November 2017 Alum of the Month: Andrew M. Reilly '94
Reilly entered Hotchkiss as a lower mid. "My parents believed that I was not ready to leave home at 14, and they explained that many students arrived as lower mids, so I would not feel like the only new kid. It came down to Hotchkiss or Exeter. The schools seemed totally different, but I liked them both. In the end I think I was taken in by both the extreme beauty of the Hotchkiss campus and the genuine friendliness of the students I met during the process. They seemed smart, sincere, confident, and driven, and I knew I would feel at home around them. They also exuded a competitive edge that was very attractive."
After Hotchkiss, Reilly matriculated at Boston College. Nearing graduation, he recalls, "I looked seriously at joining the Marine Corps, but I had fallen in love with a girl who lived down the hall from me at BC. When the Marines explained that I would be sent to Virginia for six months and then North Carolina, California, or Okinawa for my initial posting (three years), I became apprehensive. I thought that if I left, I would lose her, that the distance would be too much. So, I passed on joining the Marines, and I set myself on getting into law school while Kelley was finishing her degree at BC's Graduate School of Social Work.
"Upon receiving my acceptance letters, it occurred to me, 'What if I could join the military as a lawyer?' Kelley and I would be married before I joined, so we would be together. I went back to the Marine recruiting office, but it was closed. The Navy recruiting office was right next-door, so I decided to get some information for law students who wanted to serve as military lawyers. The Navy officer told me that they did not offer those programs any more, but he asked me about my vision, athletic background, and academics. He then asked me if I had ever considered becoming a pilot. When I explained that I did not have strong math grades or a technical background, he said, 'Son, you've got 20/20 vision and you've been accepted to law school. If you can read, I can teach you how to fly a plane.' I told him I would think about it, and that night, I told Kelley the details of this interesting encounter. After lots of discussion, I said, 'I can go to law school at any age, but I could only do this (fly jets off aircraft carriers) now; the cutoff age is 26!' Kelley was completely supportive. 'This is not where I thought we were headed,' she said, 'but, if we are together and we're happy, then I am in for this adventure with you!' It was at this exact moment that I knew that I wanted to serve in the military."
Deployed to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Reilly speaks to the ongoing issues there: "Training and assistance are probably the correct mission for a partner force in Afghanistan. If we want Afghanistan to defend itself without outside assistance, then they need properly trained forces of their own. To be successful in creating such a force, they will need assistance while this training takes place to deal with internal threats. Afghanistan is an emotional issue for Americans (myself included). The last 16 years have been a roller coaster, and anyone who is not war-weary - well, I envy them. Despite our feelings and fatigue, we must confront situations as they exist. The matter of stability in Afghanistan is a matter of policy, and those of us in uniform have a duty to enforce policy. Crafting policy is the duty of our leaders and representatives, and judging policy is the responsibility of the people."
Between deployments for Operation Enduring Freedom, Reilly received his M.B.A. from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, in 2010. In addition to his degree, the Navy added a specialty code to his record in finance. "The Navy informed me that if I wanted a career in finance, that might be possible, but I would have to give up flying. Since I had recently qualified in the F/A-18F SuperHornet, there was no way I was leaving the cockpit early." In 2011, he served as the initial director of Air Operations for CTF-70 during tsunami relief for Operation Tomodachi (Japan), and he reported back to VAQ-129, where he served as the administration officer and operations officer for the Fleet Replacement Squadron. In 2013 he transitioned from the EA-6B to the EA-18G "Growler," and served as the assistant maintenance officer for the VAQ-129 Special Augmentation Unit.
According to Reilly, naval aviators have two jobs. "The first is to fly and obtain proficiency in your assigned aircraft type. The second is what we call a 'ground job.' These jobs can be quite time-consuming, and it is important to learn what you can while balancing the time-devouring task of flight training. As the Operations Officer of the Air Wing Staff, one of my duties was to manage the $70-million annual budget we had for flight training. The trick was to get proficient training while utilizing all your money, fuel, and hours. If you left one of those three ingredients on the table, your efficiency and training goals could be called into question."
While Operations Officer, Reilly presented an idea to the Air Wing Commander. "I remembered a story from my Business Modeling and Simulation class about a pair of processes that Delta Airlines had once used called 'Coldstart' and 'Warmstart.' The basics are that data and simulation are used to make fleet assignment decisions. I thought if Delta can do it for its massive fleet, then I could do it for my tiny fleet of 65 aircraft, the majority of which were the ultra-reliable F-18 Hornet. As you might expect, the initial reaction was resistance. I told him, 'Give me one test quarter on this system. If it works, we will look like geniuses, and our pilots get the best possible training. If it doesn't work, then you can tell people it was my idea.' The test quarter was a success."
When asked about recommending a career in the military, Reilly said, "Military careers vary greatly by which Service you enter and what type of specialty you acquire. Each Service will ask you for a commitment of time. These commitments are serious, and you need to be clear about what you want to do in life and in uniform. Although the military seeks a level of uniformity, people tend to have different experiences. The military can be hard, and separation from loved ones can be heart-wrenching. However, it will also add a new way to view the world. You will see things differently than you did before. You will most likely have a sense of calm when facing adversity, having had to make life-and-death decisions in split seconds. You will not scare easily. You will have appreciation for liberties and freedoms that others may take for granted. You will value human life and develop respect for all. This is what my time and service have done for me. Each person's experience is a little different."
Reilly's military decorations include two Air Medals, the Joint Commendation Medal, two Navy Commendation Medals, three Naval Achievement Medals, the National Defense Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (two stars), Iraqi Campaign Medal (two stars), the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and Rifle and Pistol Expert Medals. He speaks of the thrill of flying. "There's nothing quite like launching off a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. You go from zero to 180 mph in 1.8 seconds. When you clear the deck, you're only 60 feet above the ocean approaching 200 miles per hour, gaining speed and hopefully altitude; otherwise it's time for a swim. Whether we were flying a multi-national exercise over Scotland or speeding through the sound barrier in the vast expanses of the Pacific, it was always exhilarating. But the best part of the job is when I get the chance to help people directly. There was no better example of this than the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. I was there, outside Tokyo, on assignment and about to depart for Korea when everything changed. When I checked in, the Chief of Staff looked at me and said, 'Andy, you're now my acting Chief of Air Operations. Start figuring out how we are going to respond to all of this.'
"As I began to research options to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief, we received an ominous message, 'The TEPCO nuclear facility at Fukushima has gone critical, expect possible meltdown in 24 hours.' Within days, the base became a ghost town, and finding food and water became a daily task. When our carrier, the USS RONALD REAGAN, arrived a week later, we were confronted with the task of delivering aid to survivors as the reactor at Fukushima spewed radioactive fallout into the skies above. I began coordinating airborne delivery of supplies to the carrier, which would then transfer the supplies to helicopters, who would then fly the supplies to designated landing zones on the northern beaches of Japan.
"We continued day and night to provide relief. There were days when the radiation clouds settled directly over us, and nights when there were brutal aftershock earthquakes. One of the toughest calls I ever had to make was when informed that a friend and his crew had flown through a radiation cloud, and they needed to get to a hospital immediately. Eventually, the reactor settled into a controllable state, and more help arrived. I will never know how many lives we saved, but my Japanese military partners conferred their humble gratitude as they believed, if not for our efforts, there would have been another 10,000 casualties. The operation was called 'Tomodachi," which is Japanese for 'friendship,' and after 32 days, we rejoined our comrades aboard the REAGAN and set course for Iraq and Afghanistan. This was, by far, an example of the best and worst part of the job."
Commander Reilly lives in Portsmouth, RI, with his wife, Kelley, and two sons, Fletcher (12) and Bennett (4). "Fletcher, an accomplished hockey player, hopes to skate for the Bearcats!"