Part 4: U.S. Navy
By Alex Cordero
Military Appreciation Month may soon be coming to an end, but we continue to recognize local military residents. We have brought you stories shared by former and current military members in the community who continue to serve with integrity, courage and leadership. The following story brings us a lesson on serving selflessly and honorably.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Chief Petty Officer Michael O’Day joined the United States Navy a few months after the 9/11 attacks. “I always had this background guilt for not joining. I chickened out in high school and I always regretted it and I always felt like something was missing in my life. My father served my grandfather served and they were both in the Navy.” It was while reading the newspaper one day and going through the want ads – the word “photographer” in big bold letters followed by “the U.S. Navy needs photographers” – that O’Day came across the opportunity he was looking for to change his life.
Read More: Part 3
O’Day was not happy with the career path he had established as a cellular phone repair technician and at 34 years of age his decision to join the Navy was his and his alone. Two days after calling the phone number listed in the newspaper, O’Day found himself signing documents and becoming a U.S. Navy photographer. Throughout his long career, 17 years and counting, O’Day has captured the Navy’s culture through Nikon lenses in just about any situation out at sea you can think of. “I’ve been in combat situations photographing Coast Guard LEDETs [Law Enforcement Detachments] doing boardings off the coast of Somalia. I’ve been in SH-60 helicopters flying out to destroyers photographing operations jobs there. I’ve done retirement ceremonies, change of command ceremonies, commissioning ceremonies, portraits, corpsmen and Navy doctors in operating rooms.” Michael continues his passion for photography and is thankful the U.S. Navy has always given him opportunities to go places and photograph images perhaps not many will ever capture. “From a photographer’s stand point it is an amazing experience.”
I asked Michael, “How has your experience in the Navy changed you as a person?” And besides admitting to being able to cry more, he shared: “I think it made me a better person, a stronger person, a less fearful person, a more understanding person. I used to think being in the military was cool and going off to war was heroic. And while I still think the military is admirable and what we do is important (and is not for everybody), and is still heroic—but I don’t feel like a hero. And while I’m grateful when people say ‘thank you for your service,’ I don’t really know what to say to that.”
What I have come to learn throughout this series is that every person who has put on a military uniform is humble when it comes to being considered a hero. Why? Because serving is part of who they are as people and once they become part of the military selfless service is embedded in everything they do and lives forever within them.
“It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. I am irrelevant. It’s about other people. It’s about how I treat other people. It’s about what I do for other people. It’s about what I do for her. It’s about what I do for you. It’s about spreading the love, sharing the love. It’s about helping other people. I don’t matter.”
As civilians we may not ever understand this selfless act of serving that seems to be the true spirit of the military community. However, we can learn and try to apply the same core values, and follow the honorable and selfless example they set for us in our local communities.