Rockford High School graduate Eric Delaney of the class of 2009 said he never believed he had much of a future. He said his youth wasn’t easy growing up in the Walker and Wyoming areas and in many ways he was his own worst enemy with a bad attitude and grudge against the way his life was going.
Despite being very smart and naturally drawn to chemistry, he doubts he would have amounted to much in life they way he was going. Slight, at five foot six and just 125 pounds, he had a tendency to see the worst in life and had a chip on his shoulder. He described himself back then as selfish, narcissistic and disrespectful of himself and those around him.
“I am the black sheep of my family,” he stated in no uncertain terms.
After graduating from high school, however, he made a resolution that made all the difference in the world.
“I decided I wanted to prove my family wrong,” he said. He joined the United States Navy.
Delaney said the first 10 days of being in the military were the worst 10 days of his life. “I wanted to leave, I won’t lie,” he admitted.
He said there is a term for the sudden alteration of his daily reality as a new boot camp attendee. “They call it culture shock. You are so miserable, scared and sleep-deprived.”
Delaney said for the first 24-hours in boot camp the participants do not have the opportunity to rest or sleep. “You are awake 24 hours with no caffeine; some of them are coming down from nicotine. In any branch of the military they break you down.”
He did note that the military “can’t physically mess with you until you are medically cleared.” But after that, “it’s game-on.”
Through the haze of mountain hikes, strict regimentation and intense physical training, Delaney said something happened to him that went beyond the agony of the regime. His worst experiences—jumping jacks in five-pound boots (“at about 30 you are starting to cry,” he said) and a grueling form of pushups called “twinkle twinkles”—Delaney found he had the strength of determination to take the punishment and to respect himself for it.
His own growing sense of self with a purpose was further established by the testing he had gone through during the recruit process. His recruiting officer told him he tested in the top 12 percent in the nation, a score of 88 percent on a scale of 99. He was slated, if he made it through boot camp, to go to Nuclear Power School, recognized as the most difficult academy in all of the United States Military branches.
Apparently the assessment was correct. Upon completion of the power school, Delaney found out he graduated in the top five percent in the nation. His studies focused on nuclear physics—something with which he is fascinated.
“Me and chemistry go very well together,” he said modestly.
He said his education at Rockford High School definitely helped in his success in his academy. “I may have been smart to start with, but your teachers make a huge difference.”
He noted chemistry teacher Mr. Konowski in particular. Ironically, after completion of his academy, Delaney returned to school as a guest speaker before his favorite teacher’s current class of students.
Today Delaney is in Saratoga Springs, New York, waiting for the second half of his nuclear training. He is trained and has the rank of E4 (fireman) in the United States Navy as a nuclear machinist. When he completes his Nuclear Power Training Unit—the practical or hands-on portion of his education—he will work as a nuclear chemist on a Navy ship or submarine.
Delaney believes he is an entirely different person than he was before. “I was a very angry person before,” he said. “Today I am 21 years old and entirely self-sufficient. I have my own car; I pay my own bills, insurance and food. I have my own apartment, which I pay for myself and furnished myself. This was the most positive decision I have ever made.”
Delaney said he heard at least one piece of advice that resonated with him. It was from his recruit division commander MMC Thomas Taylor, who told him, “No matter what you make of your life, it’s your choice.”
Delaney said he realizes now that nearly anything is possible if you set your goals and stick to them, and his bright future in an amazing field is proof. “I wanted to prove my family was wrong about me. Now I am a notch in their belt.”