CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An F-14 Tomcat fighter jet falls into the Pacific Ocean. You have to go get it.Most people would be relieved to hear that challenge directed to someone else, but Navy Counselor First Class Brian Fields grabbed it with gusto.Petty Officer Fields, a Charleston native, handpicks the best and the brightest for the U.S. Navy. He's very selective because the people he brings in harness nuclear energy to power military vessels like submarines and aircraft carriers.Fields knows what it is like to shoulder heavy responsibility. He applied for and was selected to serve a tour in San Diego as the lead electrician for a Super Scorpio ROV (remotely operated vehicle). Many people will recognize the Super Scorpio ROV as the same submersible technology featured in the opening scene of the 1997 film "Titanic."
In 2004, when he was 25 years old and working with the Deep Submersible Unit, he was responsible for retrieving an F-14 fighter jet that had fallen into the Pacific Ocean off Point Loma. The jet was worth $62 million and a priority for the U.S. military; the Navy needed to investigate what caused the crash as well as to retrieve any classified information. At the time, it was one of the Deep Submersible Unit's biggest jobs in the past eight to 10 years.Fields grew up in North Charleston, attended Stonewall Jackson Junior High School and graduated from Capital High School. "When I was in high school I thought I'd be the last person to join the military," he says.Despite that early reluctance, he found a calling in the Navy. Something inside him woke up when he started to see how a career as a sailor could change his life.By 18 he realized how driven he was to, in his words, "see things and explore life." A recruiter convinced him that the future he wanted was in the Navy and Fields began his career nearly 15 years ago as part of the sonar division. He qualified to the level of Master Sonar Technician and served on the submarines USS Rhode Island and USS West Virginia.The Navy celebrates its best recruiters once a year in 16 categories, and Fields received the top award early this year for the Nuclear Power Officer Candidate Program; very few individuals recruit for the Nuclear Power program, and they are trained to screen potential candidates heavily.Many ideal candidates have bachelor's degrees or even master's degrees in physics or another advanced science. Fields attends events such as engineering fairs to put himself in the midst of the right kind of people.Physical fitness and mental capability are two key hurdles a recruit must clear to be considered for service in the Navy, Fields says."A very small number of potential candidates are physically qualified to be recruited," he says. The second requirement is that all recruits score well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. "The ASVAB tells me about a potential recruit's ability to learn. I also evaluate high school and college transcripts."Identifying an intangible quality in another person is what helps make a good recruiter great. Fields says, "The Navy is looking for people who want to be leaders, who want to be part of a team."Fields lives in Colorado with his wife, Heidi, and daughter, Brooke. His recruiting district serves portions of six states surrounding Denver, and he is pursuing an online bachelor's degree from American Military University, based in Charles Town, with the Navy paying his tuition.He says offering a qualified recruit the career opportunity and sense of direction the Navy provides is always a highlight of what he does. "Joining the Navy is the best decision I ever made. I've been able to have a career like no other. I love being able to share that with others."
Reach Elizabeth Gaucher at Elizabeth.Gaucher@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.