In her father’s footsteps: Diedre Fay Coulson, U.S. Naval Academy graduateIntended or not, Diedre Fay Coulson is following in her father’s footsteps. On May 27th she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., with a major in systems engineering and was commissioned.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
Intended or not, Diedre Fay Coulson is following in her father’s footsteps.
On May 27th she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., with a major in systems engineering and was commissioned. Monday, as a brand new ensign, she traveled to Pensacola, Fla., to begin flight training.
It so happens she grew up in the Navy. Her father, Jim, was a 30-year man, a 1977 Annapolis graduate and aviator who retired as a captain.
“I’ll fly whatever they tell me to fly,” she said during an afternoon conversation at her home last week. But the 22-year-old, 2007 Hudson High School graduate admitted to having her eyes on the new EA-18G Growler as her preferred aircraft. The Growler is equipped for airborne electronic attack missions.
According to Diedre’s mother, Maggie, her initial desire to attend the Naval Academy might have started at a very early age. “We took her to Annapolis when she was six years old,” Maggie said. And the family attended a number of Army-Navy football games.
“I was getting initiated early,” said Diedre. “It was a big influence growing up in the military.”
By traveling around the country and the world with her father during his Navy career, she lived in a lot of different places. Diedre was born in Japan and hopes to return there on assignment.
“I came to Hudson High School in my sophomore year in 2004,” she said. “It was my third high school.”
But it was the one she would graduate from when the family set down roots in preparation for Jim’s retirement in 2007. Diedre received a presidential appointment to the Academy.
She said she wasn’t pressured to follow a Navy career, in fact she was discouraged from attending Annapolis, but in the end it was a decision of her own for herself.
Diedre served her plebe (first year) at Navy during the last year of her father’s career so their service time overlapped for a short bit.
Getting into flight school wasn’t a slam-dunk. Diedre’s vision was far from the 20-20 required for aviators. But the Navy allowed her to have corrective photorefractive keratotomy (PRK) laser surgery if she committed to aviation in her junior year. “I went from 20-450 to 20-20,” she said.
Diedre joked that before the surgery, she couldn’t see the big E on the eye chart, or the chart.
The commitment to aviation requires her to serve eight years after she gets her wings.
Looking back over the past 47 months since her first day as a plebe, Diedre said it was a long haul. “You have to grow up. A lot of people my age who enlisted are getting shot at.”
“You learn to get along with all types of people from all over,” she said.
The service academy programs are challenging on all fronts, including academically. “I had a 4.0 (grade point average) in high school,” she said. At Annapolis she graduated in the middle of her class with a 3.2 average.
“There were 1,006 who graduated in my class,” she said, “Out of that 270 were Marines and 20 percent were women.”
Diedre said she journeyed through four years of the academy with the same company of people she started with as a plebe. “We lost a few, but 37 graduated. Out of that there were nine girls who all made it. I had 20-something big brothers,” she said.
Some 4,400 people attend Annapolis at any one time and they all live in one huge dorm. She said there were limited rooming opportunities for women.”
Diedre was a member of the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps for four years. “It is the oldest active drum and bugle corps in the nation,” she said. “I played the bass drum.”
As a member she traveled to all the Army-Navy football games and Navy bowl games. She said there were a number of Wisconsin people at Annapolis so the obligatory “cheese head” made an appearance at Navy football games on their behalf.
She has recently started dating a 2008 Navy graduate who is a pilot on the East Coast. They met at Annapolis, she said.
Looking back on the whole rigorous four year challenge at Navy and the challenge of earning her wings in front of her, Diedre said, “It has absolutely been worth it.”