One Navy Team
Every color in the sky was visible; blue, pink, purple, gold and orange. The reflection of the clouds were popping off the sheet metal on the side of a P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Everyone came out of the hangar bay of Patrol Squadron (VP) 30 to get a photo of the beautiful sunrise, except Lt. j.g. Alex Orlando. He had a different purpose. He came walking out of the hangar bay as a silhouette against all of those vibrant colors, moving with a purpose towards his aircraft.
His olive green flight suit stood out from the maintainers. He’s suited up and ready to go, ready to do the one thing that’s been able to keep his interest. With a confident posture and focused eyes, you can tell, this is where he feels at home.
“It’s always the morning of, you’re like, it’s game-time, it’s happening,” said Orlando. “It’s like a drag race, but instead of dragster it’s a behemoth of a plane that weighs north of 150,000 pounds. You push the throttles up and you just start barreling down the runway, but instead of a drag race that ends at the quarter-mile, you pull back and pull this whole thing off the runway and out the wind-screen all you see is the sky.”
Ever since Orlando was a kid he seemed like he was destined to join the Navy. His grandfather was an Aviation Machinist’s Mate and he grew up listening to all of his old sea stories. Orlando remembers when he would go visit his grandparents in Pensacola, Florida and how he would always be able to look up and the see the different kinds of aircraft flying around. But despite those experiences, he took a different path.
“I graduated from the University of Florida and I ended up starting to like journalism so I went down the path of starting to make a career out of it,” said Orlando. “I got a job at a newspaper right out of college as a cops and crime beat reporter. I did that for a couple of years and I just got really burnt out on it really quick.”
After his career as a journalist fizzled out, Orlando decided to try something different; something that would take him to the other side of the world, an experience that would ultimately be the final stepping stone towards a career as a naval officer.
While he was in college, he managed to also get a teaching certificate which he used to travel to Japan and teach English to Japanese students in Tokyo.
“After about a year, the “honeymoon” phase wore off. Japan was great and everything was new and different, but then it wasn’t new, and I missed home,” said Orlando. “I came home for Christmas in 2015 and my mom could just sense that something wasn’t right with me. I was in a funk. She knew that I didn’t know what was next. I’ve changed careers a lot of times but I’ve always looked before I leapt, but at this point I wanted to go somewhere, I just didn’t know where.”
When Orlando travelled back to Japan, he decided to make the jump. He called a Navy recruiter and applied to be both a pilot and a naval flight officer. His father also attempted to become a pilot in the Navy, but was turned away due to a deficiency in his vision.
“I was worried about my vision because of what happened with my dad, but that wasn’t a problem for me and they called me a week before my birthday in 2016,” said Orlando. “I was teaching at the time and when I got the news, I just went into another room and I cried. I think something that was driving all of those career changes was just an existential wondering, like where am I supposed to be and what am I supposed to be doing? As soon as I got that phone call I’ve never had that feeling again.”
While Orlando was in flight school, he had a moment that solidified that he had made the right decision joining the Navy. Soaring through the sky, piloting one of the Navy’s largest aircraft, something happened, something that he would never forget.
“I remember it was right near one of my last flights. We were coming home. It was sunset and we took a southern route and I knew at some point we were going to fly over Blackwater Bay, which is where my grandparents live,” said Orlando. “I kind of veered a little further south because I knew where I was. I looked down and I saw their house and it just kind of came full circle for me. From being that kid looking up and now being that flight student looking down, I got choked up in the plane.”
Since that day, Orlando graduated flight school and had his father pin his gold aviator wings to his uniform. For him, being able to share that experience with his father meant the world to him; a feeling that his father, Steve Orlando shared.
“When we went to Corpus Christi for his winging, shortly before we made the trip, Alex asked me to pin his wings on,” said his father. “It really choked me up when he asked me to do that. And when his mother and I were up there with his fiancée, and the moment came to pin his wings on, I remember my hands were shaking. I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. seeing my son do this. It didn’t work out for me, but I get to watch him do it so I can live vicariously through him.”
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