Brian Nichols was approaching the end of his junior year of high
school and wasn’t sure what to do with his life.
in school, it was announced that military recruiters had an open
invitation for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
(ASVAB) test at his school and anyone taking it would get out of the
second and third period classes.
Nichols figured if he sped
through the test he could avoid classes and enjoy an extended lunch.
He had no idea how that decision would drastically change his life.
The Navy recruiter called to follow up and persuaded him
to come to the recruiting office for an interview.
scored 60 on the ASVAB but I had no interest in joining
because my father was in the military and he was hard on me
at that age because I was a rebellious teen,” said Nichols.
Spurred by ‘encouragement’ from the recruiter,
Nichols eventually saw the military as an opportunity to get
a degree or credentialing in the medical field; influenced
by his mother who was a nurse.
To attain this goal,
he enlisted in the Navy as a hospital corpsman with the
hopes of becoming an anesthesiologist.
shortly after beginning medical corpsman school he realized
that the medical field was not for him. He wanted to shape
his own career.
“I elected to drop my rate and was
offered a few different rates at the time,” said Nichols. “I
wasn't knowledgeable about them but I knew what an
‘undesignated seaman’ was because my father was a
boatswain’s mate in the Coast Guard, so I elected that.”
June 23, 2016 - Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Nichols is a boatswain’s mate aboard the
pre-commissioning guided missile destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the Navy’s first
stealth destroyer. Nichols is being a part of the very challenging deck department
on the ship is . (U.S. Navy photo by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Heidi McCormick)
Once he got to his first ship, USS Sacramento (AOE-1),
Nichols said he met with the ship's Bos'n, who seemed to be
the most important man next to the captain.
myself I wanted to be like that!” Nichols remembers.
On the Sacramento, his arduous apprenticeship as an undesignated
seaman saw him busting up rust with heavy pneumatic needle guns,
painting the ship covered in haze gray paint while dangling from
pulleys, and straining to pay out and haul in heavy mooring lines.
It was unflattering work, but it brought huge rewards.
advanced to the next two paygrades before serving aboard another
ship and a shore-based duty station. A successful individual
augmentee tour to Iraq followed but his progress hit a road block.
The now-revamped Navy’s Perform-To-Serve (PTS) system, which
ranked Sailors using computation methods, dealt Nichols an
He had to force-convert to a different rating or
leave the Navy, so he chose to convert to an administrative job
designated to submarines.
Nichols managed to successfully
graduate submarine school as part of the conversion requirement, but
that too fell through when he received news that he could not join
the submarine fleet.
“Because I'm allergic to shellfish I was
disqualified and returned to my original second class rate,” he
Despite the disqualification, Nichols felt
being reverted to the rating was a blessing because he had begun to
enjoy his work, just like his father.
“[My] favorite part is
underway replenishment (UNREP),” said Nichols. “Every time an
aircraft carrier received JP-5 [fuel] for jets or 500 pound
bunker-busters, we were completing the mission to keep those ships
continuously out in the battle.”
Claiming UNREP as his “bread
and butter,” Nichols explained why it is vital to surface vessels
and the Navy as a whole.
“Without that underway replenishment
you won’t have ammunition or fuel, and you would not be able to
launch those aircraft off that carrier,” said Nichols.
dry goods and mail are also critical for Sailors, Nichols explained.
Now a leading petty officer, Nichols attributes his maturity
level and his success to his father’s guidance and rigorous
“As a kid I was a bit of a trouble maker,”
recalls Nichols. “I got into trouble a couple of times and my father
handled those situations like I was a criminal. I was punished
It was only until he got to boot camp and “had to
fold my clothes a certain way, clean up after myself and make up my
rack every day that a light bulb turned on that indicated that
everything that he had done had geared me for a regimented
Now with two sons Christian, 12, and Kingston, 8,
who live in California with their mom, the tables have turned.
“I’m gone a lot unfortunately but Facetime, Skype and voice
chat, have bridged a huge gap, making it easier to check up on them
to make sure that school is going well and that they are doing the
right thing,” said Nichols.
Nichols maximizes the time he
spends with his sons by doing fun activities while introducing them
to his work.
“They enjoy spending time with me and getting to
see the cool things I get to work with and how big the ships really
are compared to how they look on television,” said Nichols. “They
really enjoy it.”
Now stationed aboard the massively imposing
pre-commissioning unit (PCU) Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the Navy’s first
stealth destroyer, Nichols said that being a part of deck department
on the ship is very challenging.
“Typically on a destroyer,
you’re operating with anywhere from 17 and 23 Sailors, we do the
exact same job on a larger vessel operating the same systems at the
same tempo as an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer with only five of
us,” said Nichols.
Nichols’s ability to operate at peak
levels stem from a family legacy that stretches across different
military branches from different eras.
served during WWII as a fireman aboard a battleship and his mother
served in Army, while his uncle served in the Air Force as a pilot.
He currently has a cousin who serves in the Navy aboard a submarine.
“I'm very proud that I too get the honor to serve like the
men and women before me in my family,” said Nichols. “Service to
country is the best thing that I could have ever done. The sense of
pride and self-worth that I have being able to serve America as a
whole is unmatched.”
By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Danian Douglas
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