I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember.
Actually, that’s not true. I’ve been a fan since 1987, and I can tell you the story of how that came to be, but I’m not going to as it’s not relevant to what I want to talk about here.
I come from a family of veterans. My dad served in the US Marine Corps, as did his father and two brothers; two uncles were Army veterans, and another served in the Air Force for over 30 years. Both grandfathers fought in World War II. With this lineage, some members of my family thought of my eventual enlistment as inevitable, while others thought I was tailor-made for the college life. College never really appealed to me, but the military did. When I look back on my reasons for joining, really looking hard on that time, I came to a realization that kind of surprised me. For all the good reasons there are for enlisting, and believe me, there are a ton, the biggest one was a legitimate desire to give back to a country that had done so much for me, my family, and literally everyone I had ever known, in whatever way I could.
And looking deeper, I found that desire to serve the nation and world that had served me came not from the examples set by my family, but from those set by (nearly) every Starfleet officer I had seen on screen.
The people who choose to join Starfleet do so for a wide variety of reasons. It’s an opportunity to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations. It’s a chance to work on some of the most advanced technology in the galaxy and to potentially develop new tech. Some see the fleet as the price paid for an amazing education at Starfleet Academy, while others see it as the frontline of defense for their world and wish to be a part of that defense. Above all, joining Starfleet is a chance to give back to the Federation for all it had done in the name of peace, scientific advancement, and prosperity for its people.
These same points can be made by any prospective enlistee in the modern military. Each branch has attractive opportunities for its members, ranging from the chance to see the world to an in-depth education in a variety of fields. The military as a whole, at least here in the USA, also offers paid college tuition after a term of service ends, and some branches even give members the opportunity to take college classes while active duty. Many might not readily admit it, but a desire to give back to the communities which sired us is every bit as much of a factor in enlistment as anything else.
Growing up, I would see Starfleet officers like Jim Kirk, Spock, Montgomery Scott, Jean-Luc Picard, Will Riker, Geordi LaForge, Benjamin Sisko, Kathryn Janeway, and so many others every week striving to be the best people they can in a variety of mind-boggling situations, and in most cases, they always succeeded. It may have been because the shows had excellent writers who pushed to develop these characters into as close to a reflection of reality as they could while making entertaining television, but I thought there was more to it than that. These people wanted to be a part of something greater than themselves, and in doing so they hoped to contribute something meaningful, no matter how large or small, to that greater whole and to the betterment of all beings. That greater thing was Starfleet, and I feel the organization and the characters’ time spent within it contributed to their success.
Kids are always asked what they want to be when they grow up. My answer since age 4 was “Starfleet officer.” Adults would tell me it wasn’t real, that there wasn’t really any way I could ever do that unless I became an actor (side note: I could NEVER be an actor. I’m just not that talented.), but then my mother said something to me one day that really struck a chord. She said, “Well, there’s always the military. You could do great things there if you wanted to.” And that got the wheels turning in my young head. As my high school years progressed and my friends all picked their potential colleges after graduation, I came to the realization that college was not where I wanted to go. Like the Starfleet officers I’d idolized, I felt that call to service, and so I made the decision to join the US Navy when I was 17.
During my time in the Navy, I experienced the things I’ve mentioned as reasons to join up. I got an incredible, albeit exceedingly difficult, education in the field of nuclear science and served as a reactor operator aboard the USS Enterprise (for real! My family insisted my posting was evidence of the existence of God.); my job basically was, the captain (more specifically the bridge watchstanders) would ask for more power from us down in the engineering spaces, and I’d respond, “I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got Cap’n!” though not really as we had plenty of power to spare. I can’t really say much more because of operational security. The technology I worked on was not the most advanced in the fleet, but it was pretty cool stuff that I never thought I’d get to play with. I saw parts of the world I’d never dreamed I’d get to see, including fulfilling a lifelong dream of walking within the Colosseum and Forum in Rome. My education from the Navy is probably the single most important thing I gained from my time in service; that training has given me every job I’ve had since I got out, including the fantastic position I’m in now.
Whenever I was in uniform, and even when I wasn’t, I tried to be the best person I could be to anyone and everyone I encountered. I felt I was an ambassador not just for the Navy but for the United States as a whole. I wanted people to walk away from an interaction with me with a positive opinion of what I represented, and I like to think I succeeded at that. In my way, I was emulating Starfleet officers, showing the best of what the organization had to offer.
As a lifelong (mostly) Star Trek fan, the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation have become a significant part of my identity and have contributed in countless ways to my development as a human. Likely the most significant manifested in my desire to serve my country and my world, becoming a part of something bigger and striving to follow the examples of the heroes of Star Trek.
And much like Starfleet did for those people, the Navy made me a better overall person than I was before, both while I served and, in the years, since.