AMANDA SULLIVAN • SPECIAL TO THE PICAYUNE
MILLINGTON, Tenn. — Not too many people can say they have performed at Carnegie Hall, played baseball at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark, turned wrenches on helicopters in the Army and then served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy.
For Burnet native Lt. Robert Whitecotton, a diversity program manager at the Navy’s Recruiting Command, it’s this varied experience that has set him up for success in his current position.
Whitecotton, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, is the ultimate success story of the military’s educational benefits. Though he went to school for several years right out of college, having grown up in a family full of sailors and Marines, the military life spoke to him. Bucking his family’s trend of serving in the sea services of the Navy and Marine Corps, he joined the Army and became a helicopter mechanic based out of Fort Campbell, Ky., and completed a few overseas deployments.
“I had quite a bit of school before the Army,” he said. “When I got out, I used the (Montgomery GI Bill educational benefits) to finish the last 13 months of my degree.”
Upon completion of that degree, he pursued the Navy and was commissioned as a surface warfare officer. Whitecotton was very confident about his career choice, even though it had little to do with his criminal justice degree.
“I didn’t know anything about the SWO community, but I knew I wanted to lead people … not just push buttons,” Whitecotton said. “I had a lot of options, but SWO seemed like the way to lead people. For the most part, that has been true!”
This choice sent Whitecotton far away from his hometown of Burnet and his “second hometown” of Clarksville, Tenn. His first two tours in the Navy took him to Oahu, Hawaii.
“It was a big change,” he said of the move. “Hawaii is such a melting pot of culture.”
But, over time, he and his family grew to love and embrace the friendly community.
“We came to understand the ‘ohana (family) concepts.”
After two tours in Hawaii, he requested to return to Tennessee. During his conversations with the job placement officer, Whitecotton was offered a position at Navy Recruiting Command in Millington, Tenn., about which he knew nothing.
“I put Tennessee as my top three picks just to try and be close to family,” he said.
During this assignment, Whitecotton quickly found a role in the Navy recruiting mission.
“I think it fits my personality,” he said. “I do well talking to people, so when I travel, I get to be the face of the Navy, which I really enjoy.”
In addition to providing growth opportunities for others, Whitecotton recognizes how working as the diversity program manager at Navy Recruiting Command has provided opportunities for himself to grow as well.
In this position, Whitecotton said, “you are learning about yourself, but also learning how to deal with other people. If you can learn to do that in the military, you can carry that skill for the rest of your life.”
Whitecotton is taking advantage of the educational benefits the military has to offer. Using a combination of tuition assistance and his Montgomery GI Bill education benefits, he is on his way to earning an Master of Business Administration at Union University, a Christian college in Jackson, Tenn.
As for his appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York and Global Life Park in Arlington, Whitecotton downplays the experiences.
As a baseball player at Burnet High School, he was selected to play in the all-state game in Arlington.
The performance with his university choir at Carnegie Hall was based more on luck.
“The place was packed, but it almost seemed like they had just arranged the opportunity to sing there while there happened to be an audience. It wasn’t like the people there had paid money to see us,” Whitecotton said. “I think the choir director knew somebody there.”
Go to www.navy.com for more information about the Navy or www.cnrc.navy.mil for more about the Navy recruiting diversity efforts.