Mustang Club Arrives at USNA
POSTED ON: Thursday, October 17, 2019 9:51 AM by MC2 Burke
In Navy terminology, “mustangs” are enlisted Sailors who rise to the level of officer with little or no interruption in their active duty status. The term is more commonly known to refer to stray horses that were forced to adapt to the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the American Wild West after being left behind by Spanish settlers in the 16th century.
Much like these wild horses are sought after for their surefootedness, strength, speed and agility, the Naval Academy scouts the Navy’s enlisted fleet for outstanding Sailors who have been forged by the sea. To support these Sailors’ aspirations, the prior-enlisted midshipmen at the Academy established a new extracurricular activity, the USNA Mustang Club.
One key component in the Mustang Club’s mission is to provide outreach to the fleet to identify Sailors and Marines who could be successful at USNA and inform them about the experience of a midshipman, thereby increasing the quality of applicants from the enlisted ranks.
According to the Mustang Club President Midshipman 2nd Class Kameron Chumley-Soltani, a former Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) 2nd Class, who is also currently serving as the Brigade Sergeant Major and 2021 Class President, the formation of the club was inspired by his personal experience of the accession process to the Naval Academy.
“I was fortunate to be blessed by mentors who helped me apply to USNA and go through NAPS [Naval Academy Prep School],” said Chumley-Soltani. “I realized when I was going through as a plebe [freshman], how amazing it was to have people there to support me.”
Mustang Club President Midshipman 2nd Class Kameron Chumley-Soltani, a former Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) 2nd Class.
Chumley-Soltani recognized the loosely established traditions of mentorship among the prior-enlisted community and set out to do more.
“I thought to myself, ‘We need to make this official’,” said Chumley-Soltani. “We need to bring everybody together—so if they need something there’s a network they can use, a community they can trust, and a family they can have.”
After a little research and some administrative work, Chumley-Soltani had no problems finding eager club members to make the requisite 20 midshipmen to form a USNA club.
“Before it was even official, I had around 51 priors [prior-enlisted Sailors], coming to my door asking, ‘Is this a real thing?’” said Chumley-Soltani. “They were so excited. They said, ‘We need it.’ And I agreed.”
Shortly thereafter, on Aug. 23, the USNA Mustang Club held its first formal event, the 2019 Kickoff Mixer and welcomed 23 new members from the Class of 2023. The event hosted multiple guest speakers and offered an opportunity for the incoming class to interact with midshipmen, officers, alumni, and senior enlisted leaders.
“It's an honor to be a part of this,” said Chief Petty Officer Shawn-Patrick Bland, Mustang Club enlisted representative and fleet admissions officer for the USNA Admissions Office. “I think it was a long time coming. This is a very valuable group of individuals, not only to the Naval Academy, but to the fleet.”
Mustang Club Enlisted Representative Chief Petty Officer Shawn-Patrick Bland
Bland went on to explain that it takes hard work to get to the academy, especially for those who are prior-enlisted, and says that those adversities shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“Everyone’s here for a reason,” said Bland.
The Naval Academy provides many opportunities for moral, mental, and physical development for midshipmen on the Yard, but their demanding academic schedules limit their availability for on-the-job training and exposure to real-life fleet experiences.
“The closest we can get [to fleet experiences] usually is summer training,” said Marine Corps Capt. Andy Hiller, the Mustang Club’s officer representative. Hiller, an assistant professor teaching in USNA’s Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law, was a former Marine Corps Sergeant, Ammunition Technician.
“Prior-enlisted mids, however, bring some of that experience to the table at the outset, and they bring it to everything they do here,” Hiller said. “The benefit ... of having that perspective, is that it gives those midshipmen a concrete experience which allows them to understand the way the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps operate in practice, rather than just how it is taught or emulated here at the U.S. Naval Academy.”
Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. Rob Mathewson, prior Electrician's Mate 3rd Class and '92 graduate of USNA
The Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. Rob Mathewson, a prior Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class and ’92 graduate of USNA, challenged the midshipmen to realize the significance of their past as they continue on their path to become future officers.
“It is an honor and a privilege for me to say that I was prior enlisted,” said Mathewson. “I didn't appreciate it when I was your age. That’s one of the things I wish I had done a better job at, because now after being in the Navy since 1986, I can see how that experience shaped me—it allowed me to form better connections with whom I had served.”
While Mustangs may have a bit more ribbons and salt, there is still much that can be learned from direct-entry midshipmen. What they may lack in fleet experience, they make up for in other areas, usually academics.
“Academics doesn’t have to be an enemy to you. If you really apply yourself, you can do anything you want, so don't be afraid of the academics here,” said retired Marine Corps Maj. Aron Axe, a prior-enlisted Intelligence Analyst, Infantry Officer and USNA graduate. “Instead, use those really, really smart people on your left and right who may not have come from the prior-enlisted community. They were the ones who helped me get through physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, you name it—and they will help you get through this place too, no question.”
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Aron Axe, a prior-enlisted Intelligence Analyst, Infantry Officer and USNA graduate
During the kickoff event, the senior alumni in attendance sent a clear message: their personal success at USNA could be directly attributed to their engagement with others.
‘”I would not be in the Navy if not for the help I received from my teammates,” said Mathewson, referring to his time as a midshipmen. “I wouldn't be standing here. So, I’ve forced myself to remember that; I’ve forced myself to stay in touch with that, because what we have chosen to do is worth it.”
Aside from offerings of wisdom, USNA leadership challenged midshipmen to lean on their experience, take on leadership roles within the command, and to commit to the club’s mission.
“Each of you knows in your heart what your story is and what drove you to want to come here,” said Naval Academy Command Master Chief Jeffrey Kirby. “Now it's our job to make sure that you reach that goal – that's what we do for every midshipman here.”
“I want your commitment that when you’re here … when you see somebody struggling, that you’re there to help them,” Kirby continued. “You’re there to say, ‘What’s up? What do you need? What can I do?’ and give them that fortitude and encouragement to carry on.”
From mentorship to avenues for funding, pledges of support were voiced from all participants at the kick-off event.
“What you can expect from me is that I'm going to be here supporting you,” said Mathewson. “I'll be as much a part of it as you'll let me be; I want nothing but the best for all of you, and for you to share the best that you have with all your teammates. And if I can help make that a reality, then I'm all in.”
According to Midshipman 4th Class Lee Fromm, prior Electrician’s Mate (Nuclear Power) 3rd Class, hearing about the experiences of USNA alumni and fellow club members was eye-opening.
“It showed me that the obstacles I face are not so different from the alumni,” said Fromm. “Meeting upperclassmen who have gone through similar experiences was motivating. It was a good reminder that we were chosen because the academy believes we can make it through the program to become diverse officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.”
Consensus among Mustang alumni and the upperclassmen was that life at the academy would not be easy. It tests everyone’s abilities and limits, but remaining humble and focused on the horizon would help them through.
“Being accepted as a midshipman is a golden opportunity that will pay dividends for the rest of your life in many ways,” said retired Marine Corps Col. Lou Palazzo, USNA ’92 graduate. “Always keep that in mind. If you ever think, ‘This is hard, this sucks, I need to quit,’ think about the future.”
After the event Chumley-Soltani shared his excitement to grow the club, and add to its current 114 members.
“It's pretty surreal to think, ‘Wow, this is a family coming together—it’s a community,’” said Chumley-Soltani. “To see people walk up, smile and shake my hand and say ‘Thank you so much. This is what we needed.’ Career development-wise, this is a piece of us that was missing. To now know that we’re all here for each other, to establish bonds and communicate, is invaluable.”