Seaman Recruit Jeffrey Zander, a 2013 Severna Park High School graduate and native of Millersville, recently graduated as top sailor from Recruit Training Command, Division 811, earning the Military Excellence Award.
Being awarded the MEA came as somewhat of a surprise to Zander.
“To be completely honest, I came to boot camp with the mentality to fly under the radar," Zander said. "Attending a senior military college gave me some insight into what I would experience here. I originally did not want to stand out, but as soon as I arrived, I realized that I volunteered to do a job. If I do not do that job to the best of my ability than I am not only doing a disservice to myself but to my fellow shipmates.”
The Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award is the top award presented to a recruit of each graduating training group. The MEA is awarded to the recruit who best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military bearing and teamwork. Zander was awarded a flag letter of commendation for his achievements.
Zander, 24, attended the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he graduated with a degree in packaging systems and design. While there, he was a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Senior Military College and earned a minor in leadership.
Zander said that naval service was always a part of his plan in one way or another.
“My family has a history of serving in the Navy and I wanted to continue that tradition,” Zander said. “My grandfather enlisted in the Navy at the beginning of World War II — my father and his two brothers all commissioned in the Navy during the Vietnam War — so the Navy is in my blood. It was just a matter of finding a job that suited me. I originally wanted to commission in the Navy through NROTC in college, but I decided that enlisting would better suit my goals.”
Zander credited his recruit division commanders, Chief Personnel Specialist Bunthoeun Ham, Operations Specialist 1st Class Casten Santoyo and Yeoman 1st Class Latoya Jones, as well as all of his division mates for their motivation and help along the way.
“Without my RDCs’ guidance and my fellow shipmates’ help, I would not have been able to earn this award,” Zander said. “The RDCs taught me the information I needed to succeed, and my division staff and other recruits gave me the support I needed to succeed. The division has always been a tight-knit group, but we needed work coming together and understanding how to function in a military environment. Once we figured that out, we became a high-speed group of motivated recruits.”
Zander said boot camp challenges recruits in ways in which most people are not familiar.
“None of the major events in boot camp were extremely difficult for us; it was mostly the smaller things,” Zander said. “Learning when not to talk, making sure your clothes are folded correctly, and other tasks that require attention to detail were things with which we struggled. The only part about boot camp that is easy is sleeping. We could fall asleep anywhere, in classrooms, in the chow hall, sometimes we even fell asleep marching.”
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 35,0000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
Zander is assigned the rate of special warfare operator.
After graduation, Zander will attend the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School in Great Lakes. Special warfare operators perform a multitude of duties in support of special operations missions and operate on, under and from the sea, in the air and on land.