From a Childhood Dream to a Successful Navy Career
by Sue Wolinsky
“At an early age, I identified three goals I wanted to achieve in my life.,” said retired U.S. Navy Commander Juan “Jay” Carrizales. “I knew I wanted to fly, to be in the Navy, and finally, to go to the U.S. Naval Academy.” Achieving those goals took time, patience, focus, luck, and lots of hard work.
“I knew I wanted to fly when I was five years old, as a result of a chance encounter with a pilot and his plane parked by a farmer’s field.” Jay said. “My mother and I were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the time, having moved there from Chicago, where I was born. One weekend, we were taking a drive in the country, and she noticed a small plane and pilot by the side of the road with a sign advertising, Airplane Rides $5. My mother asked me if I wanted to go flying right then. Because we didn’t have much money at the time, I wasn’t expecting that question. However, after seeing the plane and knowing I could go flying, I enthusiastically yelled Yes! I’ve been hooked ever since. I fell in love with the idea of flying that day.”
“Two years later, we moved to San Francisco. It was there that I got my first real world exposure to the US Navy. Quite often, Navy ships would dock at the city’s Embarcadero, or tie up at Treasure Island Naval Station, to host visitors during the weekends while in port. Because of those opportunities to see the ships, walk aboard them, and meet the crews, I made the decision at age seven to join the Navy to be part of what I considered a great lifestyle and adventure.
“A short time later, when I was eight, I was visiting the public library across the street from where we lived. As I was looking through the books in the “Navy” section, I, quite by accident, came upon one entitled Annapolis. As I thumbed through the pages, it dawned on me that people (men only at the time) could be in the Navy AND go to college! I immediately knew I had identified where I wanted to go for my education and decided to go to the Naval Academy.”
“Years later, in San Bernardino, California, during middle school and high school, I saw an article in the newspaper about the U. S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. The organization offered young men the chance to learn about the Navy, in a Navy-sponsored program for youths 14-17 years of age. Again, I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of that organization. I first went to sea at 14 aboard a reserve ship, USS Marsh (DE-699), based in Long Beach. By the time I aged out of the program, I had gone to sea more than 25 times on weekends. I had also gone to Boot Camp at Naval Recruit Training Center, San Diego, for a two-week program while still in high school. During one of my at-sea periods, I also saw my first Navy aircraft coming out to work with our ship. Once again, fate pointed the way for me to go, as I knew flying while in the Navy was a very real possibility.”
NAVY CAREER. “After finishing the Sea Cadet program, I joined the Navy Reserves as a Seaman when I was 17. During my senior year in high school, I was a “Navy weekend warrior” and, following graduation from high school in 1971, reported to the Naval Academy. When I graduated in 1975, I was commissioned as an Ensign and had orders for a brief assignment with Attack Squadron 42 (VA-42) before going to Naval Aviation Training Command in Pensacola, FL, and Corpus Christi, Texas, for Multi-engine, Propellor training.”
Jay qualified as a Naval Aviator in May 1977. After receiving his Wings of Gold, he was assigned to fly P-3 Orions. Shortly after he flew his last training flight in Corpus Christi, the Admiral in charge of Naval Aviation Training, unexpectedly decided to go to the Naval Academy to brief those Midshipmen who had selected Navy, or Marine Aviation as their Service Selection, following their upcoming graduation. The Admiral wanted to give them insight into what they could expect while in the Training Command, and he also had a surprise for three of the five student aviators who had completed training and had accompanied him to the briefing. “To my knowledge, I am one of only three people to receive their wings at the Naval Academy. The Admiral officiated while our parents, or spouses pinned our wings on. It was a great honor,” Jay said.
Following receipt of his wings, Jay was assigned to the Fleet Replacement Squadron, Patrol Squadron 31 (VP-31) in Moffett Field, California, to learn how to fly and tactically employ the P-3 Orion. He was taught
flying characteristics, aircraft systems, basic tactics, and normal and emergency procedures of the aircraft, as well as how to properly fulfill the duties of one of three pilots assigned to a tactical crew. The Orion’s primary mission was airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW). He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade) before being assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP-24) in Jacksonville, Florida, and subsequently to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) in Patuxent River, Maryland departing that assignment as a Lieutenant.
In his next assignment, he checked aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 1983 as Assistant Air Operations Officer; he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander before leaving Nimitz in 1986. Aside from deployments and workup training, one of the more interesting events to happen occurred while the ship was moored in port at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The ship was conducting general visiting when Nimitz received orders to immediately proceed to a specified area ready to conduct flight operations if necessary. The aircraft carrier immediately canceled visiting and recalled as many of the crew as possible, given the little time available before the anchor was raised and the ship proceeded at fastest speed possible. Aircraft on the flight deck were armed and placed in an alert status very quickly. “In less than two hours, we had kicked everybody off the ship, and we were capable of flying missions that might have been directed even though most of the crew was unaware of the reason, or where we were going. Fifteen hours later, we were back in St. Thomas and learned that an American flagged vessel had lost power at sea and was drifting into Cuban waters. The U. S. State Department was trying to resolve the situation but didn’t know if Cuba would allow a nearby U. S. Coast Guard vessel into Cuban waters and tow the then unpowered, vessel out. Luckily, both the U. S. and Cuban governments remained calm while getting an understanding of the unusual nature of the problem and all was resolved without incident.”
Jay’s next orders were to the Staff, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, VA as an EA/aide to the Director for Logistics, a two-star Admiral.
His final squadron tour was with Patrol Squadron 16 in Jacksonville, Florida. He left as a Commander and became a student at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB in Alabama, graduating in 1991. During his final five years in the Navy, he served as Assistant Director for Operations at Navy Recruiting Command Headquarters for three years, and subsequently commanded Navy Recruiting District, Albuquerque for his final two years in the Navy. One of his last decisions in command was to recommend that the Recruiting District Headquarters be moved from Albuquerque to Phoenix, which had a larger recruiting base. The Navy approved his suggestion and his successor in Albuquerque moved the office. He retired as Commander, USN, in 1996.
When Jay was told he would command a recruiting district, his first choice was Navy Recruiting District, San Antonio. However, that district “belonged” to a different Navy officer community. He then decided to take command of the district in Albuquerque. “It’s funny how certain things can have ramifications decades later. In July 1974, I bought my first new car and drove to see my mom in California before reporting back to the Academy to start training plebes. When the time came to head back East, I drove I-40 through Albuquerque and was impressed with what I saw,” he recalled. “I knew that someday, I wanted to live in Albuquerque.”
It was during his command assignment that he worked with Claudia Risner (Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.), who is chair of the DPNM Veterans and Military Families Caucus. She served as his Executive Officer. To this day, they both speak highly of each other.
Following his retirement from the Navy, Jay’s first job was a substitute teacher for all grades in the Albuquerque Public Schools District. “I had earlier thought I might want to be a teacher. After five months, however, Intel Corporation (in Rio Rancho, New Mexico) hired me as a manufacturing supervisor. I enjoyed the people and that job for 1-1/2 years. Still, I felt like a ‘ship out of water,’ to quote an old saying,” he added.
“My wife knew I wasn’t truly happy, and asked, ‘Why don’t you go fly?’ I jumped at the suggestion, took a refresher course, and floated my resume. That started my 20-year career as a commercial airline pilot. I flew initially for a regional airline, Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) based in Washington Dulles Airport. As a junior pilot, one must contend with crazy schedules and lots of time away from home, but I did enjoy getting back into the air. Five months after starting with ACA, I started flying the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) as a First Officer (co-pilot), and 15 months later, became a Captain, and an instructor teaching crews how to fly the CRJ in accordance with company and FAA standards and regulations, for more than five years. I really enjoyed doing that.”
He also had some memorable experiences as a commercial pilot. “I flew Ringo Starr and his band from Washington Dulles Airport to Nashville once. Years later, at a different airline, I was honored to be Captain of the inaugural JetBlue flight to Albuquerque from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.”
“Now, I keep busy at home and enjoy life. Since my wife still works, I try to do whatever I can to reciprocate for what she did for me when I was flying commercially.”
IN RETROSPECT. It took a lot of hard work, focus, and a supportive mother to achieve his dream. He worked hard in school and was involved in academics and sport. Raised by a “super star single mom”, they moved a lot as she found better-paying secretarial jobs.
Along with the role model his mother presented, he had other mentors along the way. “I owe a lot to the Sea Cadet officers in charge of our Division,” he said. “These two gentlemen motivated me, at the right time.” They were the first of several Navy role models and friends who helped mold him. “A maintenance officer who really cared about the officers and enlisted troops, and for whom I worked, served as my primary model of a top-notch professional. The admiral for whom I worked when on the Fleet Staff, was also a great mentor. He never raised his voice, but anyone with whom he worked knew he was demanding, yet fair. He’d let us work as many hours as necessary to get the job done, but preferred we didn’t work on weekends. Everyone respected him and worked hard to get everything done right during our regular shift,” he said.
Their examples educated Jay on the importance of his Navy responsibilities as an officer. “When you work with people and know that you literally hold their lives in your hands, and they hold your life in their hands – that gets your attention.” Once during his time aboard Nimitz, Jay went onto the flight deck at night with a crusty and experienced Warrant Officer. “He told me to hold onto his belt while we were conducting night flight operations in the rain, on a pitching deck. I survived the hectic and dangerous area of the flight deck because of him. “
“Was this the career I thought it would be? Yes. I had so many wonderful times in the Navy. I was busy; I enjoyed every one of my tours and the people with whom I worked, whether senior or junior. At the end of my career, I wished I could have turned back the clock, to do it all over again. I know I can’t, but I do know I fulfilled my childhood dreams,” he concluded.