Service oriented Catholic High grad LaFleur an ambassador for military program

Midshipman First Class Matthew LaFleur cut quite the handsome figure sporting his dress blues around his hometown of Baton Rouge over the Thanksgiving holidays. The 22-year-old Catholic High School graduate was shipped home early as part of the U.S. Naval Academy’s recruitment outreach program.

“He’s not going to say this, but they send academically exceptional students home early to let the community know how the student is doing,” explained Jessica Thornhill, a 2001 graduate of the Naval Academy.

She said the program presents an opportunity for LaFleur and others like him to talk to “high school students who might be interested in attending know more about the Naval Academy.”

LaFleur, the son of Lydia LaFleur and Jim Creaghan, learned about the academy during his junior and senior years of high school when he attended a summer seminar.

“I went and after being there I loved it,” he said. “The people were great; the campus is beautiful. Now, after being there for the past three years, I feel I definitely made the right choice.”

The Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., is not an easy college to get into.

“What sets the Naval Academy apart is that they are looking for well-rounded academic, athletic leaders,” Thornhill said. It took LaFleur two tries; he spent his freshman year at LSU.

“You fill out a typical college application then you have an interview with either a congressman or senator to get an appointment (to the Naval Academy),” explained LaFleur, one of 40 midshipman attending the academy from Louisiana. “It’s all scholarship — they cover your room and board, your clothing, everything. It’s only a four-year school and you have the first two years to figure out what major you want to pursue.”

LaFleur began his plebe summer at the academy on July 1, 2010. Those six weeks were geared toward preparing midshipmen for military life. “I really enjoyed the challenge of it,” LaFleur said. “There were some minor leadership opportunities … people rise and take charge. It just builds on itself. By junior and senior year, you get more adjunct leadership positions.”

While at LSU, he majored in electrical engineering, but that wasn’t a degree offered at the academy, so he switched to oceanography. “I was actually looking into environmental engineering when I was at LSU,” he said. “My major is oceanography, but I’m focusing more on the atmosphere and climate research. Last year, I was sent to Texas to attend the American Meteorological Society Convention. This year I’m going to Atlanta and presenting a paper. I’m excited about that.”

The paper deals with LaFleur’s research on the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a weather pattern producing effects similar to El NiƱo that is pivotal to weather and climate prediction.

“The results are real positive,” he added proudly.

Traveling — and not just to Atlanta — is one of the perks LaFleur has enjoyed as an upper class midshipman. He recently spent three weeks on a carrier and got to visit Australia.

“I knew the experiences were there, but it’s been more that I ever imagined,” he said.

This coming May, LaFleur graduates and, like at all the military academies, will owe a few years of service in return for his education.

“You owe a minimum of five years service to the Navy, and if you do special training, you can owe more than that,” he said. His next stop is the Navy’s Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C., where he will train as a surface warfare officer.

“It’s very difficult to be accepted academically into this program,” said Thornhill. In Charleston, LaFleur will learn how to run a nuclear reactor. After a year, he’ll serve on a carrier for “about a year and a half,” he said.

LaFleur doesn’t plan on making a career in the military and he has no definite plans once his commitment is completed. “I’ll just see where it takes me.”