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Ready for Takeoff Journey to Commencement: Navy ROTC graduate Garrett Booth spends spring semester on staff

This story is part of the "Journey to Commencement" series that highlights University of Mississippi students and their academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Garrett Booth wasn't quite ready to leave the University of Mississippi.

The Austin, Texas, native graduated from Ole Miss in December with a degree in biochemistry and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy in January through the university's Naval ROTC program.

He was assigned to flight training and ordered to report to Pensacola, Florida, in late May. While many recently commissioned midshipmen use the break between commissioning and reporting to relax or establish themselves in the town to which they will be moving, Booth decided to remain at his alma mater as a staff member, assisting midshipmen in their journey toward becoming officers themselves.

"I requested to report as late as I could," Booth said. "I wanted to enjoy more time here because I know the second I am down there, I will be thinking about being back in Oxford. I just wanted a few more months here."

Booth's transition from undergraduate midshipman to commissioned officer on staff at the university is not common for ROTC graduates.

Garrett Booth is a recent Navy ROTC Midshipman who graduated recently and decided to stay on as an ROTC staff member and help out future Midshipmen before reporting to Pensacola in May for his assignment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

"For us, it's an interesting transition to go from student to commissioned officer," said Lt. Zakary Smith, Ole Miss Navy ROTC officer. "Most individuals go straight from their commissioning source to their next command, but Booth gets to see the actual shift as it affects his relationship with his peers.

"One day he's just another guy, the next he is in a position of authority and all the students are calling him 'sir.' He has been very humble and attentive through the process, just looking to learn as much as he can."

Booth grew up in Texas and initially began his college career at UCLA, before transferring to Ole Miss. His sister, McKinley, is a student at UM, and he knew it was the university for him when he joined her on a campus visit.

"I love the people here," he said. "Oxford, honestly, has the best hospitality and some of the nicest people you can find on any college campus."

He grew up around airplanes. His father, Jim, two of his uncles and his grandfather were all pilots.

"From an early age, I really fell in love with (flying)," he said. "I started flight training when I was 14 and it really amped up close to the end of my high school career."

He earned his private pilot's license at 18. His hobby and his desire to serve his country ultimately intersected.

"I always knew that I wanted to serve in the military," Booth said. "I didn't want to have a regular 9-to-5 job. I wanted to do something not everyone gets the opportunity to do: to serve my country and do something that puts my life last."

He ultimately chose to join the university's Navy ROTC program.

Booth has not been the sole beneficiary of his decision to remain at Ole Miss for the spring semester.

"On a basic level, (Navy ROTC) benefits from having an extra set of hands," Smith said. "He performs several administrative tasks and even has been responsible for a couple of our events this semester. He's able to act as an example and source of information for the midshipmen."

Booth also participates and guides midshipmen through physical training exercises and leadership seminars.

Booth assists University of Mississippi Navy ROTC students through simulations of swim qualifications at the Turner Center. The students will need to pass in order to attend summer training. Photos by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

"He's a huge help to us," Smith said. "As for him, we're able to put him into more integrated positions in leadership and give him specific projects that will help him later in his career."

The benefits also are mutual between Booth and the midshipmen.

"I treat them just like a peer in a lot of situations," he said. "They are going through a lot, balancing school, training and just normal college problems. So, they are going through challenges and I just try to help them out when they need help."

As the semester comes to a close, Booth has started to set his sights on the next stage of his career.

"I'm looking forward to the new relationships I'm going to build (in Pensacola)," he said. "And I'm looking forward to getting paid to fly, which is pretty cool.

"I'm very open to flying whatever it is I am assigned to fly. I know I'll end up flying something I'm going to love, but I've always had an edge toward flying helicopters."

Smith said whatever the assignment, Booth will be sure it gets accomplished.

"Booth is very gifted, which will serve him well as a pilot, a job in which the learning curve can be very steep," Smith said. "Booth applies himself equally to any task put in front of him, which will really set him apart from his peers in the future. He has a very promising career ahead of him.

"I think he will have many opportunities to succeed in what is one of the most challenging and rewarding career fields in the world."

But with all that lies ahead of him, Booth knows he will still often look back to the place and university that shaped him.

"One thing I really liked about Ole Miss NROTC was how small and close-knit our unit was," he said. "It allows really close relationships to form. I'll definitely miss the people. I'll definitely miss a time when everybody is so close together here in Oxford that you can just hang out with all your best friends."

Story by Justin Whitmore/University Marketing & Communications

Photos by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

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