving on.
You know, the stuff of which the truly elite are made.
Sure enough, Washington's men's crew team won each of their five finals races at the IRAs this month while setting course records, as clean a sweep from freshmen through varsity eight as the storied sport has ever seen.
The Marine Corps' ethos and that of UW are the same: No excuses.
"The Marine Corps' ethos and that of UW are the same: No excuses," Miller said.
He grew up in Woodbridge, Va., 15 minutes from the vital Marine Corps Base Quantico. His mother worked as an administrator there inprocessing and outprocessing Marines. He had an uncle that served in Vietnam.
"When the call comes, you have to perform. That's true whether it's the IRAs or on a mission overseas," Miller said. "Washington rowing expects the best of the best. So do the Marines. They both expect you to be a man.
"Mike runs the program like a professional. That's what I admire about the Marine Corps, too."
Crew turned Miller from a formerly self-described, "hella skinny" 6-foot-2, 150-pound football player as a high school freshman into supremely conditioned, Division-I athlete in an elite program.
Callahan and Husky rowing turned Miller into that man.
"It's the team concept," he says. "On multiple occasions when we were out there in the mornings doing PT (physical training) some guys really got after it, went to where they puke. Then they keep going. You knew where your limits were - and could push past it. And you could get up the next day and do it again.
"That was what was expected in the crew program at Washington. And that's what is expected in the Marines."
As Squires puts it of what he learned in Callahan's program: "You can't stop. You can't give up. There are other guys counting on you to put out maximum effort.
"It's not worth it to give into the pain. The rewards far outweigh the cost of giving up."
THE SOURCE OF EXECELLENCE
These parallels in mental toughness and sense of duty between Husky crew and the military isn't exactly a coincidence. The ties between the two institutions run deep.
Callahan's father is a 1962 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. The 38-year-old coach grew up basically steeped in water and discipline because of his dad.
"He was always on ships, at least most of the time. So I grew up near the water, for sure," the younger Callahan said. "Funny, he's from Minnesota. His first love was actually flying. He wanted to fly in the Navy, but his eyes were bad.
"So he became a submariner. ... He's a huge, huge engineer. When I was growing up, lot of my friends were in the Navy, and one of my best friends growing up, his dad was a commercial fisherman. So I was always scrubbing the bottoms of boats or rowing around."
Callahan became a champion rower at the world junior and under-23 championships during the 1990s, then a member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team as a spare in 2004.
Long ago he noticed the bent of a rower sides with those attracted to the military. That is, they share an edge.
"Rowers inherently have a chip on this shoulder," Callahan said. "But I try not to foster that. That makes us different (as Huskies).
"I want them to be the best that they can be with what they can control. I want them to be something else."
That demand on being special is what drove Squires, Hershaw and Miller to UW rowing - and then into the Navy and the Marines.
"When you row at the University of Washington you are expected to produce your finest product at any given moment," Hershaw said. "We all had our best moments at the national championships. That was special.
It's good to know you can be able to push yourself past the standard of excellence, whether it's in rowing, the military, in training, as a student.
"It's good to know you can be able to push yourself past the standard of excellence, whether it's in rowing, the military, in training, as a student. It's too easy to give in and say, `I can't.' To be able to push past that is special. Not a lot of people get to experience that.
"Now, in my daily life, I expect myself to be better than the average person. Not to brag, but just inside, with my character."
"NOT SOMETHING EVERYONE DOES"
Squires was a three-year letter winner in football and won four letters in crew at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, Fla. His father Steve Squires is a former U.S. Navy Captain and pilot, yet Rob says his dad "was pretty much hands off as far as what I wanted to do."
Still, the former officer's son earned a full ROTC scholarship to Washington beginning in 2009, four years after Captain Squires resigned his commission from the Navy.
As for how the younger Squires got into rowing, that wasn't exactly scientific. He Googled "college rowing programs," then inquired to the first 20 schools that popped onto his computer screen.
"Next thing I knew I was at Washington," he says. "I wanted to be pushed among the best in the country."
He was - while becoming the very best in the country.
He is still there as he enters the Navy this week.
"I knew I didn't want to work in any cubicle all day, every day," he said. "I wanted to see the world."
While Miller and Hershaw wait more than a year to begin their military careers because of the troop pullouts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Miller is going to coach crew at St. John College High School near his home in the Washington, D.C., area. Hershaw is going to seek internships back east, perhaps in national security. He just earned his political science degree with a focus on international security, and the strategic and intelligence aspects of the military and our government intrigue him.
Hershaw's father Cam was a Marine corporal before retiring from active duty. Three of four uncles were Marines. His mother is an elementary school teacher back home in Washougal, Wash., across the Columbia River from Oregon.
Hershaw, whose sister rowed at UW beginning in 2002, took six-week leadership cycles over each of the previous two summers in a program for candidates to become an officer without being fully in a ROTC program.
The Marines taught land navigation and basic military courtesies and histories. But basically, Hershaw says, the course was designed to "stress you out" with sleep deprivation, menial tasks such as making and re-making a bed - plus more yelling than a crew coach alongside a training boat.
"It wasn't fun, but it wasn't too bad," he said. "I was used to waking up early, working out hard and then going to class. A lot of guys weren't. They would fall asleep in class, all worn out.
"I mean, honestly, after going through freshman year with (Huskies freshman coach) Luke McGee, you are used to that stuff."
Miller, the new owner of a UW degree in physiology, still remembers exactly where he was sitting in his class on Sept. 11, 2011. He remembers watching on television with sixth-grade classmates in Woodbridge as family friends working in the nearby Pentagon were hit by one of the jets terrorists hijacked and crashed that horrific morning.
"You can't have a national tragedy like that and not be affected in some way," he said. "As I got older I knew I had to get out there and do something."
Miller wants to be either an infantry Marine officer or serve in an amphibious assault unit. He will get his specific assignment during officer basic school next summer.
He chose the Marines over the Army, Navy or Air Force because he likes its macho missions and reputation, its smaller "warrior culture," as he put it.
"We kick down doors one day and hand out candy bars to kids the next," Miller said. "The Army and Navy have that, but you have to be more specialized - like the Special Forces or SEALs - to do it.
"Any Marine can do any of that (wide range of work). They are a little more out there - and violent, for lack of a better term."
Squires is halfway across the country in his car en route to the USS Michael Bradley in Maine by now. He's thinking about the next few weeks, when he will become in charge of a few dozen enlisted sailors, their pay, their welfare, their performance evaluations - their lives.
"Definitely I'm humbled and nervous. And I'm excited, as well," he told me before leaving his elite, driven, supremely tough team at UW for another. "It's not something that everyone does. I realize that.
"To be defending our country, it's really humbling."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.