Lt. Alex Burtness: I've pretty much been taking things apart as long as I can remember. I was always interested in science and technology and I found pursuits that linked up well with that. I think, looking back, the path to where I am today is very clear, finding the challenges that fit with who I am and what I valued and what I was skilled at, I think it all makes sense. I'm exactly where I need to be.
In high school, I always sort of picked my schedule more around all the advanced science courses. I did programming. I did some robotics things that my high school offered. With robotics, math is a way to describe the way that everything moves and interacts, and for me, that was fascinating. It sort of sparked that interest that, you know, led me down this very long path to bring me to where I am today.
I found out about the service academies, particularly the Naval Academy, and I think I saw the challenge of it and that's what really appealed to me. I got rejected from the Naval Academy the first time that I applied. I remember people saying that normal kids from high school can't just go to a service academy, and I decided that I needed to prove them wrong.
Jessica Burtness: Alex doesn't choose the easy way. He doesn't shy away from challenges. His parents are both really hard-working people. They have a very strong work ethic. I think that definitely shows in Alex.
Alex: I think getting that rejection just really focused me and really showed me that maybe what I was doing up until that point and the effort that I've been putting in wasn't sufficient. So, I spent a year at Oregon State. I worked very, very hard, there. I focused every day on doing the best that I could so that I could put in a stronger application at the Naval Academy, and they recognized that and I got in the second time around.
The excitement of graduation, definitely a moment that I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life. There was literally just a buzz in the air and people were just agitated in their seats, just waiting to throw their hats in the air and to be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps and Ensigns in the Navy. It was incredibly exciting and incredibly rewarding to know that that four years of very hard work had paid off.
When you're younger, the need to overcome challenges has a lot to do with proving something to yourself, and as you get older, and in particular, as you get into leadership roles as a Naval Officer, it has a lot more to do with not letting your guys down.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Andy Dixon: I can still remember mornings in dive school. Sometimes you wake up and we might have had a hard day before, he would definitely just kind of boost morale, it seems like, every time he walked in the room.
Ensign Ian McDonough: Our job as explosive ordnance disposal technicians is to render safe explosive ordnance for civilian and military personnel all around the world.
Alex: So, ultimately, all of our training and our mobility skills -- whether it's diving or jumping or shooting, everything that we do revolves around getting us to an IED or piece of ordnance that we can take care of.
Chief Petty Officer David Lambert: His knowledge of technology helps by bringing a new perspective to what we already have. His new tools, the robots, the technology that keeps growing within our community, they're able to bring new ideas to the table.
Alex: Ultimately, getting distance from a piece of ordnance is the number one thing you can do as an EOD technician to make yourself safe. So, when you're working out of the back of our vehicles, you can send a robot downrange rather than putting somebody in a bomb suit. They've got grippers so we can tear through things. We can dig through things. We can place charges if we need to. We'll use robots to investigate IEDs or suspicious packages. Over the past 10 years, it's been an exceptionally useful tool that's saved the lives of a lot of EOD technicians. In addition to that, we have another set of robots that we use for underwater missions.
What the Military provides you the opportunity for as an engineer is really just the opportunity to use your technical and analytical skills in a hands-on way that you wouldn't be able to anywhere else. You can use your knowledge and skills to honestly say that you're making people safe, that you're saving lives. That was a big part of what drew me to the Naval Academy, drew me to engineering, graduate school, dive school, EOD school. It was sort of always finding the challenges and finding the challenges that fit with who I am and what I valued and what I was skilled at. The way that you look at the world and the way you approach problems, I think that you come to it subconsciously. I never thought of myself as an engineer until I realized that I've been one all along.