VETERANS DAY 2017
ECSU student: Navy service helped him grow as person, learn skills for future
By Jon Hawley
Saturday, November 18, 2017
When Aaron Lybrand graduated from high school, he realized something: He needed to grow as a person.
So he joined the Navy.
Lybrand, 26, served four years in the Navy and is now a sophomore pursuing an aviation science degree at Elizabeth City State University. In an interview last month, he recounted how a kid from Winston-Salem became a “cryptologic technician” who Uncle Sam sent to far-flung hot spots around the globe.
Lybrand said that, upon graduating from Simon G. Atkins High School in Winston-Salem, he decided he wasn't ready for college yet.
“I just didn't want to go straight to college, because I felt, myself, I wasn't mature enough for that,” he said. “I felt like I was just going to party, be chasing around fun as opposed to actually getting work done.”
He decided to join the Navy to become more mature, learn some skills and pay for college, Lybrand said. His career started with about eight or nine weeks of basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois.
Lybrand also noted he's the first person in his family to join the military. Unlike some other veterans, he didn't have anyone to tell him what he was getting himself into.
“Fresh meat for the grinder,” he joked.
Though grateful now for his military service, Lybrand acknowledged basic training was hard. The toughest part was being separated from his family and friends; the military limits contact with family members during basic training to make recruits tougher and more self-reliant.
“I believe the hardest part of basic (training) for me was, most likely, the isolation from loved ones,” he said, describing himself as a very social person.
Upon completing basic training, Lybrand was sent to Pensacola, Florida, for “A” school where he learned the skills needed to serve a specific role in the Navy. His test scores on the ASVAB gave him some options, he said, but he chose to become a cryptologic technician technical, or CTT. Simply put, his job was to analyze signals from nearby vessels to assess their nature and capabilities.
“I analyzed signals and electronic intelligence … to identify different types of aircraft, submarines, surface ships, stuff like that,” he said, noting later the job also required him to have a high-level security clearance.
Given enemy vessels aren't inclined to broadcast their armaments, the job is important, he said.
“It assists the mission on, who's out there, what they're capable of, what kind of threat they provide, if any,” he said. “In case they do provide a threat, we can go ahead and deploy the correct countermeasures to defend ourselves if an attack were to happen.”
Part of the job is also working through efforts to jam signals or send out false ones, he noted.
While not at liberty to discuss missions, Lybrand said he served on ships in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. He also started realizing the importance of his work to people's lives, calling that a “waking up” moment.
After serving for four years in the Navy rising to the rank of third class petty officer, Lybrand decided to leave the military. It was a good experience, but still not where he wanted to spend his entire life, he said.
Lybrand said he always wanted to fly, leading him to ECSU where he's enjoyed low costs of flight instruction and tuition, plus the small, close-knit campus environment the university is known for. He plans to become a charter flight pilot, he said.
As a young veteran, Lybrand also shared some observations about how the Navy has changed, and how the public perceives veterans.
Based on speaking with older service members, Lybrand said the Navy has become a more inclusive, “politically correct” work environment. The atmosphere on submarines changed significantly once women were allowed to serve on them, he noted.
Lybrand also said that, in talking with civilians, people don’t always distinguish well between the branches of the service.
“They kind of assume everyone is Army,” he said, acknowledging the Army is the most populated branch. “A lot of the time, they don't understand there are different branches, with different cultures.”
Looking back on his service, Lybrand says the Navy did just what he hoped it would: make him a better, more focused person.
“One thing the military teaches you, and definitely instills in you, is that everything is for the good of the mission, not for the good of any individual,” he said.